Lydian Burial Customs

Elizabeth Baughan


The tombs of Lydia are perhaps its most conspicuous legacy. Burial mounds dominate the landscape of Sardis and give visual testimony to ancient settlement throughout Lydia. The tumuli of Bin Tepe (Fig. 1) have captured the attention of travelers from antiquity to the present and drew early archaeological interest in the region: H. Spiegelthal excavated the tumulus of Alyattes in 1853, and A. Choisy and G. Dennis explored other tumuli at Bin Tepe in the 1870s and 1880s. Very few Lydian tumuli, whether ancient or modern, have been found undisturbed by looters, but from the remnants of tomb furnishings and grave offerings recovered, and with the help of evidence from other burial types and funerary iconography and inscriptions, we can attempt to reconstruct a picture of Lydian mortuary practices. Grave goods illuminate aspects of identity and status that are difficult to recover from settlement archaeology, and they shed particular light on an era of Lydian history that is not well represented in the stratigraphy of Sardis, the Persian period.

The earliest known burials in Lydia are Early Bronze Age inhumations in pithoi or cists, both typical of western Anatolia in this period (see Roosevelt, “Lydia Before the Lydians”). There is little further evidence for burials prior to ca. 600 BCE, when the earliest tumuli and rock-carved chamber tombs appear to have been built. From the Late Bronze Age, only a single pithos-cremation is known, and from the Iron Age only a few scattered inhumations, including a mass grave.1 We do not yet know where Iron Age Sardians regularly buried their dead. Since some of the rock-cut tombs of Sardis contained material predating the sixth century, it is possible that earlier tombs were located in the same area, on the western side of the Pactolus along the slopes of the Necropolis ridge, but were disturbed and/or reused in the sixth century. From the sixth century on, tumuli, rock-cut tombs, sarcophagi, and cist graves co-existed as burial choices at Sardis, and many continued to be used and reused through the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The Pyramid Tomb and a temple-style mausoleum of the fifth century attest to other monumental types at Sardis that will not be discussed here.2 The conspicuousness of tumuli and, to a lesser extent, rock-carved chamber tombs has probably skewed the overall picture of burial practices in Lydia towards monumentality; simple cists, sarcophagi, and direct inhumations were probably more numerous than documented finds suggest. Cremation burials, too, may also have been used, though none have been detected in Lydia between the Late Bronze Age and the Hellenistic period.

  • Fig. 1

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


Over 500 tumuli have been recorded in Lydia, and their distribution gives us some idea of settlement patterns throughout the region.3 Lydian tumuli may cover chambers built of stone, cut from bedrock (or some combination thereof), or, more rarely, stone-lined cists or sarcophagi laid in pits. Burials within chambers could be located in sarcophagi or on klinai (couches). Klinai have been documented in about 50 Lydian tumuli and were most commonly made of limestone or marble, but examples carved from bedrock or made of wood or bronze are also known.4 The stone varieties often had anthropomorphic hollows and/or pillows carved on their upper surfaces. Some couches were of double width, with two anthropomorphic hollows side by side. In tombs with only one couch, klinai were usually located against the rear or right wall of the chamber; tombs with two or three couches had L- or Pi-shaped arrangements. At Lale Tepe, a tumulus near Ahmetli dated to the first half of the fifth century, built-in furnishings and hollows carved in the floor slabs provided resting places for as many as seven individuals (Fig. 2).5

Tumuli with chambers often have a porch and/or dromos. Stone doors carved to replicate wooden doors with metal bosses, and socketed so they could actually pivot, filled some chamber entryways, while others were closed with “plug-type” door blocks.6 Even chambers with working doors are usually found sealed or blocked, and dromoi were often closed by blockage walls at some time in antiquity and were not accessible once the mound was complete. It seems that tumuli would have been built only to a certain point around chamber complexes prior to burial and then raised to full height (and diameter) after interment, or after a period of access, for further burials or perhaps even commemorative rites. Chambers were sometimes covered with a mantle of rubble before the remaining earth was heaped on top, and in the stratification of soil just above some chambers there is evidence of a charcoal layer. Rather than representing the remains of a funerary ceremony, charcoal was probably intended to help block moisture from entering the tomb chamber from above, like the lime mortar and roof tiles found in similar locations in exceptional cases.7 Some tumuli have one or more krepis walls defining a perimeter or an interior ring concentric with the perimeter (Fig. 3). Because some krepis walls were intentionally covered by their mounds while others were evidently left exposed, their function is uncertain; they may have aided in construction and/or visually marked tumulus boundaries.8

