Sardis had a long and rich history reaching back into ancient times. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Lydia, known for its magnificence, wealth, and opulence. It then became one of the most prominent cities of the Persian Empire, the Seleucid Kingdom, and the proconsular seat under the Romans. Later under Byzantium, it was the leading metropolis of the province of Lydia.
Geographically Sardis was located in the center of the Hermus Valley along the foot of Mount Tmolus. The city was located at the crest of a rocky plateau about 1,500 feet high. The sharp perpendicular walls of the plateau made the city impregnable. There was only one access point to the city and this was easily guarded. Sardis was basically inaccessible except for a single point; a bottleneck along the narrow path leading up to it forced an oncoming army into a single file which in turn made them easy pickings for anyone guarding the city from above.
As the capital of the Lydian Kingdom, Sardis was a city well acquainted with war. In many ways, Sardis was the focal point of Lydian military strategy. The reasoning behind that was simple; whoever possessed Sardis could bring the entire Kingdom to its knees and whoever wanted to gain mastery over Lydia had to take down Sardis. Sardis was the key to conquering the Lydians and it was also key to Lydia retaining and advancing its power.
Sardis became cemented as somewhat of a legend among Ancient Greece. It was ridiculously wealthy, in fact, coinage was first minted by the Lydians, and it was impregnable. Sardis was in many ways the single greatest enemy of the Ionian city-states; it learned from them, schooled them, and eventually conquered each one of them in succession. It was this that earned it the moniker; Sardis the First Metropolis of Asia and of Lydia and of Hellenism.
Because of its natural fortification and rich military history, Croesus, King of the Lydians, felt that his city could never fall. It was this overconfidence that led to the overthrow of the city by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 549 BC. The story of the overthrow of Sardis is fascinating.
The Persians had begun to invade the Grecian cities. No one knew them, they were not a real contender on the political or military stage of the ancient world but word on the street was that they had a new commander. Half Persian, part of the Achaemenid Dynasty through his father and half Median through his mother who was a Median Princess, Cyrus the Great was gaining a reputation for his military prowess.
Croesus of Lydia hurriedly mustered his troops and went to consult the Delphic Oracle of Apollo before he went to war. Satisfied with what he heard he began to plan his military strategy. Fully confident in his ability to defeat the Persians, Croesus crossed the Halys River and faced Cyrus who proceeded to decimate his army.
Turning around Croesus hightailed it back to Sardis with the intention of regrouping and mustering a larger army that could push back the Persians. Unwilling to give up his advantage Cyrus pursued the Lydian army and besieged Sardis. One thing history tells us about Cyrus is that he was a master at sieges. Patient and innovative, he was a master strategist, which is what helped him to bring Babylon to its knees. In the case of Sardis, it was mostly patience and innovation on the part of one of his soldiers that handed the Persian armies the acropolis of Sardis.
One of Cyrus’ soldiers scaled the rock face in the dead of night, found the lone guard at the bottleneck in the path asleep. He disposed of him, quietly signaled the Persian army, and showed them the way up a winding path in the rock face. Sardis fell that night.
A similar siege and capture happened during the reign of Antiochus the Great. Sometimes, even the most impregnable cities can be breached with patience, strategy, and an innovative offensive. It can be the same in our lives. We need to always be vigilant and watch against the attacks of Satan because the truth is, he is a master strategist and he is constantly looking for the weak link in our defenses so he can breach our walls and bring us to our knees. Our only safety is in keeping alert and hiding in Jesus.