Lydian Pottery

Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.

Introduction

Pottery is the great survivor of ancient material culture. Virtually indestructible—short of labor-intensive pulverization—and lacking intrinsic value and recycling potential, pottery dominates the record of artifacts in most ancient cultures. The enormous quantity of surviving remains can be daunting, its prosaic nature and the sameness of basic features unappealing to serious students as well as to amateurs of archaeology. Pottery nevertheless is a stimulating as well as an important category of ancient material creativity. Regional fabrics and stylistic features provide evidence for communication and trade; shapes provide evidence for contents, for food and drink preparation, and for dining conventions; and shapes together with decoration provide a unique index of popular taste. Frequent design changes over time, together with the high survival record, make ancient pottery valuable evidence for relative chronology; and when pottery contexts can be linked with historical events (for example, Greek pottery deposited in the communal burial of Athenian soldiers who died in 490 BC at the Battle of Marathon), ancient pottery can provide evidence for absolute chronology.

The local pottery of Lydia in the seventh and sixth centuries BC is known primarily from excavation at Sardis, chief settlement of Lydia, but also from other sites, notably Daskyleion in Hellespontine Phrygia and Gordion in Greater Phrygia. In this account, Lydian pottery is understood to have been made by Lydians (as Attic pottery was made by Athenians, Corinthian pottery by Corinthians, etc.) and by neighboring Anatolian peoples whose way of life was affected by Lydians. Conceivably, however, Lydian pottery production was more regional than ethnic, though of regions dominated by Lydians, reflecting a creativity more broadly western Anatolian than exclusively Lydian.1

Many fine-ware pottery items from Sardis are of high quality; and, in connection with settlement distribution of fine wares, it is worth noting that many of those items come from habitation contexts and from architecturally modest landscapes of extramural habitation contexts, which presumably were less prestigious than habitation in the city core; whereas in the Greek world, comparable high-quality fine wares predominate in funerary and sanctuary contexts.

Lydian pottery shapes and decoration of the seventh and sixth centuries BC typically are derived from two basic traditions: Anatolian and Greek. One tradition typically governs the shape and decoration of individual vessels, but both traditions, with respect to both shape and decoration, also may be combined in the same vessel (Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Common Lydian pottery shapes include amphora (“table” and Myrina types), column krater, skyphos krater, single-handled pitcher (oinochoe, round-mouth and trefoil-mouth varieties), stemmed and ring-footed dishes, pyxis, skyphos, spouted cup, omphalos phiale, lydion, lekythos, ring askos, and deep cooking pot (chytra) (Nos. 90106, 145205; Fig. 7). Narrow-spouted and sieve-spouted cups, bowls with lug and spool handles (Nos. 70, 71; Figs. 1, 4), and perhaps stemmed dishes (Nos. 82, 83, 84, 85) belong to Anatolian tradition, the first two probably to Phrygian tradition; column kraters (No. 73, Fig. 8) and skyphoi (Nos. 40, 44, 77, 78, 79, 80, Figs. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) belong to Greek tradition, specifically to that of Corinth. (Deep cooking pots are cited and described in Greenewalt, “Bon Appetit!”; lydion, lekythos, and ring askoi are discussed under Greenewalt, “Lydian Cosmetics”.)

In both Anatolian and Greek traditions, painted decoration employed slips of the same kinds to create different colors and textures: a slip of primary clay (that is, a clay lacking impurities), which fires a white or cream color; a slip created from the same clay as the body of the vase and containing iron oxide, which fires glossy orange-red to brown, depending on (oxidizing and reducing) conditions; and a slip containing manganese, which fires a matte dark purple-chocolate or “black” color. The Anatolian tradition also includes a micaceous slip, which produces a golden glittery surface.