Other visual markers on tumuli exteriors include stone “phallos” markers and stelai. Mushroom-shaped “phallos” markers are widespread in Lydia, and some have been found atop tumuli, but their symbolism is unclear. Stelai and bases for stelai have been found near the perimeters of several tumuli. The preserved stelai associated with tumuli are carved to represent doors (Fig. 4) and probably had a multivalent significance, symbolizing at once the doorway to the tomb, the house, and the afterlife, and serving as a locus for veneration of the deceased in family tomb cult.9

“Bin Tepe,” the royal cemetery of Sardis, defines a concentration of over 100 (not 1000) tumuli on the rolling landscape of a low, natural ridge south of the Gygean Lake (Fig. 1). The placement of these tumuli near Bronze Age settlement mounds and fortified strongholds is probably not coincidental, and the cemetery may have served to link the kings and nobility of Sardis to the past. Both its elevation and its proximity to a main east-west travel route ensured the visibility of this message, from Sardis as well as to passers-by. The tumulus form perhaps also made a statement of connection with earlier Phrygian rulers of Gordion. The three largest tumuli of Bin Tepe have been associated with the Mermnad dynasty since antiquity, although only the attribution of the largest to Alyattes seems secure. This tumulus covers a finely built marble chamber with forecourt, presumably for a single interment, though no burial furniture or skeletal material remained. The mound once thought to be the tomb of Gyges has now been dated to the sixth century BCE,10 although the chamber itself has never been located (Fig. 3). Many of the smaller tumuli at Bin Tepe probably postdate the fall of Croesus and represent the efforts of resident Persian nobility or local elites to define their own status in terms of the earlier Lydian kings. In some cases, Achaemenid-style material confirms use in the Persian period, as at BT89.1, which had a burial on a single limestone kline against the rear wall of the chamber and the remains of a disassembled Achaemenid-style chariot in the dromos (Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8; Nos. 206-207, and 208-209).11 A precise chronology is, however, difficult to achieve, given the looted state of most tumuli. Some of the smaller mounds have been dated by their finds to the first half or middle of the sixth century, prior to the Persian conquest.12

Elsewhere in Lydia fewer tumuli have been properly excavated, but those that have (and those from which we can glean any information subsequent to looting) present a similar picture. Of the tumuli in the Güre region, where the Lydian Treasure was brought to light (see Özgen, “Lydian Treasure”), most seem to date to the Persian period. The Basmacı Tumulus, which escaped looters and was excavated by the Uşak Museum before being destroyed by vandalism, may have been built somewhat earlier, in the first half or middle of the sixth century BCE, to judge from its finds (Nos. 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161).13 Although its form is atypical in several ways, it provides a rare look at an intact burial within a Lydian tumulus. Approached by a rubble dromos, the chamber and porch were constructed of roughly-hewn andesite blocks, and the ceiling may have been made of wood. The burial was found with grave offerings in situ within a lidded, stone sarcophagus of irregular shape, set partially into the floor transversely across the front of the chamber (Fig. 9). The finds included personal items and banqueting implements: a silver mirror (Fig. 10), a bronze pin, a limestone object that may be a comb, a small marble cup, and a carved bone disk (Figs. 11, 12, 13); near the right leg were found a silver alabastron with gilded decoration (No. 161) and a Corinthian aryballos; near the head, a bronze jug (No. 156) and ring-handled bowl with spool-shaped attachments (No. 158); near the left leg, a silver omphalos bowl, lid, and jug (Nos. 157, 160, 155); and between the legs, the remains of a wooden bowl with bronze ring handles (No. 159). Textile pseudomorphs on the bronze items attest to the presence of a burial shroud.

The nearby Toptepe Tumulus evidently also held a single interment. According to looters’ reports, the burial was laid with head towards the right on a rock-cut kline along the rear wall of the chamber, the bottom part of which was carved from bedrock while its upper portions were built of limestone masonry. Aside from the stone alabastra and silver “bottle” arranged on the chamber floor, all the grave goods were reportedly laid around the body on the kline: a silver ladle on the left side, a silver jug with kouros handle at the feet (No. 162, Fig. 14). The deceased was evidently laid to rest wearing a necklace of onyx and carnelian and a pair of glass bracelets with gold lion-head terminals, preserved in the area of the chest, where the hands must have been placed. The locations of other personal items, including the infamous hippocamp brooch, acorn pendants (No. 175), earrings, and rattles (No. 174), were not specified (Figs. 15, 16). Gold appliqués with embossed decoration, said to have been scattered among the remains on the couch (No. 182, Fig. 17), must have decorated cloth of some sort, either a garment worn by the deceased or a burial shroud.

