Seven hundred years before the letter that John wrote, Sardis had been one of the greatest cities in the world (Barclay, 113). Sardis was the capital of the Kingdom of Lydia and seat of the famous and wealthy Croesus, greatest of the Sardian kings (Aune, 218). Croesus attempted to forestall the rise of Cyrus by engaging in a battle with Cyrus. During the battle, Croesus retreated to Sardis and went into a siege. Archeologically, Sardis was considered as an impregnable city: The city was on a tiny summit plateau 1500 feet off the plain that was surrounded by stiff, almost perpendicular cliff. There is one point where there is no cliff, but a steep, narrow passage, but this approach was difficult as well (Hemer, 129). “The seven stars” in verse 1 relates specifically to Sardis because Sardis was the highest, fortified part of a Greek city located on a mountain (Chapman, 29). The siege, however, lasted only fourteen days. The rock of Sardis was more like a dried mud than rock, which meant that it developed cracks. An enemy of Sardis saw a Sardian soldier dropping his helmet over the battlements and then made his way down the rocks to retrieve it. So the enemy knew that there were cracks in the rock which they can climb up. That night, a party of Persian troops climbed up the rocks to invade Sardis only to find the battlements completely unguarded. The Sardians thought their city to be too safe to need a guard, which resulted in their fall (Barclay, 114). Sardis was never again the capital of an independent state after 546 B.C. (Hemer, 132-133). Although the geographic location made Sardis a citadel, lack of alertness and preparedness led to its fall in 549 B.C. to Cyrus of Persia, and again, in 214 B.C. to Antiochus III of Seleucid empire. The once great Sardians were soft, and twice they had lost their city because they were too lazy to keep watch (Barclay, 115). The letter to Sardis in Revelation says, "Wake up! Strengthen what remains" in verse 2 and "if you do...
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Chapman, Jr, Charles T. The Message of the Book of Revelation. Collegeville, MN: The Order of St. Benedict, Inc, 1995.
Hemer, Colin J. The letters to the seven churches of Asia. Grand Rapids And Livonia, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and Dove Books, 2001.
Kaplan, Phillip. "Aspects of empire in Achaemenid Sardis." Near Eastern Archaeology. 68.3 (S 2005): 136-137.
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