The Lydians and their World (2010)
by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.
Cosmetics of Lydia were famous during the heyday of Lydian power and were remembered for centuries thereafter. None have been recovered, although remains may survive in as yet undiscovered containers, and residues permeating container fabric may be extractable and identifiable.1 At present, the evidence is secondary: texts about Lydian cosmetics, written by Greeks and Romans, and Lydian cosmetic containers. Texts written when the cosmetics existed, in the seventh–fifth centuries BC, provide little information, perhaps because familiarity made details superfluous. Texts of Roman times are more informative but also partly speculative, because Lydian cosmetics by then had long since ceased to be made, and had become antiquarian curiosities. The form of the cosmetics is unclear from the texts, but the design of the containers shows that they were meant for liquid and viscous or granular-to-powdery contents. Aroma was a feature, but whether a primary or secondary aspect remains to be determined.2
Bakkaris and brenthon or brentheion myron are Lydian cosmetics that are cited in Greek and Roman literature. Bakkaris (bakcharis, baccar) is the more fully documented; and is cited by Greek writers of the mid-seventh through fifth centuries BC; the earliest of whom, Ionian poets Semonides of Amorgos and Hipponax of Ephesus, hailed from places close to Lydia and were contemporaries of the last Lydian kings; Hipponax also was familiar with Lydian language and culture.3
Bakkaris had a pleasant scent and might be applied to the nose, possibly to the feet (although reference to the latter probably was facetious). It was associated with unguents (mura, typically wet and commonly liquid) but was separately named by writers who associated the two, as if in recognition of a difference, and verbs of application used by writers of the seventh–fifth centuries BC whose testimony is quoted leave unclear whether the form of bakkaris was liquid, viscous, or dry.4 That bakkaris was an unguent, however, and also a plant, and that the root of the plant (baccar) was used to make unguents was credited to Aristophanes by two writers of the first century AD, polymath Pliny the Elder and physician Erotian (although bakkaris and unguents are separately cited in a surviving fragment of Aristophanes). Their contemporary, the physician Dioscorides, wrote in his celebrated pharmacological treatise that uses of the plant bakkaris included using its root “in scented powders to sprinkle over the body since it is quite aromatic.”5
The plant was explicitly described by Dioscorides, and a manuscript of his treatise, dated to the last quarter of the ninth or early tenth century AD, contains an illustration (Figs. 1, 2).6
In modern times, bakkaris/bakcharis has been identified with several different plants. The two most frequently cited are Digitalis purpurea, or Foxglove, and Helichrysum sanguineum, or Sowbread, but differences between them and either Dioscorides’ description or the Dioscorides manuscript illustration of bakkaris offer challenges to those identifications.7
Bakkaris is defined in Hesychius’s lexicon of the fifth century AD as follows: “an unguent from a plant of the same name; according to some from myrtle, according to others a Lydian unguent; and it is also a dry powder made from the root.” If bakkaris the cosmetic were a powder (as in Dioscorides’ and Hesychius’s testimony), it might be a Lydian word, derived from the Lydian verb “trample on.” The cosmetic obviously was valued for its scent; whether it also served other sensual or hygienic and pharmaceutical purposes (as parts of the plant bakkaris did in Dioscorides’ time) is unclear.8
Brenthon or brentheion myron is cited in the late seventh century BC by Sappho, and in the late fifth century BC, by comic dramatist Pherecrates. The verb of application used by Sappho often meant smearing or wiping.9 Like bakkaris, brentheion reportedly had an agreeable scent; whether it also served other purposes is unclear.
The record of material culture provides several vessels of distinctive shape that probably held cosmetics and may have been specifically produced to hold bakkaris and brenthion. These vessels include: the lydion; lekythoi of different shape types, notably the “Lydian” lekythos; the alabastron; and the ring askos (Nos. 33, 95, 96, 97, 145, 146, 109, 110, 111, 112 (lydia), 202, 203 (lekythoi), 205 (alabastron), 98, 99 (ring askos)). The most distinctively Lydian of those containers are the lydion and the “Lydian” lekythos.