The twin chambers of İkiztepe, on the other hand, offered three burial receptacles (Fig. 18). One chamber held an unusual monolithic kline with sarcophagus-like lid (perhaps for a child, based on its length). The other held two marble klinai of more canonical form, one monolithic and one composed of a horizontal bedslab on two upright supports. In both chambers, the klinai were placed transversely across the chamber, with the head end on the right (which here was to the southeast). The importance of such furnishings is revealed by the effort involved in their placement: the monolithic kline from the second chamber could not have fit through the doorway and so must have been put in place prior to the completion of construction. Unfortunately, the original locations of the roughly 125 remarkable objects removed from İkiztepe (including vessels and implements made of precious metals, stone, and ceramic as well as decorative attachments of bone and metal, Nos. 163173, 177, 178, Figs. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26) can only be guessed, and the potential information their distribution could give us about the identities of the different individuals buried there has been lost.

Besides Basmacı, the only other intact burial recorded in controlled excavations of a Lydian tumulus is the secondary sarcophagus burial on the slope of the Demirağ Tumulus near Ahmetli, dated by its finds to the late sixth or early fifth century BCE. Three pairs of vessels (lydia, lekythoi, and alabastra) and a bronze Achaemenid bowl had been placed by the feet of the skeleton. One vessel of each pair was found on each side of the body, and the Achaemenid bowl was on the right.14 The sarcophagus that may have served as the primary burial in Tilkitepe, a large tumulus near Alaşehir looted in 2000, reportedly contained two skeletons “lying head to toe, with a single pottery vessel between them,” in which gold jewelry was found (eight earrings, two spool-shaped rattles, and a ring decorated with a winged lion and so probably of Persian-period date), but this information cannot be verified.15

  • Fig. 2

    Reconstruction of tumulus chamber at Lale Tepe (P.T. Stinson) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3

    Reconstruction of Karnıyarık Tepe, with separated upper and lower part (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 4

    Doorstones from İkiztepe (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 1

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

  • Fig. 5

    Tumulus BT 89.1, plan and elevation (From <bib ref="Dedeoğlu_1991_31321">Dedeoğlu 1991</bib>, plan 2, çiz. 1)

  • Fig. 6

    Tumulus BT 89.1, remains of wheels in situ in the dromos (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 7

    Figural linchpins and pins from tumulus BT 89.1, Nos. 206, 207 (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 8

    Figural linchpins and pins from tumulus BT 89.1, Nos. 206, 207 (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 9

    Plan of the Basmacı Tumulus (From <bib ref="Özgen_1996_1259">Özgen and Öztürk 1996</bib>, fig. 110)

  • Fig. 10

    Silver mirror from the Basmacı Tumulus (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 11

    Corinthian aryballos from the Basmacı Tumulus (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 12

    Limestone comb (?) from the Basmacı Tumulus (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 13

    Marble cup from the Basmacı Tumulus (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 14

    Silver oinochoe from the Toptepe Tumulus (No. 162) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 15

    Necklace with acorn pendants, from the Toptepe Tumulus (No. 175) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 16

    Pair of gold rattles from the Toptepe Tumulus (No. 174) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 17

    Appliqués from Toptepe Tumulus (No. 182) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 18

    Plan of the İkiztepe Tumulus (From <bib ref="Özgen_1996_1259">Özgen and Öztürk 1996</bib>, fig. 93)

  • Fig. 19

    Silver phiale from Ikiztepe Tumulus, No. 168 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 20

    Silver oinochoe from Ikiztepe Tumulus, No. 163 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 21

    Silver phiale from İkiztepe Tumulus, No. 169 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 22

    Silver strainer from İkiztepe Tumulus, No. 166 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 23

    Chalcedony plate from İkiztepe Tumulus, No. 171 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 24

    Bronze incense burner from İkiztepe Tumulus, No. 173 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 25

    Shallow bowl with inscription from İkiztepe Tumulus, No. 170 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 26

    Silver side-spouted dish with Phrygian inscription from İkiztepe Tumulus, No. 172 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Rock-Cut Tombs

H.C. Butler investigated at least 1,154 chamber tombs in the Sardis Necropolis from 1910 to 1914 and in 1922, but heavy erosion of the soft conglomerate bedrock has obliterated many of these and rendered others inaccessible (Figs. 27, 28). The Harvard-Cornell expedition has excavated or explored about 10 chamber tombs in the Necropolis area, and similar chamber tombs are known in the immediate vicinity to the north and south, in the region of Manisa, and in several other locations elsewhere in Lydia.16 Very few were found undisturbed even in Butler’s time, and some were probably emptied long ago. Long periods of use and later disturbance make even the chambers that did have associated finds difficult to date, but the material recorded and recovered from the Necropolis suggests that the residents of Sardis and its environs carved tombs into this soft bedrock, and reused earlier chambers, from the sixth century BCE through the Roman period.

