Sardis – Salihli, Turkey - Atlas Obscura

Sardis

Salihli, Turkey

These ruins once made up the capital of Lydia, which minted the oldest coins in the world. 

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The ruins of Sardis are located in what is now the small town of Sart in Turkey. What is today an archaeological site filled with ancient buildings was once the grand capital of the kingdom of Lydia. The Lydian kingdom flourished in the Iron Age, until it was conquered by Cyrus the Great, king of Achaemenid Persia, in 546 B.C. 

Two centuries later, Sardis surrendered to Alexander the Great, then fell into the hands of the Romans, and then was conquered by the Byzantine Empire. A rivalry with the Seljuk Turks followed, around which time the city’s decline began. In 1402, when the city was captured by the Turco-Mongol warlord Timur (also known as Tamerlane), it had been all but destroyed and was left to ruin until archaeological excavations began in the 19th century.

Lydia was one of the most industrially advanced countries in Asia Manor, and its capital served as a center of manufacturing. It is believed that the idea of metal coinage was invented here around the 6th century B.C., during the reign of King Alyattes. Electrum—a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver—has been found in the area, and it is believe that dust or small pieces of this alloy was exchanged for goods and services.

There are some arguments against this theory due to its ambiguity, but it is generally accepted as told by Herodotus in his Histories. According to Herodotus, Lydia was also among the first to establish retail shops in permanent locations. 

The earliest solid gold coins were known to the ancient Greek world as “Croeseids,” after the King Croesus, the son of Alyattes, the Lydian king who introduced them. Earlier coins had been made exclusively of the  electrum, but Croesus is credited with issuing this coinage after his metallurgists were able to separate the gold and silver components that make up electrum.