The lydion, a small, handleless jar with wide mouth, high neck, round body, and narrow foot, is one of the few original Lydian vessel shapes. The name is ancient and, in antiquity, may have meant the shape to which it is now applied. The lydion vessel probably originated in Lydia ca. 600 BC and continued to be made in the fifth century BC; the earliest closely datable examples come from the Tomb of Lydian King Alyattes, who is generally thought to have died ca. 560 BC.10
The lydion is most common in western Anatolia, especially in Lydia and lands of the Lydian Empire, with countless examples of early kinds at Sardis, and early and many late examples (further, below) also at Gordion and Daskyleion. Analysis of clay and visual criteria indicates that those examples were made at Sardis and in western Anatolia. Distribution of the container also includes Greece, Greek sites of the Black Sea littoral, Sicily and southern Italy, and Etruria, where, however, examples are much less common and many are of Greek or Italic manufacture (further, below). In Anatolian sites, the lydion regularly appears in habitation contexts and is a common grave offering; outside Anatolia, it is typically a grave offering. The high concentration of examples in Lydian lands and of early examples at Sardis, together with the evidence for local production, suggest that the shape originated in Lydia and that it was intended for contents made in Lydia. Its use in funerary contexts and its small size suggest that its intended contexts were cosmetic, like other small cosmetic containers (aryballoi, alabastra, and the like) commonly deposited in graves, and its wide mouth suggests that its cosmetic content had the dry or viscous form that would be compatible either with bakkaris, if it were a powder made from roots of the plant bakkaris (as defined by Hesychius), or with brenthon/brentheion, if it were applied by smearing or wiping, as indicated by Sappho. Consistent with the intended cosmetic use of lydia is the context material of Nos. 96 and 97: Corinthian aryballoi and jewelry, clustered with the lydia in a Lydian house at Sardis. Reuse of lydia for different contents, like the coins held by No. 33 (Figs. 7, 8), may have been common.11
The original shape featured: short conical foot, round or wide; sometimes horizontally fluted or faceted body; an outflaring neck; and a broad, flat rim. Foot, lower body, and neck typically are covered with red/brown slip, shoulder and lip with narrow bands of the same or of marbling, often over white-slipped ground. The richest decoration of Anatolian lydia occurs on examples with partly fluted or faceted bodies and consists of marbling on mouth, neck, and mid-body, and facets alternately painted in white and dark or reddish slip (Fig. 3).12 Bands and wiggly stripes on an example from Gordion (No. 109, Fig. 4) might represent a Phrygian linear version of Lydian marbling. A unique metal example of silver, with horizontally fluted body (now missing its foot) was recovered in a tumulus burial near Bagis in eastern Lydia (Fig. 5). Towards the end of the sixth century, the shape changed: foot and neck became nearly vertical, the lip narrower, and the walls thicker (the foot often solid). Decoration on the later shape is typically simpler, with foot and lower body unslipped, shoulder and lip lacking white slip, shoulder bands broader, and marbling absent (Fig. 6). Many of those later lydia have been recovered at Sardis, Daskyleion, and Gordion; an intermediate stage in the shape change is illustrated by No. 33, Figs. 7, 8.13
In the second half of the sixth century, the shape was imitated in Greece and Italy and produced in relatively small quantities; imitations occur in Ionian, Attic, Lakonian (Fig. 9), Pontic (Etruscan), and perhaps Greek pottery of southern Italy. Some imitations reproduce Lydian decoration, including marbling; other imitations, including Attic, Lakonian, and Pontic examples, have floral patterns and figural decoration (which never appear on Lydian and other Anatolian examples). Lydion imitations presumably held either a Lydian cosmetic that had been exported in bulk from Lydia or an imitation, packaged to suggest the original (a practice common worldwide in modern times (Fig. 10).14
Other cosmetic containers made in or near Lydia—lekythoi, askoi, and alabastra—were made for liquid contents, probably scented oil. The “Lydian” lekythos is one of several (shape) types of lekythoi used in Lydian lands in the Lydian era, and is distinguished from other types by its necking ridge, which merges with the upper handle root, its slightly inclined shoulder, with abrupt transition to body, the slight s-curve of its body profile, and its small foot (Fig. 11). Whether lekythoi with those features originated in Lydia or the East Greek world is unclear; they are common in East Greek contexts as well as in Lydian lands. Differences in the level of maximum body diameter—at shoulder, lower body, both shoulder and lower body levels—remain to be explained; lekythoi with Lydian streaky-glaze and marbling decoration (see Greenewalt, “Lydian Pottery”) tend to have maximum body diameter at shoulder level, or at both shoulder and lower body level (rather than at lower body level).15
Examples from Lydian lands often are decorated with stripes of marbling, but not invariably, and marbling also occurs on lekythoi of other shapes. “Lydian” lekythoi were made in the middle of the sixth century BC, perhaps earlier. (Unlike lydia, none have been recovered from the Tomb of Alyattes at Sardis).