The rock-cut tombs near Sardis share many features with Lydian tumuli.17 Most have dromoi leading to doorways that were sealed at some point in antiquity. Stelai found in the vicinity of the Necropolis were probably erected outside entrances to dromoi, as was the case with Tomb 813 (Figs. 29, 30, 31). These could carry anthemion finials or representations of doors comparable to those associated with tumuli, and some are inscribed (No. 11, Fig. 32; see below, and Melchert, “Lydian Language and Inscriptions”).18 When burial locations are detectable within these tombs, they vary considerably. Some were placed on built-in benches resembling klinai in arrangement if not in form (they are undecorated except for an occasional raised border). Others were located in sarcophagi placed on chamber floors or in pits carved therein, atop couches/benches, or within cists carved into such benches, probably secondarily. Remains of wood and metal found atop benches may also have belonged to sarcophagi or biers, but benches sometimes held offerings rather than burials.

A recently-excavated chamber, Tomb 03.1, represents the most basic and frequent type. Entered through a door and passageway, which were blocked and opened a number of times during the tomb’s history, the chamber had a continuous pi-shaped bench cut out of the soft bedrock (Figs. 33, 34, 35, 36). Skeletal remains were found on the side positions, with their heads oriented towards the tomb entrance, and another burial on the rear couch had been disturbed. A stone alabastron was found along with the burial on one side couch, while several plain lekythoi were found with the other. These finds and those from the chamber fill—including a red-figured askos, a black-glazed palmette bowl, several glass vessels, and a pile of beads (Nos. 196205)—suggest a date in the late fifth or fourth century (Fig. 37).19

A variety of other arrangements has been recorded in other rock-cut tombs, ranging from simple chambers without couches to multi-roomed complexes with multiple burial couches. Some had antechambers equipped with a couch on each side or satellite chambers that probably represent later expansion. And some couches were of double or even triple width, with carved borders delineating individual burial places of normal width (Fig. 39). The occurrence of double couches is especially interesting, because double klinai also occur in built form (in limestone and marble) in some Lydian tumuli and, in fact, seem to be a Lydian specialty. The arrangement of several tombs with single couches along the side walls and a double couch at the rear is matched in built form at Lale Tepe (Fig. 2). This arrangement seems to give extra attention to the rear position in the chamber, and in fact such favoring is also suggested by the greater articulation of details (carved borders) and perhaps even a greater concentration of prestige goods on the rear couch. In Tomb 836, for example, gold clothing ornaments of Achaemenid style (Fig. 38) and silver sigloi were found on the rear couch, while skeletal remains suggested two or three additional burials on the side couches. In many cases, including Tomb 03.1 (Fig. 33), steps were located before the rear couch. Most Lydian rock-carved chambers, then, were multiple-occupancy tombs that probably served family units over an extended period of time, and many were evidently reused in the Hellenistic and Roman eras.

  • Fig. 27

    View of the rock-cut tombs in the Necropolis at Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 28

    View of the rock-cut tombs in the Necropolis at Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 29

    Tomb 813, elevation and plan (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 30

    View of Tomb 813 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 31

    View of Tomb 814 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 32

    Funerary anthemion stele from Haliller, with Lydian inscription, No. 11 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 33

    Plan of Tomb 03.1 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 34

    Exterior view of Tomb 03.1 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 35

    Interior view of Tomb 03.1 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 36

    Excavating Tomb 03.1 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 37

    Objects from Tomb 03.1 (Nos. 196-203) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 39

    “Typical” rock-cut tomb at Sardis (From <bib ref="Butler_1922_49785">Butler 1922</bib>, Ill. 175)

  • Fig. 2

    Reconstruction of tumulus chamber at Lale Tepe (P.T. Stinson) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 38

    Gold appliques from a Persian-period tomb at Sardis (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)


Sarcophagus burials are found in both main types of Lydian monumental tombs, tumuli and rock-cut tombs.20 In tumuli, they may serve as the primary burial location, set in a cist or pit that is covered by the mound, or they may provide secondary burials on tumulus slopes. In rock-cut chamber tombs, they may occur on the floor, atop couches, or set into cists carved in couches. Sarcophagus burials also occur on their own, laid in earthen pits that were not evidently covered with tumuli, as in the Hacı Oğlan and Şeytan Dere cemeteries at Sardis. Terracotta and stone sarcophagi are found in all these grave types, with no apparent distribution or preferential association, though stone sarcophagi are more numerous overall. Lydian terracotta sarcophagi are composed of a low-fired, coarse fabric that does not preserve well, so few have been recovered intact. Some carried simple painted decoration in geometric designs. Limestone sarcophagi of “bathtub” shape are attested from at least as early as the fifth century and were used through the Hellenistic period. These were monolithic and were covered with gabled lids or, occasionally, with a second, inverted “bathtub”-shaped chest. Less common are rectangular stone sarcophagi, and the rounded rectangular form set into the floor at Basmacı (Fig. 9) is unique. Sarcophagi of wood must also have been used, as decayed remains of wood and metal sometimes suggest, but their appearance is uncertain; fragments of cypress wood and bronze plates from a tumulus chamber at Bin Tepe (BT63.2) have been restored as a sarcophagus21 but more likely belong to a couch, its legs set into cuttings in the chamber floor.22

