SARDIS , capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia some 60 miles (90 km.) from the west coast of Turkey. A world capital under the Mermnad dynasty (c. 680–547 b.c.e.) whose riches culminated under Croesus, Sardis was a Hellenistic royal capital (270?–133 b.c.e.). Rebuilt after a devastating earthquake (17 c.e.), it was a prosperous Roman and Byzantine city until destroyed by Khosrau ii of Persia in 616 c.e.
Sardis (Sfard in Lydian and Persian) is most probably the *Sepharad of Obadiah v. 20. If so, its Jewish community goes back to the time of the Persian Empire (547–334 b.c.e.). Although Sardis is not specifically mentioned, the historical situation makes it highly probably that some Jews were settled in the Lydian capital. After Antiochus iii first destroyed, then refounded, Sardis (215–213 b.c.e.), his viceroy Zeuxis brought in Jewish settlers from Mesopotamia. A Roman decree cited by Josephus (Ant. 14:259–61) says that the Jewish community at Sardis had a place of assembly "from the beginning"; another decree makes it certain that there was a synagogue not later than the first century b.c.e. The size (probably several thousand in a city of c. 100,000) and the affluence of the Jewish community under the Roman rule have been made evident by the huge synagogue (over 130 yd. [120 m.] long and 20 yd. [18 m.] wide) discovered in 1962. Located on the main avenue of Sardis, behind a row of shops some of which were owned by Jews (Jacob, elder of the synagogue, Sabbatios, Samuel, Theoktistos), the structure formed part of the Roman gymnasium complex planned after 17 c.e. Perhaps the hall was originally intended as a Roman civil basilica but was turned over to the Jewish congregation, which changed and decorated the structure with elegant mosaics and marble revetments. It is conjectured that one of the few Hebrew inscriptions honors the emperor Lucius Verus, who visited Sardis in 166 c.e. Among the 80 inscriptions of the donors in Greek one antedates 212, and many with the family name Aurelius are of the
third century c.e. The building was renovated around 400 c.e. and destroyed in 616.
This, the largest of early synagogues preserved, consists of an entrance colonnade on the east, a peristyle forecourt with a fountain in the form of a marble crater, a prayer hall of basilican plan with six pairs of strong piers, and an apse at the western end with three rows of benches presumably for the elders of the community. Fragments of 18 candelabras (menorot) of marble and bronze were found. At the eastern end of the hall, between three gates, are two small shrines. At the western end a mosaic with water of life and two peacocks adorned the apse; in the bay next to the apse was a large marble table flanked by two pairs of lions, perhaps alluding to the tribe of Judah. Another donor describes himself as "of the tribe of Leontii." Traces of a light structure in the center of the hall may come from the *bimah. A donor's mosaic inscription nearby (of the renewal period) mentions a "priest and teacher of wisdom" (i.e., rabbi?). Behind (west of) the apse two rooms belonged at one time to the synagogue; one had water installations (for the *mikveh), the other a painted inscription: "Blessing unto the People." The prayer hall, splendidly revetted with marble, is estimated to have held up to a thousand people. The Jewish community apparently dispersed at the fall of the city in 616 c.e.
Jos., Ant., 14:235, 259–61; 16:171; H.C. Butler, Sardis, 1 (1922); G.M.A. Hanfmann, Sardis und Lydien (1960); idem, in: basor, no. 170 (1963), 1–65; idem, in: Papers of the Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1 (1967), 37–42; L. Robert, Nouvelles inscriptions de Sardis (1964); Shiloh, in: bies, 30 (1966), 245ff.; Mitten, in: ba, 29 (1966), 63ff.; em, 5 (1968), 1100ff., s.v.Sefarad; Frey, Corpus, 2 (1952), nos. 750–1.