The alabastron was a common funerary vessel in western Anatolia and Greece in the sixth century BC. In Lydia, the majority were made of white stone and were plain, like No. 205 (Fig. 12), and several or many were deposited in individual graves, as, for instance, in the Tomb of Alyattes. There also are examples in pottery and glass (No. 197, Fig. 13). Rarities are ornate silver and silver-gilt examples, with incised pattern and figural decoration on the body and lug handles in the form of duck heads, from eastern Lydia. Alabastron contents probably were scented; specific scents—nard, kinamomon (cinnamon or cassia?), marjoram—are inscribed in Greek on examples from Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. In Athens during the later sixth and fifth centuries BC, alabastra appear to have been women’s scent containers; examples recovered in men’s graves might be women’s offerings.16
The ring askos is much less common at Sardis than lydion, lekythos, and alabastron, but it is not rare. The form and simple decoration of Nos. 98 and 99 (Figs. 14, 15) are typical of Sardis examples.17
Cosmetic containers made in the Greek world but found in Lydia show that Lydians also imported cosmetics from abroad. Predominant are Corinthian pottery aryballoi and alabastra. East Greek cosmetic containers of plastic form, including examples of high quality, also occur at Sardis and elsewhere in Lydia.18
Cosmetics also were kept in containers of other shapes, some of them with several compartments and made together with brushes or scoops for extraction and application. An exceptionally fine pottery example in Ephesian Ware (see Greenewalt, Greenewalt,“Lydian Pottery”) is a miniature lebes with applicator handle in the form of a ram’s head; and there are silver and beautifully decorated-stone examples from tombs in eastern Lydia.19
- 1Study and analysis of organic residues preserved in lydion samples from Sardis and Gordion was begun in 2006 by T. Craig, under the supervision of P. Grave, at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. For analysis of other scent containers, see Garnier and Frère 2008.
- 2Liquid contents probably had an oil base. A distilling process in Lydia during the seventh and sixth centuries BC would seem highly unlikely, but, given the claims for distilling at Pyrgos in Cyprus in the first half of the second millennium BC, it should not be entirely dismissed; see Brun 2008, 24; Belgiorno 2007, 42–49, 143–144.
- 3The earliest Greek sources for bakkaris include Semonides fr. 16 (ed. Gerber) and Hipponax, fr. 104 (eds. Gerber, Masson; both preserved in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae,15.690a and in a papyrus, P. Oxy. 2175). Semonides was born on Samos and moved to Amorgos, both in the eastern Aegean. Most of the other writers were dramatists of the fifth century BC: Magnes, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Ion of Chios, Achaeus of Eretria, Aristophanes, Epilycus, and Cephisodorus; all their citations, except for that of Epilycus, are recorded in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 12.553; 15.690–691; it also is cited by Hippocrates, De Natura Muliebri 6. Bakkaris is closely associated with Lydia by Hipponax, Magnes, and Ion.
- 4Application to the nose is cited by Hipponax, fr. 104 (ed. Gerber); to the feet by comic poet Cephisodoros (late fifth century BC) ap. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 12.553a and 15.689f. The verbs of application are aleipho and chrio. The distinction between bakkaris and muron made in earlier sources was noted by Athenaeus (15.690c).
- 5The reference to Aristophanes cited by Pliny and Erotian is evidently not the same as fragment 336 (ed. Henderson) cited in Athenaeus 15.690c–d. Pliny differentiated baccar from nardum rusticum, or asaron (Asarum europaeum L.), a very different plant (with which, however, baccar was identified by some); Naturalis Historia 21.16.29–30. (Baccar also appears in the post-Dioscoridean synonym list for asaron in Dioscorides, De Materia Medica III.44, ed. Wellmann.) Erotian cited bakcharis as “a kind of plant and unguent, as Aristophanes recalls” (59.14, ed. Nachmanson). The quote from Dioscorides, De Materia Medica (3.44, ed. Wellmann), is the translation by L. Beck ( Pedanius Dioscorides 2005, 200).