Like all Lydian graves, few sarcophagus burials have been found intact. Of the ten “bathtub” sarcophagi excavated in the Hacı Oğlan area in 1989 and dated by their finds from the fifth to third centuries BCE, only three were undisturbed (Fig. 40).23 One (Tomb 89.1) held two burials, one of which evidently wore a necklace of gilded clay beads. Finds within the sarcophagus included four stone alabastra, and two lekythoi were found on the exterior, each near a corner. Such placement of exterior offerings, at or against the corners of sarcophagi, was attested for at least two other graves at Hacı Oğlan. Nearby, Tomb 61.3 also had two interments and exterior offerings, lined up along the south (foot) end of the sarcophagus (four ceramic alabastra and a Hellenistic unguentarium).24 In another Hacı Oğlan sarcophagus (Tomb 89.8), a silver phiale was found near the right hand of a single interment, while two stone alabastra and a bronze jug were found near the feet.

  • Fig. 9

    Plan of the Basmacı Tumulus (From <bib ref="Özgen_1996_1259">Özgen and Öztürk 1996</bib>, fig. 110)

  • Fig. 40

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

Cist Graves

A few cist graves are also known from the Lydian era near Sardis.25 These are rectangular pits, sometimes lined with stone and usually covered with schist slabs; a unique example, excavated in 1922, was lined and covered with architectural terracottas and roof tiles.26 The finds salvaged from two plundered cist graves in the Indere cemetery of the Necropolis indicate that such burials could have been just as rich in offerings as a rock-cut tomb or tumulus chamber. Tomb 61.2 contained, in addition to a fine assortment of Archaic drinking vessels and oil containers, a melon-shaped gold bead, an onyx pendant on gold wire, and a silver hawk pendant—and this even after disturbance by looters (Nos. 147154, Figs. 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46).27 Notable also were shells from fresh- and salt-water clams and a large number of knucklebones. The latter were almost certainly used in gaming and are found in other Greek and Anatolian tombs, but an explanation of the shells is less clear. One was pierced and so may have been hung on a necklace or as some other ornament; the others may have been containers or could possibly reflect food offerings.28 Such cist graves occur in the same cemetery areas of Sardis as do rock-cut tombs, sarcophagus burials, and even some tumuli. One of the Necropolis tombs excavated by Butler (Tomb 23a) may be understood as a large cist grave since it was a rectangular pit with no entrance and so must have been accessed from above.29 Its finds all date to the early part of the sixth century BCE and include a boat-shaped vase with Lydian inscription and a ceramic imitation of a Phrygian metal dish similar to one from Tomb 61.2 (No. 149). The Phrygianizing dish had been packed with around 40 other small vessels in a large ceramic krater, in a manner reminiscent of funerary assemblages in Phrygian tumuli at Gordion.

  • Fig. 41

    Skyphos with Orientalizing decoration from cist grave 61.2 (No. 148) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 42

    Skyphos with Orientalizing decoration from cist grave 61.2 (No. 147) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 43

    Band cup from cist grave 61.2 (No. 151). (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 44

    Rosette bowl from cist grave 61.2 (No. 150) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 45

    Onyx pendant on gold wire from cist grave 61.2 (No. 152) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 46

    Gold melon bead from cist grave 61.2 (No. 153) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Grave Offerings and Funerary Customs