  • Fig. 1

    Orientalizing lebes with sea monsters, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 71, overview (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 2

    Orientalizing lebes with sea monsters, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 71, detail (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3

    Orientalizing lebes with sea monsters, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC No. 71 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 4

    Boat-shaped vase from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 70 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 5

    Boat-shaped vase from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 70 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 6

    Myrina amphora with both Anatolian bichrome and Orientalizing decoration, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC. From sector HoB, inv. P58.588. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 7

    Profiles of selected Lydian pottery shapes (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 8

    Column krater with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 73 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 9

    Local skyphos with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, 7th-6th C. BC, No. 40 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 10

    Local skyphos with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, 7th-6th C. BC, No. 80 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 11

    Local skyphos with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, 7th-6th C. BC, No. 78 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 12

    Local skyphos with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, 7th-6th C. BC, No. 77 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 13

    Local skyphos with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, 7th-6th C. BC, No. 79 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Lydian Pottery Decoration of Anatolian Tradition

Lydian pottery decoration of Anatolian tradition features two conventions: monochrome and painted. The predominant Lydian monochrome convention is grey ware or grey bucchero, in which self-slipped pottery is fired in reducing conditions to create a uniform pale grey color (Fig. 14). Grey ware flourished in the seventh century BC and lingered on in the sixth. Monochrome pottery of a related kind is black burnished ware, which also was fired in reducing conditions and which probably was introduced from Phrygia; some of it is of very high quality, featuring delicate walls and carefully burnished glossy surfaces.

The painted convention includes several decorative systems, the most common of which are “black-on-red,” bichrome, streaky-glaze, and marbled. Black-on-red features linear design in black over a “red” ground (the red often being brown); a variety of geometric motifs in the seventh century and earlier are reduced to narrow bands and short stripes in the sixth (No. 82; Figs. 15, 16). Bichrome features three- or four-color combinations, created by white, red/brown, and black slips and by reserve zones. White and red/brown usually serve as grounds for linear decoration in black, typically in the form of straight and wiggly bands and stripes, multiple compass-drawn semi-circles and hooks, and crosshatched squares and triangles (Nos. 92, 93; Figs. 17, 18, 19). Streaky-glaze features broad zones of red/brown slip brushed in uneven densities, often to create a variety of tonal shades; sometimes there are also tongues of red-brown slip on reserve zones and narrow bands, stripes, dots, and dot rosettes in white on red/brown zones. Marbling, the most unusual Lydian decorative system, features red/brown glaze unevenly applied with a multiple brush, most commonly in wiggly bands, but also in straight bands, registers of overlapping curls, and pendant hooks; often, the glaze is applied over a white-slipped ground, on rare occasions over a micaceous-slipped ground (Fig. 20).2

The correspondence of marbling pattern motifs (multiple straight and wiggly bands; also the multiple pendant marbling hooks of one vessel; Fig. 21) to linear ones of Lydian bichrome and black-on-red decoration (Figs. 6, 17) suggests that marbling belongs to a fundamentally Anatolian tradition. The transformation of those linear forms into the imprecise, tonally graduated ones of marbling appears to have been a Lydian idea, since marbled pottery, with the exception of marbled lydions (further, below), occurs only in western Anatolian lands that constituted Lydia or the Lydian empire (Greenewalt, “Introduction”, Fig. 1). The decoration of a lydion from Gordion (No. 109, Fig. 22- 23) might represent an imitation in the Phrygian linear tradition. Lydian marbling first appears ca. 600 BC and continues into the fifth century BC. Sgraffito decoration on a Late Byzantine dish from Sardis (Fig. 24) might represent a Lydian marbling “revival” of the eleventh or twelfth centuries AD. There is no connection between Lydian marbling and Roman marbled ware, which originated in Italy and flourished in the first century AD.3

Representational imagery of human figures, animals, plants, and the like in Lydian painted pottery owes little or nothing to Anatolian tradition. The drawing style of deer and plants on the kantharos with marbling in the Saadberk Hanım Museum, Istanbul (No. 105, Fig. 29), reportedly recovered from Düver in Pisidia, is unique, differing from both Anatolian and Greek vase painting figural styles, and may represent a Lydian style that existed outside centers influenced by Greece (like Sardis), or perhaps a local Pisidian style. The symmetrical icon of paired and confronted reclining animals flanking a plant or floral motif may have appealed to Anatolian tastes and has parallels in painted pottery from Lydia, including Sardis (Fig. 21); although combined with secondary animals it is also the standard icon of premier space (e.g., oinochoai shoulder zones) in Eastern Greek Wild Goat style pottery.4