- 6Dioscorides, De Materia Medica 3.44, ed. Wellmann (and Pedanius Dioscorides 2005, 199–200). Dioscorides described the plant as follows (in L. Beck’s translation): “(Bakkaris) is an aromatic herb used for garlands. Its leaves are rough (trachea), in size between those of the violet and of the mullein (phlomou). The stem is angular, a cubit tall, somewhat rough, and it has offshoots. The flowers are inclining to purple, off-white (hypoloeuka), and fragrant. The roots are like those of black hellebore, resembling in scent cinnamon (kinamomon). It likes rough and dry terrains.” The illustration is in Pierpont Morgan Library M. 652, fol. 18 (thought to have been prepared in AD 890, according to Kirsopp and Silva Lake).
- 7Digitalis purpurea, Foxglove, was proposed by Johannes Ruellius (Jean Ruel) in 1549, accepted by Pietro Andrea Matthioli in 1565, and, with reservations, by Fee in 1822. See Matthioli 1565, 732–734; Bostock and Riley 1861, 318–319. The smell of Foxglove root, however, reportedly is “very faint but disagreeable,” unlike that of kinamomon (whether the latter is cinnamon or cassia, see Riddle 1985, 98–104; Bostock and Riley 1861, 318–319); in addition, the stem of D. purpurea is straight, not angular. Helichrysum sanguineum Boiss. = Gnaphalium sanguineum L., Sowbread, was proposed in 1807 by Kurt P. J. Sprengel and accepted by Berendes (1917, 159, 356) and Lilly Y. Beck (2005, 468–469). That H. sanguineum lacks the angular, purplish stem of Dioscorides’ description and the opposite leaves and axillary flowers of the Morgan manuscript illustration (Figs. 1, 2) has been observed by Serdar G. Şenol (Botany Department, Aegean University, Bornova-Izmir). Its modern habitat, furthermore (southeastern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine), is alien in location and climate to western Turkey (Boissier 1875, 233–234; Davis 1975, 82; S. G. Şenol, personal communication of July 18, 2009). If its habitat were the same in antiquity, H. sanguineum is unlikely to have been the plant that was a major ingredient for bakkaris the Lydian cosmetic; because that plant presumably grew in Lydia. Other proposed identifications for bakkaris include Asperula odorata L., Geum urbanum L., Inula Vaillantii, and Salvia Sclarea; see Bostock and Riley 1861, 318–319.
- 8See Hesychius on the word “bakkaris.” Bakkaris is also identified as a Lydian unguent by the scholiast to Aeschylus, Persae 41.5, and it is closely associated with Lydia by earlier writers (Hipponax, Magnes, Ion). The possible Lydian identity of the word “bakkaris” is presented by Hawkins, who cites a possible relationship with Hittite for Lydian “trample on,” and the occurrence of that word in four Lydian texts; see Hawkins 2004, 271.
- 9Sappho referred to “royal” brentheion (fr. 94 ed. Voigt, preserved in a papyrus; another or the same reference is preserved in Athenaeus 15.690e). For Pherecrates’ brief reference, Athenaeus (15.690d–e), brentheion is associated with Lydia by Pollux (6.104). Brenthon was an unguent (muron), according to some a flowery unguent, in Hesychius’s definition. For the word and its root in other words, see comments in Page 1955, 79. It is also cited by Clement of Alexandria, Paedogogus 184.108.40.206–4.
- 10For the ancient name (attested in graffiti of the late sixth to early fifth centuries BC), its application in 1939 to the shape now so called, and alternate names previously given (Kugelgefäss in Boehlau 1898; krateriskos in H.C. Butler 1922; skolymos in G.H. Chase 1914; leek-type jar in T.L. Shear 1922) Greenewalt 1972, 132–133 n. 27. An early illustration of the shape appears in the first catalogue of vases in the Berlin Antiquarium, prepared by J.A. Konrad Levezow (1770–1835; a distinguished figure of the German Enlightenment); see Levezow 1834, 79 nos. 501–505, shape no. 334, pl. XVII. For an early shape analysis and identifications as Samian and Ionian, see Boehlau 1898, 145–146; for identification with lydia, see Rumpf 1920; see also Roebuck 1959, 56 n. 70.
