BMCR 2017.01.41

Churches EA and E at Sardis. Archaeological exploration of Sardis, report 6

, Churches EA and E at Sardis. Archaeological exploration of Sardis, report 6. Cambridge, MA; London: Archeological Exploration of Sardis, 2015. xxiii, 341. ISBN 9780674504400. $90.00.

Table of Contents

The whole volume can be also found in digital form as a pdf and viewed or downloaded freely on the Sardis Expedition official website, courtesy of the Sardis Expedition: Download Link

This excellently produced cloth-bound volume represents the last published book of the late Prof. Hans Buchwald, distinguished scholar in Byzantine architectural history. Hans Buchwald first visited the site of Sardis in 1965 and saw much of the remains of the churches discussed in this volume while still a young scholar. Since then and for most of his scholarly life he worked on producing this one volume to the best possible standards; unfortunately, the publication came out only after Prof. Buchwald’s death in 2013, such that he never had the opportunity to see the fruits of his intellectual effort.

It was in 1972 that Buchwald started officially working at Sardis on two of the various churches excavated at the site. These two, as the title of the book suggests, were the churches designated as EA and E. They proved to be more than just two interesting churches, for each actually comprises a series of distinct church buildings constructed on the same location in an area located north of the river Pactolus, inside the walls of the ancient city of Sardis.

The structure of the book follows a logical and very helpful organization. After a Forward by Nicholas Cahill, the director of Sardis Excavations, and a Note from Grazia Buchwald, the beloved wife of Prof. Buchwald, a very detailed summary is included in both English and Turkish. The summary offers the most concise interpretation of the construction sequence and the dating of the two churches and remains a useful tool during the reading of the whole book, especially at the points where the discussion of the architectural history becomes most complicated.

The first three chapters are dedicated to the earlier church EA; each chapter corresponds to one of the building phases of this structure. Chapter one documents the architectural remains of the first church built on this site. Buchwald presents in detail the little evidence remaining from this phase, suggesting that this first church was a three-aisled basilica decorated luxuriously with mosaic floors, marble revetment, and wall frescoes. In his attempt to date the initial basilica, he looks beyond the very sparse preserved architectural remains by using evidence from the excavation records, mostly coin finds. Based on these the author suggests a possible chronology for the erection of the church around the mid-fourth century AD. This actually stands as a bold suggestion if we consider the very little knowledge we have about church buildings of the fourth century outside major urban centers such as Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem.1

The second chapter documents later additions to the initial three-aisled basilica. These are mostly complementary to the first- phase building rather than innovations. It is only after these additions that church EA acquires the full form of an early Christian church with, various annexes needed to accommodate the liturgical functions of a continuously evolving and more complex Christian hieropraxis. An atrium, an entrance bay [narthex?], a north courtyard, a north chapel, a northwest and a west room, a northeast addition (parabema), and an east building are identified by Buchwald as the main additions of this phase. According to Buchwald’s structural analysis, soon after the initial construction of the church in the mid-fourth century, the building was furnished with all the new spaces that gave it its new character in a slow process of organic evolution extending up to the sixth century.

The next period of the life of Church EA is discussed in the third chapter, covering a long period from the seventh century up to the time before its final demolition in the late twelfth century. Like other early Christian basilicas at Sardis, Church EA was abandoned and lay in ruins by the seventh century. Two main phases of post-seventh-century construction inside the ruined basilica are documented by Buchwald based on the analysis of the wall sequence. The more important was the installment of a new church with the reconstruction of the three aisles and the substitution of the colonnades with heavy walls that blocked movement, and maybe visibility, between the aisles. A much smaller church, a single-aisled chapel, was erected on the location of the former atrium. According to Buchwald’s architectural reconstruction, first came the single-aisled chapel at some point in the seventh century, and then subsequently (maybe in the ninth century) the main church was repaired on a larger scale.

It is in the fourth chapter that the characteristically late Byzantine brick vault and dome of the extant church situated atop the earlier remains are examined—what Buchwald names Church E. Through careful examination of the ruinous architectural remains, he comes to the conclusion that Church E initially was organized on the principle of the inscribed-cross church with a high central dome flanked on four sides by vaults covering the cross arms and by four smaller domes over the corner bays. Below the floor of Church E a special underground chamber was constructed preserving pre-seventh century graves and incorporating a wall painting from the previous phase of the church. According to Buchwald, this most probably was the tomb of a saint, which he uses to connect the two sequential church buildings with the cult of an unknown saint. He dates this church to the period 1230–1245, expanding considerably our understanding of church architecture in the Empire of Nicaea under Lascarid rule.

The volume closes with two catalogues. The first is contained in the fifth and final chapter written by the author, which presents the architectural sculpture and furnishings. The fragmentary material is discussed in depth and, wherever possible, attributed to its corresponding phases and locations in the various buildings. The second catalogue takes the form of an appendix authored by Anne McClanan, which presents the burials associated with the two churches. Grave constructions and finds are both discussed here, providing a full picture of the church cemeteries.

Special note should be made of the work of the volume editors Katherine Kiefer and Marcus Rautman, who revised the initial text of Buchwald to account for the most recent discoveries relevant to the site of these churches. This was achieved without altering any of the interpretations contained in Buchwald’s original manuscript. Also worthy of praise are the exquisite plans, drawings, and photos that accompany the lengthy architectural and sculptural discussions throughout the volume, reaching the impressive number of 375 figures in total.

This volume is a deserved and important addition to the Sardis Expedition publications and above all a badly needed contribution to the field of Byzantine architectural history and archaeology. A complex monument, in all its various phases, is presented in its totality with scrupulous detail in an effort to discern the architectural and structural elements that characterize the evolution of the two churches. As usual in Buchwald’s work, we find an interpretive model of the dynamic relationship between architectural design and construction: of how Byzantine buildings were translated from a conceived design idea into a materialized building solution. Buchwald’s book on the churches of Sardis is bound to become a model for disciplined and meticulous analysis of Byzantine architectural creations, especially monuments that are no longer standing but are documented through excavation.


1. Beat Brenk, Die Christianisierung der spätrömischen Welt: Stadt, Land, Haus, Kirche und Kloster in frühchristlicher Zeit, Wiesbaden 2003, 8ff.