The Byzantine Shops

The Late Roman City

The streets of Late Roman Sardis were flanked by buildings that served a variety of residential, commercial, and industrial purposes (figs.1,2, 3). The row of small rooms located behind the north portico of the Roman avenue formed part of a lively commercial district in the 5th-6th centuries. The prominent street-side location and consistent, nearly modular construction along the south side of the Bath-Gymnasium Complex suggest these modest structures were developed by municipal authorities and leased to individual proprietors as a way of supporting the local economy and defraying the costs of civic maintenance. Individual shops were easily subdivided or combined to suit the changing needs of their occupants. Most of the spaces were occupied through the late 500s, but were abandoned after fire swept through the quarter in the early 7th century.

The long, uncertain history of this part of Sardis appears in the “Hellenistic Steps” about 3 m under shops E14-16 (fig. 4). These may belong to a mausoleum of late Hellenistic or early Roman date, before the area was systematically developed. An earthquake demolished Sardis in 17 AD, and over the following two centuries, the Bath-Gymnasium Complex was constructed alongside the already ancient roadway, bringing increasing traffic and commercial interest to this part of Sardis. The area was eventually enclosed within the late Roman city wall (fig. 1).

The colonnade of the north portico was rebuilt in the early 5th century using pedestals, bases, shafts, and capitals of different sizes and styles, freely mixed to maintain a consistent height for the portico roof (fig. 5). The Roman avenue was paved with large blocks of marble, but most of the portico surface was covered with multi-colored mosaics arranged in complex decorative patterns (fig. 6). The mosaics were laid as a row of rectangular panels with different kinds of ornament filling the central fields and surrounding borders. Individual shop owners or residents may have been responsible for maintaining the mosaic panels that lay in front of their property. The mosaics have been covered with earth for protection.

  • Fig. 1

    Plan of Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 2

    Plan of the Bath-Gymnasium Complex, Byzantine Shops, and colonnaded avenue (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3

    Plan of the Byzantine Shops (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 4

    Hellenistic Steps (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 5

    Colonnade of Roman avenue (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 6

    Mosaic sidewalk, wetting for photograph with Diane Fullick, Mat Hayes, and Corinne Crawford (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Latrine

Renovation of this part of the city in late antiquity included the construction of public latrines at the southwest corner of the Bath-Gymnasium Complex (fig. 7). The small size of the latrines and location of doorways to the north and east suggest that they served both users of the Bath as well as people walking along the marble avenue. The two long rectangular rooms were similarly arranged and may have served men and women separately, and may have accommodated as many as two dozen visitors at a time. The marble floor of the larger latrine includes a raised border with recessed channel that carried a continuous stream of water in front of the benches. A deep sewage canal located below the seats was periodically flushed with water from the Bath. Two small statues, a standing Dionysos and a draped female figure, may have belonged to the original decoration.

  • Fig. 7

    View of latrine (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

The Shops

In their final form the 34 rooms of the Byzantine Shops seem to have made up about a dozen functional units (figs. 8, 9). Most of these shops were accessible by multiple doorways and had marble or tile floors. Staircases or wooden ladders gave access to an upper level, which provided storage space and living quarters that overlooked the bustling portico and noisy street. The arrangement and use of rooms changed frequently over the 200 years they were occupied. Recovered artifacts and furnishings suggest the varying identities of individual shops: some were tavernas or restaurants, some may have specialized in preparing, using, or selling dyes or paints, others were involved in the sale or recycling of glassware or metal hardware. In some cases the presence of benches, latrine seats, and water basins would have been equally appropriate for non-commercial residences, perhaps for local proprietors. Personal names and religious symbols inscribed on artifacts or walls reflect the cultural diversity of area residents.

  • Fig. 8

    Plan of the Byzantine Shops (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9

    View of shops (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Paint Shop E6-8

Shop E6-8 made up a substantial multi-room unit that dealt with dyes or paints (figs. 10, 11). E6 and E7 contained stone mortars (figs. 12, 13) and quantities of yellow, orange-red, and blue paints and dyes, stored in reused pipe sections and probably in bags. The shop also had a variety of drinking vessels including a rare bronze jug for heating hot drinks (an authepsa, fig. 14). The name “Jacob” scratched on two jars, and two menorahs incised lightly into the wall, may reflect the Jewish identity of the owner (fig. 15). Jewish symbols and names appear mainly in the eastern shops, near the south entrance to the Synagogue Forecourt.

  • Fig. 10

    Plan of shops E6-E7 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 11

    Reconstruction of shop E6 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 12

    Standing mortar from shop E6 or 7 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 13

    One of three mortars and pestles from E7 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 14

    Authepsa from shop E6 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 15

    Two menorahs carved on the wall of shop E7 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Residence E5

The small size and variety of domestic objects found in Shop E5 suggest this unit served as a private residence (figs. 17, 18). Objects of exceptional interest include a brass suspension lamp in the form of a striding lion (LATW No. 223; fig. 19) and a large pottery flask decorated in relief with grazing rabbits and geese flanking crosses (LATW No. 221, fig. 20, fig. 21). Other household items include iron tools (pounders, sickle), weapons (dagger, sword), a bronze steelyard set with lead weight, and various ceramic and metal vessels. A marble plaque from E5 carries part of a pious slogan: “Lord help…” (kyrie boetheson ton…).

  • Fig. 17

    Plan of residence E5 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 18

    View of residence E5 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 19

    Bronze lamp in the form of a lion (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 20

    Flask from residence E5: front, with cross and hares (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 21

    Flask from residence E5: back, with geese (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Restaurants W1-2, E1-2

The shops flanking the side entrance to the Bath may have functioned as restaurants or taverns. Excavation of Shop W1-2 found much pottery for eating along with two cooking hearths (fig. 23). An L-shaped masonry bench built outside the main door to Shop W2 provided customers with overflow seating in the shaded portico. A double-seat latrine was installed in the unit’s opposite corner. On the opposite side of the Bath entrance, Shop E1-2 (figs. 24, 25) contained ceramic and glass dining vessels (such as LATW No. 220, fig. 26), storage containers, animal bones, and shells. Small drains or water tanks in both rooms seem to have provided washing places. Wide windows in the southwest corner of E1 may served for passing food to customers standing in the portico. Crosses and part of a Christian name (“of Kyriakos”) incised on two ceramic vessels, together with the presence of pig bones and shells, suggest that the shop was owned or supported by Christian members of the community.

  • Fig. 23

    Plan of restaurant W1 and W2 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 24

    Plan of restaurant E1 and E2 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 25

    Reconstruction of restaurant E1 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 26

    “Asia Minor Light-Colored Ware” Plate from restaurant E1 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Paint Shop W8-9

The two-room shop W8-9 may have been used for the preparation and sale of dyes and paints (figs. 28, 29). The smaller space (W9) was paved with tiles and may have been used for storage. The larger room (W8) was partly paved with stone slabs and terracotta tiles. A stone mortar may have been used for grinding pigments. In the room’s northeast corner stood a water tank made of two reused marble slabs, a gravestone and a honorific stele of the 2nd century. Large crosses incised on the front of both slabs express the sentiments of the Christian owner and his interest in protecting his water supply (fig. 30).

  • Fig. 28

    Plan of paint shop W8 and W9 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 29

    View of paint shop W8 and W9 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 30

    Basin with crosses from shop W8 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Further Reading