From the preceding descriptions of fully and partially intact burials, it is clear that Lydian grave offerings were not specific to certain burial types. The same kinds of goods are found in all types of Lydian graves, and most frequent are items of adornment and implements of banqueting. Often it is clear that the dead were laid to rest wearing jewelry and other finery, as in Toptepe and Hacı Oğlan 89.1, discussed above. Butler described the untouched burial of a young “bride” in a sarcophagus within a Necropolis chamber: the find locations indicated that she wore gold fillets in her hair, gold earrings and a beaded necklace, a gold ring decorated with a lion, and a garment sewn with gold appliqué plaques.30 Although little skeletal evidence from Lydian graves has been analyzed, it is not likely that such jewelry was limited to female burials (see Meriçboyu, “Lydian Jewelry”). Many other Necropolis tombs and looted tumuli (the Lydian Treasure tombs, Tilkitepe, and others) have yielded necklaces (Nos. 175, 176, IAM 5151, 4645, 4571, 4570, 4568), rings (Nos. 195, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127), earrings (Nos. 117, 181, IAM 4586, 80, 6232, 4553a,b, 4542), bracelets (No. 192, 193, IAM 4518), pins, brooches, and clothing ornaments (IAM 4652, 4653). These items are often made of gold, but glass and colored stones like onyx and agate were also used. Many personal seals mounted on rings or as pendants were found in the Necropolis by the Butler expedition and are also well-represented among the Lydian Treasure items (Nos. 119132; see Dusinberre, “Lydo-Persian Seals from Sardis”). These may be understood both as items of adornment and symbols of identity or status. Also of symbolic significance must have been the faience “eye of Horus” amulets found by Butler in the Necropolis and in a sarcophagus at Bin Tepe, excavated in 1989.31 One also wonders what meaning the silver hawk pendant from Tomb 61.2 (No. 154) may have carried for its owner. And of course all items of precious material could symbolize wealth and status as well as serving to adorn their wearers. Other objects not physically worn may be grouped with items relating to adornment: bronze and silver mirrors (No. 134), combs of wood and limestone(?),32 small bone or metal utensils, and cosmetic boxes of stone or metal. Three small gold lions from Sardis Tomb 75 may have decorated such a box, or pyxis.33 The distribution of such toilet goods and other personal items according to the sex of the deceased is not possible to determine, given the small number of intact burials and the even smaller number of skeletal remains not too fragmentary for analysis.34

Banqueting implements, too, have been found in Lydian graves of all types and include a wide range of media and shapes: ceramic cups, bowls, dishes, and jugs (Nos. 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 201); precious metal phialai and other bowls and pitchers (Nos. 172, 189, 190, 191); bowls and plates carved from stone (No. 171) and wood; and, more rarely, glass vessels (No. 196). The most extensive banqueting assemblage known from a Lydian tomb is that from İkiztepe, mentioned above. In addition to many fine examples of “standard” banqueting equipment (silver and bronze phialai, oinochoai, jugs, and bowls, Nos. 163, 167, 168, 169), the assemblage included a silver sieve-strainer and sieve-spouted dish (Nos. 166, 172), silver ladles (Nos. 164, 165), silver and bronze incense burners (No. 173, Fig. 47), a bronze tripod, a silver spoon, spoon handle, and scoop, a bronze spatula, fragments of wood that may have belonged to tables or other furnishings, and small bone animal figurines that may have served as decorative attachments. Decorative bone and ivory pieces were also found in salvage excavations at nearby Aktepe and at Mitralyöztepe, near Saruhanlı, but their function is not clear. No further evidence for tables or other furniture accompanying the banqueting implements and burial klinai is known from Lydia. Lamps found in some graves may also be understood as accoutrements of banqueting. The puzzling gold rattles from Toptepe (No. 174, Fig. 48), Tilkitepe, and one of the Butler tombs (No. 135, Fig. 49) may also be tentatively classed among banqueting implements—attached to rods, they may have been used as noise-makers for entertainment or ritual.35

The most prevalent vessel shapes among Lydian grave offerings are small containers for oil, probably perfumed: lydia (Nos. 145, 146), lekythoi (Nos. 202, 203), and alabastra (No. 205; see Greenewalt, “Lydian Cosmetics”). These shapes are supplemented in the Hellenistic period with slender unguentaria. All are found in ceramic form, although Lydian alabastra are usually made of stone (alabaster or marble); rare examples of silver alabastra and, in one case, a silver lydion also occur among the Lydian Treasure material (from İkiztepe and Basmacı, No. 161; see Greenewalt, “Lydian Cosmetics”). Glass alabastra and aryballoi were found in Sardis Tomb 03.1, which also held an imported Attic red-figure askos, a specialized shape for the pouring of fragrant oils (Nos. 197, 198, 199, 200). Other imported oil flasks include Corinthian and Rhodian aryballoi, from tombs in the Necropolis of Sardis as well as tumuli near Güre,36 and an Egyptian alabastron found by Spiegelthal in the chamber of the Alyattes mound. But imports are far outnumbered by locally made vessels that suggest a thriving local market in perfumed oils. Why these were so important as grave offerings is not entirely clear. They may be viewed as further items related to personal grooming, as symbols of the pleasures of life, or (if their contents were expensive) as indications of wealth. Alternatively, they may have been included as elements of banqueting assemblages, since fragrant oils as well as incense could be used to create an atmosphere of luxury at banquets. The occurrence of such shapes in silver (as well as ceramic and stone) among banqueting assemblages like that from İkiztepe suggests that these oil flasks (and their contents) were significant components of Lydian banqueting sets. Perfumed oil may also have played a special (and practical) role in funeral ceremonies involving the preparation of the body for burial, as it evidently did in ancient Greece. This function may help to explain the deposition of oil flasks at the exterior corners of sarcophagi and, possibly, through holes in sarcophagus lids. The frequent occurrence of such oil vessels in balanced pairs, as in the Demirağ and Hacı Oğlan sarcophagi discussed above, is also notable, but of uncertain significance.

