National Geographic : 1909 Jan
THE BURIED CITIES OF ASIA MINOR SARDES The castle hill at Sardes, even today, is practically inaccessible. What it must have been 2,500 years ago, before earth quakes and the natural process of ero sion rendered the ascent less steep, can only be conjectured. This hill, rising from the plain to a height of I,ooo feet, with a small, flat table-land at the top, was an admirable place to choose for the purpose of defense. There is considerable fable connected with the early people who located here, and beyond a surmise that they must have been tribes sprung from the great Indo-Germanic race of central Asia, nothing seems to be definitely known, not even the dates of their migrations. These early races were succeeded by the Lydians, a Semitic race which probably wandered in from Assyria. From all accounts the Lydians were extremely industrious, and the city of Sardes, which they founded at the base of the hill just described, became pro verbial for its wealth and luxury. That the country-side about Sardes must have been very rich in ancient times those who visit the place today see ample signs. The soil is of a deep light or dark colored loam, depending upon the location, and it is especially adapted for vineyards, which at present form the chief wealth of these parts. In addition to the natural richness of the soil, the Lydians found that the Pac tolus, which flowed through the center of their Agora, or market-place, contained rich deposits of gold, and this soon be came the chief source of their wealth. They turned all their natural advantages to account, and at that time Sardes easily rivaled any one of the Ionian cities with which close commercial relations were fostered. Such was the need for com mercial facilities that Sardes soon began to feel the lack of direct communication with the sea, and for this reason war was made upon Colophon and Magnesia, on the Maeander, which cities were cap tured and Lydian influence extended toward the coast. About 600 B. C. Smyrna also became Lydian, and Miletus, which at that time was mistress of the .Egean Sea, formed an alliance with Sardes, thus practically uniting the chief land and sea powers of Asia Minor. THE RICHEST MAN OF ANCIENT TIMES Under Croesus Lydia reached the acme of its power. Ephesus also came under the control of Sardes. While the Ionian cities lost much of their self-govern ment, they had the satisfaction of seeing Sardes become more or less Grecianized. Croesus himself was very favorably dis posed toward Ionian civilization, and is said to have lavished vast sums upon the temples at Ephesus and Didyma. Lydian supremacy, however, in Asia Minor was short lived. In 546 B. C. Croesus was defeated in the valley of the Hermus by the Persians, and even Sardes and the castle capitulated, Croesus himself becoming a prisoner. There is a story about this surrender of Croesus which is worth relating here. Whether it is fact or fable I do not pre sume to know. When the kingdom of Lydia was at the height of its power Croesus was very wealthy, and he was at the same time very fond of making an ostentatious display of his treasures. When Solon, the great lawgiver of Greece, visited Croesus in his castle at Sardes the vaults containing the gold of the Pactolus were shown to him, and the question asked who, in his opinion, was the happiest man in the world. The sage of Athens replied by naming an obscure Athenian of humble position who left his wife and many children, with whom he was happy, to fight for his country, and had fallen fighting in the moment of victory. That man, in Solon's modest judgment, was happier than Croesus with all his wealth, and he warned his host that one might be wealthy and in a position to gratify all the whims of life, yet a change might come. Therefore he could call no man happy until he had seen his end and knew the nature of his death.