  • Fig. 14

    Grayware omphalos phiale from Sardis, 7th C. BC (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 15

    Lydian Black-on-Red cup from Sardis, early 6th C. BC (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 16

    Lydian Black-on-Red stemmed dish, with graffito of dog and deer from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 82 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 17

    Bichrome skyphos krater from Sardis (lower portion missing) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 18

    Bichrome stemmed dish from Sardis, 7th C. BC, No. 92 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 19

    Bichrome stemmed dish from Sardis, 7th C. BC, No. 93 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 20

    Skyphos fragments, inside and outside, decorated with curled marbling outside (left) and inside (right).The marbling pattern in dark slip is applied over a ground of glittering micaceous slip. Near one edge, broken in antiquity, is a repair hole (from Sardis, sector HoB). (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 21

    Oinochoe, detail of neck and shoulder, showing confronted recumbent deer and marbled pendant hooks (Philadelphia, University Museum 66.1.1) (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 6

    Myrina amphora with both Anatolian bichrome and Orientalizing decoration, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC. From sector HoB, inv. P58.588. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 22

    Lydion with provincial marbled decoration, from Gordion, Tumulus A, No. 109 (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 23

    Lydion with provincial marbled decoration, from Gordion, Tumulus A, No. 109, drawing (Drawing by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 24

    Marbled decoration in Lydian and Byzantine pottery from Sardis: left, Byzantine marbled dish; right, Lydian marbled dish (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 29

    Kantharos decorated with confronted recumbent deer and curled marbling; perhaps from Düver, No. 105 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Lydian Pottery Decoration of Greek Tradition

Most Lydian pottery decoration of Greek tradition is of the East Greek orientalizing technique and style. East Greek refers to the eastern Aegean region of the Greek world, including the western coast of Anatolia and Aegean islands close to that coast, notably Chios, Samos, and Rhodes. Orientalizing refers to adaptation of ideas from the Near East, especially Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt; such adaptation for pottery was made during the late eighth, seventh, and early sixth centuries BC in Greece and in regions peripheral to Greece, including Lydia and Caria to the east and Etruria to the west. The technical and stylistic conventions of orientalizing pottery decoration varied in different regions and states of the Greek world. Conventions of the East Greek orientalizing pottery typically featured a white/cream ground overpainted in black and red; outline painting (but in some regional schools, also outline incision); friezes of animals and mythical creatures (like griffins and sphinxes) with “filling ornament” of floral and geometric form in the field; and pattern and floral motifs, notably including braid (guilloche), meander, and lotus flower-and-bud chain. The styles of Lydian vase-painting schools and artists range from exquisite and fussy (the very beautiful Ephesian Ware of the later seventh century BC; named from its first known provenience; Nos. 115, 116, Fig. 25-26) to bold and simple (“Sardis Style,” No. 90, Figs. 27, 28). Much Lydian East Greek orientalizing-style pottery at Sardis (including local “Sardis Style” pottery such as No. 90) was made at the end of the seventh and the first half of the sixth centuries BC.5

East Greek decoration had cachet at Sardis and probably elsewhere in Lydia. Note, for example, Wild Goat-style friezes that appear on the finest Ephesian Ware vases (e.g. Nos. 115, 116, Fig. 25), the presence of East Greek florals on the shoulder (i.e. the premier decorative zone) of an amphora from Sardis that has Anatolian bichrome decoration on the “less important” neck and lower body (Fig. 6); and the incised sketch of a Wild Goat-style dog and deer on stemmed dish No. 82, Fig. 16.

Like the East Greek vase-painting tradition, Lydian vase painting lacked a strong tradition of human figural narrative.6 A small amount of Lydian pottery decoration of Greek orientalizing tradition imitates the Protocorinthian tradition of Corinth, notably that of skyphoi, a shape that also is a Protocorinthian borrowing.