Weapons of any kind are extremely rare among finds from Lydian tombs. A single example is an iron spear butt found in salvage excavation of BT 62.4, a tumulus known locally as Para Bulunduğu Tepe.37 The name suggests that it once also yielded coins. Coins are found only occasionally in other known graves, with the remarkable exception of the “Pot of Gold Tomb,” a rock-cut chamber excavated in 1922, outside of which was found a hoard of 30 Croeseids in a coarse grayware vessel (No. 28.1-28.2).38 Other unusual tomb contents include the astragals and shells found in Tomb 61.2, mentioned above, and occasional pieces of sculpture, such as the small ivory head (No. 52) found in the fill of a Necropolis tomb39 and a sandstone hand found during salvage excavation of İkiztepe. Also found at İkiztepe were a small bronze rooster and iron horse head, although it is unclear whether they may have been attached to other objects. The group of formers and punches for the production of gold jewelry and attachments found in one of the Lydian Treasure tombs (possibly İkiztepe, No. 187, Fig. 50) suggests that the profession of the deceased may sometimes have been represented through grave goods. A spouted vase in the form of a boat from Necropolis Tomb 23a has been connected with the reported discovery of a wooden boat in a tumulus at Bin Tepe as a hint of a belief in the crossing of water in the afterlife.40 The dispersal of its many fragments within the tomb (while other vessels were placed intact within a large krater) is suggestive of ritual breakage following libation, as in Hittite funerary ceremonies.41 A similar vase that surfaced on the art market (now in Manisa) probably also came from a tomb, but the occurrence of this vessel shape in a domestic context (No. 70) leaves the significance of the type uncertain.42

In general, these grave offerings could express individual or family wealth, individual or cultural identity and status, or pastimes enjoyed by the deceased during life. They may also shed light on Lydians’ burial practices and their beliefs concerning death, if the banqueting (and perfume) vessels were used in funerary ceremonies before deposition and if these offerings were perceived to be somehow useful to the deceased.The placement of a silver phiale near or in the right hand of the skeleton in Hacı Oğlan sarcophagus 89.8 (Fig. 40) suggests that such vessels for drinking or eating were in some cases meant for symbolic use by the deceased.43 We have, however, no direct evidence in Lydia for funerary banqueting—a feast for mourners at or near the burial location—as we do for Phrygia. Burning on some ceramic finds from Lydian graves and the presence of cooking wares among finds from Lydian tumuli could suggest on-site feasting,44 and the common placement of burials on klinai suggests that the dead may have been conceived as banqueters. But since klinai served both as beds and banquet couches, the form alone is inconclusive; and even a clear presentation of the dead as banqueters would not necessitate actual funerary feasting. In fact, representations of banqueting occur in Lydian funerary iconography and on relief stelai (such as the stele of Atrastas, No. 10) as well as on a carved pediment from a temple-style tomb at Sardis,45 but even these scenes may reflect the pastimes of life more than the rituals of death.46 Since banqueting was an elite privilege, the occurrence of banqueting items and imagery in a funerary context could well reflect the deceased’s status (and tastes) while alive rather than (or in addition to) the ceremonies surrounding his/her death.

As for the preparation of the corpse for interment, we can only say that, besides adornment with jewelry and clothing, it was sometimes covered with a burial cloth. Evidence for this practice comes in the form of textile pseudomorphs covering metal grave offerings (at Basmacı) and gold foil plaques that must have once been sewn onto cloth found scattered throughout the grave offerings (as at Toptepe, discussed above; and the 370 plaques from the Sarıkız sarcophagus in Bin Tepe, perhaps associated with a tumulus, No. 133).47 No patterns of orientation emerge from a comparative study of intact burials. In the Hacı Oğlan sarcophagi, burials with heads towards all cardinal directions are known. When double interments have been recorded in sarcophagi, these may either be placed with heads on the same side (as in Hacı Oğlan Tomb 61.3) or head-to-toe (as in Hacı Oğlan 89.1 and, allegedly, the Tilkitepe sarcophagus).48 In the chambers of rock-cut tombs and tumuli, orientation seems to have been determined by the layout of the chamber or the position(s) of burial klinai rather than in accordance with cardinal directions, with heads most often placed towards the right on klinai.49 And couches may have held more burials than their width or number of carved burial hollows suggests. In the Kordon Tumulus near Salihli, as many as 30 individuals were interred over time on a double kline at the back of the chamber.50

