My last visit to Sardes goes back several years and it seems that Turkey is finally promoting this unique site. Tourism is definitely on the rise, but whether that is a good thing or not, depends on how we want to look at things. The tourists bring in the badly needed cash but too many people treading the ancient floors is not necessarily a blessing.
Sardes is being praised as the capital of Lydia ruled by wealthy King Croesus from 560 until 547 BC when the envious Persians conquered the city. We will remember that the first gold coins ever were issued by Croesus. Yet I have not seen any traces of the Lydians in Sardes itself – maybe one day something will surface, who knows? What we see today is mainly Roman but the place has been occupied from about the 7th century BC till the 7th century AD and has seen Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans occupying its houses and streets. One of the highlights definitely is the Temple of Artemis, the fourth largest Ionic temple in the world that was converted into one of the seven holy churches of Christianity. There is evidently a lot to see and to explore.
Wherever I go, I always automatically look for Alexander the Great simply because he has been in so many places, and that includes Sardes. I already followed Alexander to Sardes in a previous article “Heading for Dascylium and Sardes”, but since the city is in the news once again it may be worth to elaborate a little more about its important role.
Closer to Alexander, there is the role his sister, Cleopatra played. She was Queen of Epirus after her husband Alexandros had died and she was an excellent match for anyone aiming for more power after her brother’s death. She first was ready to marry Leonnatus, but he died while fighting on Antipater’s side during the siege of Lamia. On Olympias’ instigation, Cleopatra moved to Sardes to marry Perdiccas, who was preparing his wedding to Nicaea, Antipater’s daughter. We know that Antipater was Olympias’ constant enemy and she would have loved to see her daughter married to Perdiccas. This general had led the Babylon Conferences (see: What if …?) and was on his way to Macedonia escorting Alexander’s corpse, accompanied by the two kings (the simple minded Arrhideus/Philip and the infant Alexander IV) at the head of the veteran’s army that had campaigned on Alexander’s side. As a matter of course, Perdiccas was tempted by Cleopatra for through this marriage he would rule the empire, but on the other hand, he could not ignore Antipater; so, he went ahead to marry Nicaea. Shortly thereafter, however, he sent Eumenes, once Philip’s and Alexander’s secretary and presently Olympias’ messenger, to Sardes loaded with gifts for Cleopatra and a marriage proposal. At this stage, Perdiccas even instated his bride-to-be as satrap of Lydia.
Perdiccas was moving at a slow pace, escorting Alexander’s body to Macedonia and the entire train and army. Events took a sharp turn when Ptolemy “hijacked” Alexander’s corpse and took it to Memphis, leaving Perdiccas no choice but to set in the pursuit to recuperate the body. Ptolemy was ready to meet Perdiccas, whose attack ended in disaster as part of this army drowned in the Nile. He failed his duty to his troops and a group of his senior officers decided to simply murder Perdiccas.
Now the road was open for Ptolemy, who approached Cleopatra soon after, asking for her hand in marriage. She agreed, and they soon saw themselves as king and queen on the throne of Macedonia. But this time, it was Antigonus-the-One-Eyed, who by now ruled over most of Asia Minor who thwarted the plan by preventing her from leaving Sardes and eventually had her killed so she would not fall in the hands of any of the successors who would use her to rise to higher power.
Poor Cleopatra, she was widowed while in her early thirties and ended up being a pawn in the Successors’ fight for legitimation. She cannot have been much older than forty-five when she died. Love and/or happiness were no issue in those days, and in a way, I am glad Alexander did not live to witness this.
The last time Sardes was in the news in connection, although remotely, with Alexander, happened during the final confrontation between Lysimachus and Seleucos, the last two of the Successors. This was in 281 BC during the battle of Corupedium, the “Plain of Plenty”, just west of Sardes. It was here that Lysimachus was killed. Seleucos became the last of the Successors still alive.
Well, much of this part of history will most certainly be ignored by the guides taking the tourists around Sardes. King Croesus and King Alexander III are certain to steal the show, but even …