Combinations of some specific shapes and decorative systems are typical—for example: skyphos krater and bichrome; column krater and either grey bucchero or streaky glaze with white bands and dots; skyphos and streaky glaze, with and without white bands; omphalos phiale and black-on-red and marbling. The converse also is true—for example, column kraters rarely if ever are combined with either bichrome or marbling, or lydions (below) with East Greek orientalizing decoration.

Lydian pottery is hardly ever recovered outside western Anatolia, and evidently it was little exported from Lydian lands or imitated by Lydian neighbors. The major exception is the lydion, which was valued abroad (in Greece and Italy) because of its contents (further, below). The most handsome and original of Lydian decorative systems, marbling, evidently did not appeal to Lydian neighbors. Marbling was exported and imitated abroad only on the lydion, where, like the shape itself, it probably played an advertising role, identifying vessel contents with their place of origin (further, below). The presence of marbling on exported lydions and foreign imitations of lydions shows that failure to adopt marbling in those lands was not due to want of familiarity with it.

  • Fig. 25

    Ephesian Ware stemmed dish fragment from Ephesus, No. 115 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 26

    Ephesian Ware omphalos phiale fragment from Ephesus, No. 116 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 27

    Sardis Style lebes with Orientalizing decoration from Sardis, No. 90 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 28

    Watercolor reconstruction of a stemmed dish from Sardis (No. 36), interior. The inside shows the winged goddess or spirit who controls nature (potnia theron), holding in either hand a pair of snakes (?). (Snakes evidently also flank the goddess image featured in the marble naiskos, No. 34). (Watercolor reconstruction by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 6

    Myrina amphora with both Anatolian bichrome and Orientalizing decoration, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC. From sector HoB, inv. P58.588. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 16

    Lydian Black-on-Red stemmed dish, with graffito of dog and deer from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 82 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Imported Pottery

The ceramic repertory of Lydian Sardis includes imported pottery: presumably Anatolian, specifically Phrygian; and Greek, specifically East Greek (No. 101, Fig. 29), Corinthian (No. 100, Fig. 31), Attic (from Athens and environs; Nos. 102, 103, 104, Fig. 32, 33, 34), and Lakonian (from Sparta and environs).

Anatolian imports at Sardis have not been securely identified but probably include some black-on-red and Phrygian black-burnished wares, the latter not easily distinguished from Lydian imitations. East Greek imports include many Bird Bowls of different fabrics, rosette bowls, Wild Goat-style vessels of “Middle” and “mixed technique” varieties, Ionian cups, Chiot chalices, Fikellura pottery, and Clazomenaean and other Ionian black-figure pottery. Corinthian imports range from Protocorinthian to Late Corinthian. Attic imports include black-figure (beginning with the era of Sophilos, ca. 570 BC), red-figure (beginning in the late sixth century BC), and black-glaze wares. The imports from mainland Greece, especially the Attic pottery, provide valuable evidence for the absolute chronology of their contexts.7

Very little if any ceramic wares from eastern Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, or Mesopotamia have been identified in contexts of the Lydian era at Sardis. A rare exception is a fragmentary North Syrian glazed flask, which belongs to a class that was widely distributed in the eastern Aegean and might have reached Sardis from either the western Anatolian coast or from the southeast.8

  • Fig. 29

    Kantharos decorated with confronted recumbent deer and curled marbling; perhaps from Düver, No. 105 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 31

    Corinthian Aryballos from Sardis, mid-6th C. BC, No. 100 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 32

    Attic Black-Figure band skyphos from Sardis, No. 102 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 33

    Attic Black-Figure komast cup from Sardis, No. 103 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 34

    Attic Black-Figure Merrythought cup from Sardis, No. 104 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Lydian Pottery in the Persian Period

During the Persian period after the capture of Sardis in 547 BC, locally produced ceramic “Achaemenid cups,” derived from metalwork examples such as 167-168 and ultimately of Iranian origin, become popular at Sardis and other centers of Persian administration (fig. 35, cf. fig. 36).9 However, many Lydian shapes and decorative conventions, such as skyphoi, lydions, and amphoras (fig. 37), continue to be made and used at Sardis, a demonstration of the longevity of the Lydian ceramic tradition.