Based on current evidence, tombs with multiple burial locations can all be dated to the second half of the sixth century or later and so may be a phenomenon of the Persian period. One of the earliest datable Lydian tombs, Tomb 23a, seems to have been for a single interment, based on the chronological range and circumstances of the finds (see above).51 Single elite burials, however, never became obsolete: there are some tumuli with clearly Achaemenid material that probably held only one burial (such as BT 89.1, Fig. 5).52 Changes in social structure and mobility in Lydia under Persian control may explain the growth of multiple-occupancy tombs in this period.53 Kinship among those buried in the same tomb has never been proven by skeletal study but is likely, given both the house-like nature of the tombs themselves and comparative evidence from Lycia, where inscriptions detail the familial ties of tomb occupants.54 Ethnic affiliations of the deceased are even more elusive. Persian and Persianizing material from both rock-cut tombs and tumuli—ranging from metal vessels to seals to jewelry (No. 189, No. 190; appliques IAM 4652, 4653; see also Meriçboyu, “Lydian Jewelry” and Dusinberre, “Lydo-Persian Seals from Sardis”) suggest that some tomb occupants may have sought to identify themselves as members of Persian nobility or as local elite with access to (or whose tastes were shaped by) Achaemenid prestige goods. But while the presence of Achaemenid-style artifacts can certainly date tomb use to the Persian era, it cannot clearly identify a tomb occupant as ethnically Persian. Their prevalence, however, among both the rock-cut tombs of Sardis and tumuli throughout Lydia attests to the pervasive intermingling of Persian styles and status symbols with local funerary types, regardless of ethnic identity.

Funerary inscriptions from the Necropolis shed further light on the ethnicities and beliefs of Sardians in the Persian period. Some inscribed stelai found in association with chamber tombs name the deceased and proclaim divine protection and/or a curse upon potential violators of the tomb (No. 10). Such texts not only provide us with Lydian names and words for funerary items like tomb and stele but also confirm the importance with which Lydians regarded burials and funerary monuments. Although the curse formula is Semitic in origin (and one of the curse inscriptions is Lydian-Aramaic bilingual), the invocation of local Anatolian deities (Artemis in several aspects, including Sardian and Ephesian, and Kybele, among others) suggests that the practice was rooted in local tradition.55 The evident reuse of chambers and the continued use of even single or double occupancy tombs over multiple generations, as in the Kordon Tumulus mentioned above, however, reveals that the threat of a curse did not completely outweigh economy or family tradition.

A final, uncertain aspect of Lydian funerary practices that may be suggested by rare finds in tumuli is the custom of ekphora, a wheeled funerary procession transporting the deceased to the tomb. Just outside the entrance to the dromos of BT 89.1, the wheels of an Achaemenid-style chariot were found placed one on top of the other, and linchpins of two types were found near the tomb entrance (Nos. 206-207, ve 208-209; Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8).56 In the Harta Tumulus, traces of wall-painting showing a wheeled procession were observed in the 1960s.57 These have been compared with wheel-depositions in contemporary tombs in neighboring regions of Anatolia (western Phrygia, Mysia, and the Troad) and to representations of cart processions on Anatolian-Persian funerary art and are thought to reflect funeral processions.58 The reading of such scenes as funeral processions has, however, recently been challenged,59 and even the disassembled vehicles placed in tombs could be explained as status markers rather than hearses. The existence of a ceremonial ekphora in Lydian burial rites must therefore remain uncertain until further evidence is known. As with so many other aspects of Lydian funerary customs, the state of our knowledge has been severely hampered by illicit digging and the unlawful destruction of archaeological context.

  • Fig. 47

    Bronze incense burner from the Lydian Treasure (No. 173) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 48

    Pair of gold rattles from Toptepe (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 49

    Gold rattle from Sardis Tomb 213 (No. 135) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 50

    Jewelry form in the shape of recumbent ram, from the Lydian Treasure (No. 187) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 40

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

  • Fig. 5

    Tumulus BT 89.1, plan and elevation (From <bib ref="Dedeoğlu_1991_31321">Dedeoğlu 1991</bib>, plan 2, çiz. 1)

  • Fig. 6

    Tumulus BT 89.1, remains of wheels in situ in the dromos (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 7

    Figural linchpins and pins from tumulus BT 89.1, Nos. 206, 207 (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 8

    Figural linchpins and pins from tumulus BT 89.1, Nos. 206, 207 (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)