Photos by Jack A. Waldron
Ancient Sardis, truly a magna-polis, is spread over several kilometers occupying the north and western slopes of Mt. Tmolus, now occupied by the village of Sartmustafa, the name of which the lineage seems clear. The history of the Temple of Artemis begins with the liberation of the great metropolis by none other that Alexander the Great, when his army lifted the yoke of Persians.
Work on the temple began in 334 BC, and was carried out over the next few centuries with stops and starts impeding its completion. The stepped altar dedicated to Artemis, which is situated in front of the temple to the west, predates the temple itself (pictured below, next to my cheek).
As you enter the site, it becomes very apparent that this sacred area has been built upon time and again over the millennia; here in the northwest corner of the complex (pictured below) is a stepped platform, perhaps a section of the portico, or, a dedicatory monument to Artemis, or, perhaps the steps of road leading to the sanctuary?
Pictured below, a photo of the full temple complex from the northwest corner.
With the great columns of the temple rising above the monument (pictured center left), the Altar of Artemis is front and center with its white steps climbing to sacrificial platform.
The site has a lengthy history, the Hittites probably called the settlement Uda, while the Herakleids who followed, and believed they were the decendents of Heracles, called the city Hyde. King Candaules, the last of this dynasty, was murdered by his bodyguard Gyges at the request of the queen; his great grandson Croesus would enter the annals of history with his defiance of the Persian emperor, Cyrus.
During the first phase of construction, only the pronaos, cella and opisthodomus were completed. Further, it would appear that the original design was to construct a dipteros structure, which was later redesigned as a pseudo-dipteros temple.
The Temple of Artemis at Sardis is the fourth largest Ionic temple in the world, after the temples at Ephesus, Samos and Didyma. Probably due the fact that the temple was never finished, there are few fragments of the architrave, with the frieze, cornice and pediment being non-existent.
Due to the waning powers and finances of the Seleucid empire in Lydia during the late Hellenistic Period, work on the temple was halted. However, construction began again in 175 BC, only to be stopped again before completion.
In 17 AD, the temple was damaged by an earthquake, though, this would not be the final chapter in the life of the temple. It is now thought that the temple gained dual honors around this time, as an inscription from the sight honors both Artemis and Zeus.
During the Roman period, round 150 AD, Sardis gained the title of neokoros, roughly defined, meaning the guardian of the temple, which could translate into 'temple sweeper' or 'janitor', but, may also refer to a high level priestly officer in charge of the treasures dedicated and kept within the sanctuary.
As a result of the temples new distinction, Roman law required any temple with neokoros status to be dedicated to the imperial family.
Under these circumstances, construction of the temple was resumed with with dual dedicatory status: one half of the temple would be dedicated to Artemis and the Empress Faustina, and the other half would be dedicated to Zeus and the Emperor Antoninus Pius.
Like other temples dedicated to Artemis in Anatolia, such as the temple of Artemis at Magnesia and that of Ephesus, this temple also faced west.
The two columns that remain in their complete form have stood since they were erected in antiquity.
The colossal size of these columns and bases is extremely difficult to capture in a selfie, and upon my return to this sight I will try to offer a true contrast in order to share just how massive they are.
This exquisite column base is imbued with a finely sculpted wreath and an inscription that offers a depth into its beauty: it reads, "My torus and my foundation block are each of a single stone, and of all, I am the first to rise, of entire stones not finished by the people but given by friends."
In the photograph of unfinished Roman column number 17 (below), a rectangular section of marble juts out from the base, which was used as a lifting and positioning device, but more interestingly, there is an inscription chiseled into its top surface that reads, ΜΕΣΚΕΑΣ, "trim me".
These unfinished Roman torus members are carved with overlapping leaf patterns (imbrication)(pictured above), and braid patterns (guilloche)(pictured below).
In the oak leaf pattern of column number 6, motifs to be found include salamanders, snails and scorpions that are scattered amongst the occasional acorn (pictured below).
The incomplete decorative motif pictured above is easy to spot, as some of the overlapping leaves have the stem detail, while other simply have a flat surface.
The four centrally located Hellenistic fluted columns on square pedestals (two at the front of the temple and two at the back, seen in the illustration below), were most likely those that were moved from the cella (one of the fluted columns is pictured above). The pedestals became necessary because the columns were originally designed for the cella, and thus were shorter than the exterior columns.
These columns at the east end or back of the temple were begun during the Roman era, but never fully completed (pictured above, upper-right of illustration, and below).
During the resumption of construction under Roman patronage (the first through the second century AD), a cross wall was erected, thus dividing the cella into two separate chambers (pictured below, running through the center of the photo).
A doorway was then cut into the east wall in order to give access to the back chamber (pictured above, mid-top of photo, and below).
The construction of two separate chambers may have been done in order to accommodate the dual dedication/s to both Artemis and Zeus and, the Imperial Roman cult, each grouping requiring their dedicated sanctuary.
Pictured below, facing toward the front of the temple, the northern row of square column bases that were added during the Roman phase of construction, but never completed.
Pictured below, a side view of the column bases with a lone column drum sitting on one of the square bases.
Pictured below, a section of the crepidoma at the front of the temple meets the front of the Altar of Artemis, which is pictured in the top middle-to-left of the photo.
This crepidoma is narrower and within the exterior colonnade of the greater temple, and must be from the Hellenistic construction phase of the temple. The panoramic view of the north side of the temple gives a bit of perspective of its massive scale.
Pictured above with the majestic Mt. Tmolus in the background, the two completed columns of the temple give praise to the patroness of the city.
*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)
**If you'd like to help with future postings, please feel free to support them through PATREON: