BMCR 2022.01.37

Ordinary Lydians at home: the Lydian trenches of the House of Bronzes and Pactolus Cliff at Sardis

, , , Ordinary Lydians at home: the Lydian trenches of the House of Bronzes and Pactolus Cliff at Sardis. Archaeological exploration of Sardis report, 8. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021. Pp. 570, 320 p. of plates. ISBN 9780674248557 $100.00.

Open access

This long-awaited publication is the eighth report in the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis series. The book focuses on the lives of ordinary Lydians, as the title suggests, in two sectors — House of Bronzes (HoB) and Pactolus Cliff (PC) — at Sardis, the capital of the Lydian kingdom. It thus provides an important update on the volume Sardis from Prehistoric to Roman Times and various articles pertaining to early occupation at Sardis.[1] The core of this publication consists of a thorough catalogue of pottery, terracotta and metal objects, and various small finds dating from the beginning of the twelfth to the middle of the sixth century BCE, supplemented by contextual information and interpretation.

Despite over a hundred years of excavations at the site, the Lydian levels at Sardis were discovered only in 1958 under the directorship of G.M.A. Hanfmann (with excavations continuing in the 1960s), and still present one of the less well documented aspects of the extensive city, especially when compared to the evidence for Roman occupation. As explained in the book’s preface by N. Cahill, the director of excavations, work by A. and N.H. Ramage has contributed to a better understanding of the location, form, and infrastructure of the Lydian city since these early explorations. Furthermore, R.G. Gürtekin-Demir’s analysis of pottery has led to a fine-tuning of the historical trajectory of the Lydian kingdom during the Archaic period, the final chapter of its history just before the sack of Sardis by the Persians.

The publication consists of two volumes. The first offers a description and interpretation of the stratigraphy and corresponding archaeological finds from the two sectors of the city — HoB and PC — followed by a catalogue of over 800 finds. Both sectors were located outside the Lydian fortification wall that marked the western edge of the city in the late seventh century BCE; HoB just to the west of it and PC on the eastern bank of the Pactolus River, southwest of HoB and northwest of the extramural Temple of Artemis. The second volume consists of plates.

It should be noted that the term ‘Lydian’ in this book does not have a restricted cultural meaning. It is used here as a broad indicator for the period extending from the Late Bronze Age to the mid-first millennium BCE, comprising of six distinct phases: the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth to twelfth century BCE); the Early Iron Age (eleventh to tenth century BCE); Lydian IV (ninth to mid-eighth century BCE); Lydian III (last quarter of eighth century BCE); Lydian II (early to third quarter of the seventh century BCE); and Lydian I (later seventh to mid-sixth century BCE).

Volume I opens with a preface by the series editor (N. Cahill). An authors’ preface, short summaries, and an overview of the Lydian pottery follow, all of which provide a useful starting point for a deeper look at the stratigraphy and material culture of Lydian Sardis. Part I is dedicated to the description and analysis of the remains in the Lydian Trench in HoB. Part II covers the Lydians levels at PC. Part III provides an extensive catalogue of finds. A short Appendix discusses the history and plan of publication for an NAA analysis of Lydian ceramics from the two sectors. A concordance between the Sardis inventory numbers, used in the earlier publications, and the numbering system used in this publication, as well as the Manisa museum numbers for the objects that are now stored in that museum, concludes the first volume.

In Part I, Chapter 1, A. Ramage and N.H. Ramage present a clear overview of ceramics and explain the main unresolved issues with the study of this material, principally that there is no firm independent dating of the Lydian pottery, which means that certain aspects of its chronology remain uncertain. As is customary, to ease the ‘translation’ between Lydian and Greek forms, the volume employs Greek ceramic terminology wherever possible, even if the Lydian shapes present a mix of ‘Anatolian’ and ‘Greek’ (mostly Aeolian) traditions, which evolved and interacted in the first millennium BCE.

Chapter 2 introduces the topography of the site, provides an account of excavations in the Sector HoB, and addresses issues of stratigraphy and chronology, all of which aid in clarification of the previously published conclusions. The authors revisit the archaeological process and dating, which helps the reader to understand the efforts dedicated to presenting the evidence in a straightforward manner. As with much legacy data, reconstructing the stratigraphy and location of finds to fit current methodologies and research questions was clearly challenging, as the excavations were conducted in the 1960s and only a selected portion of the material was catalogued and stored. Domestic and small-scale workshop activities, therefore, had been to a degree obscured by selective preservation of evidence that focused on documenting the painted Lydian and Greek wares rather than the everyday, ordinary local Lydian pottery.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age levels that indicate discrete household and workshop activities. The significance of these levels will be further elucidated in the near future in the light of the continuing fieldwork work at Sardis (in Field 49),[2] in the immediate region (at Kaymakçı),[3] and just outside the regional boundary (at Old Smyrna-Bayraklı).[4]

The limited Lydian IV level is discussed in Chapter 4. Just as most of the early levels at Sardis, Level IV is architecturally meager, but the authors rightly point out that there may have been more extensive building activity elsewhere in the area. Here the authors illustrate most clearly how problematic stylistic chronological sequencing based on Greek pottery can be at a site like Sardis, which established a multivocal pottery making tradition with its own trajectory and which also interacted with and reacted to Aeolian and Ionian, and to a smaller degree also Phrygian, trends.

Chapter 5 covers the notable destruction level Lydian III. Accelerated changes at the site that unfolded during the eighth century BCE were halted by an event disastrous for the inhabitants of this part of the settlement. The debris from an extensive conflagration buried large amounts of material from a range of domestic activities, attesting changes in storage practice and household industries.