  • Fig. 35

    Two Achaemenid cups from Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 36

    Relief from Persepolis showing Delegation VI (Lydians) bringing tribute including "Achaemenid Bowls" to the Great King (Wikimedia Commons)

  • Fig. 37

    Waveline amphora from Sardis, from sector MMS/S, in a context of the 4th C. BC, remarkably similar to the amphoras of two centuries earlier (compare no. 72) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Notes

  • 1Daskyleion has Lydian associations in its name, Daskylos having been the father of Lydian King Gyges (Herodotus 1.8), and in legends of early Lydians. For Lydian and other pottery of the Archaic era recovered there, Gürtekin-Demir 2002 and Gürtekin-Demir 2007. For Gordion, see Sivas and Tüfekçi Sivas 2007.
  • 2Although possibly inspired by marble veining, hammered copper, or the undulating bands in core-formed glass (e.g. Nos. 196, 197, 198, 199, Baughan, “Lydian Burial Customs”), as has been suggested by Boardman 1980, 99; marbling probably represents abstract decoration that features graduated color tones in a color-intense and patterned elaboration of the more common streaky-glazed decorative system.
  • 3For the lydion, see Rumpf 1920 and Roebuck 1959, 56 n. 70. For Roman marbled ware, see Charleston 1955, 20; Heukemes 1964, 21 Nos. 62–64, pl. 2. Marbling of a different kind also occurs in Variegated Ware produced in Staffordshire potteries of the eighteenth century.
  • 4For the kantharos and other vases reportedly recovered with it from a grave at Düver, all now in the Sadberk Hanım Museum, see Greenewalt 1968; Türkteki and Hürmüzlü 2007, no. 31. For the icon, see Amandry 1965. Parallels in vase painting of Lydia include an oinochoe perhaps from eastern Lydia with confronted crouching deer flanking a filling ornament (Fig. 21), a skyphos from Sardis with standing goat and deer flanking a plant (Sardis Expedition inventory no. P68.036), and closed vessel from Lydian occupation on the south shore of the Gygaean Lake, north of Sardis, with standing deer flanking plants (Sardis Expedition inventory no. P68.095).
  • 5A near-complete skyphos from Sardis (grave no. 23a), now Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York no. 16.75.4, probably should be classed as Ephesian Ware (not disassociated from it, as indicated in Greenewalt 1973, 113). Apart from the skyphos, the only near-complete example of Ephesian Ware is a beautiful unguent jar of lebes shape and applicator handle in the shape of a ram’s head, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York no. 1977.11.3. For Ephesian Ware from Ephesos, see Kerschner 2005, Kerschner 2006, Kerschner 2007. For the Sardis Style, see Greenewalt 1970. For Ephesian Ware, see Greenewalt 1973. Item no. 26 in that article is not Ephesian Ware and belongs to a Sardis Style closed vessel, as discussed in Greenewalt 1970, 70–72, 86–88 no. 17.
  • 6Rare examples of narrative in Lydian vase painting might include: a hunting scene on a fragmentary vase recovered on the Acropolis of Sardis ( Hanfmann 1961, 34–35 fig. 17, Sardis inventory no. P60.269); a small fragment preserving a bridled horse head ( Greenewalt et al. 1987, 70–72 fig. 18, see Greenewalt, “Horsemanship”); and a chariot scene on the Ephesian Ware unguent jar now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (no. 1977.11.3; Picón et al. 2007, 416 no. 41). Compositions on architectural terracottas that show a file of chariots and a triple group showing combat between hero and monster, potnia theron, and archer might be other examples of narrative in a related medium ( Hostetter 1994, 5–10, 15–17).
  • 7For Corinthian, Attic, and Lakonian pottery, Schaeffer et al. 1997.
  • 8The flask fragments have Expedition inventory nos. P60.390 and P61.415; for such flasks, see Peltenburg 1969.
  • 9 Dusinberre 1999.
  • Fig. 21

    Oinochoe, detail of neck and shoulder, showing confronted recumbent deer and marbled pendant hooks (Philadelphia, University Museum 66.1.1) (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)