Whatever caused the fiery destruction of Sardis in 640 C.E. came with little warning. Coins trail from the center of shop E8 to the doorway, marking a hasty flight. But no skeletons lie among the shops’ many abandoned objects, which all bear witness to life at that time, not death. Lamps, pottery and coins, undisturbed for centuries, provide archaeologists with a rare wealth of information to reconstruct the daily lives of the people who had left them behind.
Some people lived in the shops, probably in the upper stories. Most of the shops, however, were retail establishments, such as the hardware store and the dye shops. Their employees probably lived nearby and worked from sunrise to sunset, which meant long days in the summer and short days in the winter.
The hardware store’s 127 bronze and iron locks and the over one thousand windowpanes in the glassware shop could not have been made on site, since the fire used in their production would have been too dangerous to have in the city’s center. The dye shops and restaurants, however, made their products on the premises.
Dye shop workers ground pigments in mortars and stored them, probably in sacks, in upper stories reinforced to support the extra weight. Oil lamps lit those parts of the rooms not reached by the sunlight from the open doorways. And, since urine was used in the dyeing process, the rooms were scented with burning incense to cover the odor.
The shops in Sardis’s colonnade were grouped according to what they sold, so that buyers could easily check prices from shop to shop and shopkeepers could keep tabs on their competition.
The restaurants probably opened later and stayed open into the evening serving chops, ribs and shish kebabs of lamb and goat. Christian restaurants served seafood, as a delicacy. The many amphoras discovered in 043the restaurants once likely contained water and wine. Patrons could sit on benches in the shops or in the outer colonnade, where they would be served through open windows, which also helped to ventilate the smoke. These restaurants were the fast food shops of the Byzantine period. The wealthy probably had sumptuous meals waiting for them at home. The restaurants were convenient for shoppers, located on either side of the colonnade’s major entrance to the bath-gymnasium.
Immense, beautifully decorated vaults covered the colossal bath-gymnasium complex’s cooling pool of water. Its marble court, with its multicolored marble facing and pavement, was an important civic meeting place. The steady traffic in and out made the whole area a prime commercial location.
The synagogue behind the shops must have been a major attraction, too, for both Jewish shopkeepers and customers. Trade would not have been conducted on the Sabbath, of course, but the synagogue was conveniently located for the shopkeepers to worship, and doubtless they met potential or frequent customers there.
The shops also bordered the most important road in Sardis, one that today parallels the Izmir-Ankara highway. This made it easy for customers and commodities to get in or out. Passersby seeking shelter from the sun in summer and from the rain in winter could stop in the colonnade and watch the shops’ occupants at work.
These routine but stable lives were shattered by the seventh-century C.E. destruction of Sardis. Nobody knows exactly what happened; it may have been an earthquake, like one that devasted Sardis in 17 C.E., or an invasion. Both the Persians and Arabs threatened the Byzantine empire in the early seventh century. The Emperor Tiberius had provided funds to help the city rebuild in 17 C.E. But in 640 C.E., no aid came and, for reasons still unknown, no one ever came back to dig for cherished articles or to rebuild.