Chapter 6 discusses level Lydian II, which yielded extant architecture. The six Lydian structures — here called buildings, even if some of them might have been rooms within the same building complexes — were rectangular in plan with rounded corners and were built of mudbrick on stone foundations. Notable are interior features such as mudbrick benches, platforms, and ovens, which, for the first time, allow a better glimpse into activities at the site.

This and the following Chapter 7, dedicated to the remains of Lydian I level, feature a more detailed look at domestic life and household industries, including weaving, pottery making, reusing and repairing of objects, bone working, and jewelry making. Ritual activities are now clearly detected in the form of puppy burials with accompanying assemblages (jug and oinochoe, a skyphos, a shallow dish, and a knife). Interestingly, there is no evidence of burning in this area that could be connected to the Persian sack of Sardis.

A shorter Part II describes PC. The occupation here extends from the middle of the ninth to the middle of the sixth century BCE (equivalent to Lydian IV to I), followed by abandonment during the Persian presence at the site. Chapter 9 explores the difficulties in re-studying this area, which no longer exists due to heavy flooding that took place shortly after its excavation. Furthermore, none of the authors participated in the excavations, which used a different system of recording from that of HoB. N. Ramage’s discussion of stratigraphy and previous work is useful, as it shows that the relationships between features in this sector cannot be reconstructed always with certainty. As a result, extant knowledge is largely limited to pottery. Nonetheless, the chapter presents a succinct summary of chronological correspondences with strata in HoB to provide a better overall understanding of daily activities in the settlement.

The details are then presented in Chapter 10, dedicated to the stratigraphy and finds. During Lydian IV, the foundations of the walls in PC were relatively large and the pottery was primarily dedicated to storage. The subsequent stratum equivalent to Lydian III provides good evidence for architecture, with walls constructed of river stones, unlike in HoB. Lydian II and I levels are discussed in relation to pottery, as architectural remains were not numerous. A further reminder of challenges with the material corpus is demonstrated by the case of a canine burial in Level I, whereby neither the skeleton nor the sacrificial knife had been kept, presumably because of high corrosion of the knife and primary interest in ceramics rather than animal remains. The short conclusion (Chapter 11) impresses the domestic function of this area.

The informative and short description of 800 finds is provided in the catalogue written by all three authors.

Although much of the discussion necessarily focuses on pottery, the first volume provides a succinct and updated summary of the entirety of the archaeological evidence and offers some noteworthy revisions of previous interpretations. The best example is the rebuttal of the dating of the destruction associated with Lydian III. This level was originally dated to the first half of the seventh century BCE and was thought to have corresponded with the Cimmerian raid of the city.[5] The revised date of 725 BCE is well argued here, and the destruction is divorced from the Cimmerians.

New high-quality illustrations (redrawn and updated site plans, line drawings, and new colored photographs of artifacts) supplement the previously published material, some of which is also reproduced in the first volume. Furthermore, the catalogue in Volume II features 300 well-executed colored plates. The catalogue is generally easy to navigate, even though finding correspondences between previously published material is not always smooth (e.g., when looking at early iron artifacts previously published elsewhere).[6] This is, however, a minor point that does not detract from the overall excellence of this volume.

That the book is open access is a major bonus. While the hard copy of the volumes might not be affordable for many, the monograph can be downloaded free of charge online from the Sardis Expedition’s website. This site also provides extensive bibliographies and open access publications by the Archaeological Mission at Sardis, an excellent resource for those interested in Lydian archaeology.


Akar Tanrıver, D., and A.Ü. Erdem. 2020. “Eski Smyrna – Bayraklı Höyüğu.” Journal of Izmir Studies/Izmir Araştırmaları Dergisi 12: 97–109.

Cahill, N., ed. 2010. The Lydians and Their World. Istanbul: Kültür Varlıkları ve Müzeler Genel Müdürlüğü.

Cahill, N. 2019. “Recent Fieldwork at Sardis.” In The Archaeology of Anatolia, vol. III: Recent Discoveries (2017–2018), edited by S.R. Steadman and G. McMahon, 122–138. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Hanfmann, G.M.A. 1961. “The Third Campaign at Sardis (1960).” BASOR 162: 8–49.

Hanfmann, G.M.A., et al. 1983. Sardis from Prehistoric to Roman Times. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

Ramage, A. 1994. “Early Iron Age Sardis and its Neighbours.” In Anatolian Iron Ages 3. Proceedings of the Third Anatolian Iron Ages Colloquium held at Van, 6–12 August 1990, edited by A. Çilingiroğlu and D. H. French, 163–172. Ankara: The British Institute in Ankara.

Ramage, N. 1994. “Pactolus Cliff: An Iron Age Site at Sardis and its Pottery.” In Anatolian Iron Ages 3. Proceedings of the Third Anatolian Iron Ages Colloquium held at Van, 6–12 August 1990, edited by A. Çilingiroğlu and D. H. French, 173–183. Ankara: The British Institute in Ankara.

Roosevelt, C.H., et al. 2018. “Exploring Space, Economy, and Interregional Interaction at a Second-Millennium B.C.E. Citadel in Central Western Anatolia: 2014–2017 Research at Kaymakçı.” American Journal of Archaeology 122(4): 645–688.

Waldbaum, J.C. 1983. Metalwork from Sardis: The Finds through 1974. Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, Monograph 8. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


[1] Hanfmann et al. 1983; Ramage, A. 1994; Ramage, N. 1994; Cahill 2010.

[2] Cahill 2019.

[3] Roosevelt et al. 2018.

[4] Akar Tanrıver and Erdem 2020.

[5] Hanfmann 1961, 22-23.

[6] Waldbaum 1983.