11An Egyptian unguent container of similar form existed in the second millennium BC and has been proposed as a model (Boehlau 1898, 145; Cook and Dupont 1998, 132); but shape differences between it and the Lydian container and lack of evidence for export of the former to western Anatolia suggest to this writer that the lydion shape is an independent Lydian creation. For bakkaris and lydion contents, “a sort of foundation cream” was suggested by Karo 1943, 21; for the lydion, a salve had been suggested by Dragendorff and Rumpf ( Rumpf 1920, 164–165). For the context of Nos. 96 and 97, see Cahill in Greenewalt, Rautman, and Cahill 1987, 68–69 (“Cluster 2”). Another lydion from another Lydian house at Sardis also was recovered near a Corinthian aryballos (Sardis inventory no.
P09.036, lydion; P09.035, aryballos). For No. 33 and its contents, see Akurgal 1961, 155 fig. 106; Cook 1958–1959, 30. A lydion of another type (made in grey ware and lacking foot) held gold Croeseids Nos. 28.1-28.2 at the time of its recovery (Oliver 1968, 197, no. 5). For reuse of pottery vessels at Sardis in Lydian times, see Ramage 2008; Cahill in Greenewalt, Cahill, Dedeoğlu, and Herrmann 1990, 151.
- 12Two examples of lydions with marbling and colored facets were recovered from a tumulus tomb at Bin Tepe (Bilgin, Dinç, and Önder 1996, 216–217, fig. 13a, b); fragment of another from Daskyleion (Gürtekin-Demir 2002, 137 no. 194 fig. 19). Fig. 3 shows an example from Caere, Tomba dei Vasi Greci, now in Rome, Villa Giulia Museum (no. 20836); see Helbig 1969, 577.
- 13Many examples of the later lydion shape were recovered in excavation sector PN at Sardis. Large numbers of examples were recovered in the “City Mound,” i.e. citadel mound, at Gordion; for examples from Daskyleion, see Gürtekin-Demir 2002, 131–137, 139. For intermediate to late examples from tombs in eastern Lydia, see Özgen and Öztürk 1996, 133 no. 88.
- 14For imitations of the lydion in Attic, Lakonian, and Etruscan fabrics, see Greenewalt 1978a, 38, pl. 13 fig. 1 (showing Ionian, Attic, and Lakonian imitations); Boardman 1980, 99 figs. 115, 116 (Ionian and Attic imitations).
- 15Assyrian pottery “bottles” of similar body form and size but lacking handle and foot, made in the eighth and seventh centuries BC, conceivably might have been models for the “Lydian” lekythos; for examples see Art and Empire 1995, 156; Oates 1959, 134, 144 no. 86.
- 16For the kind of stone, see Roosevelt 2008. For alabastra from the Tomb of Alyattes, see von Olfers 1859, 550, 556, pl. V; Sayce 1923, 170 (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum no. 1919.51). For silver and silver-gilt as well as stone examples, see Özgen and Öztürk 1996 121–125, nos. 75–78 (silver), 238–239 no. 228 (silver and silver-gilt), 131 no. 86 (stone). For the scents of Hellenistic alabastron contents, see Haspels 1936, 124–126; Nachtergael 1998, 145–148; Algrain, Brisart, and Jubier-Galinier 2008, 153. For alabastra in Athens, see ibid. 155–156.
- 17For the ring askos in Mycenaean pottery, see Furumark 1941, 67 fig. 120, 68–69, 617 no. 196. For examples from Klazomenai, see Güngör 2006.
18Pottery aryballoi and alabastra from Corinth at Sardis range from Early Protocorinthian through Late Corinthian; see Schaeffer in Schaeffer, Ramage, and Greenewalt 1997, 20–62. Noteworthy East Greek plastic aryballoi include helmeted-head and horse-head examples from a tomb in eastern Lydia (Ikiztepe) (Özgen and Öztürk 1996, 134–135 nos. 89–90); and fragments of a pottery alabastron with top in the form of a female head (Hanfmann 1962, 24–25 fig. 17 (Sardis inventory no.
P61.312)) and of two very fine examples in the form of a duck or goose and a suspended hare (together inventoried P67.078), all three from occupation contexts at Sardis.
- 19For the Ephesian miniature lebes and ram’s head handle, see Picón et al. 2007, 416 no. 41. For the silver and stone boxes, see Özgen and Öztürk 1996, 127 no. 80 (five compartment lidded silver box, with silver scoop), 132 no. 87 (four-compartment lidded round box in stone). For part of a box lid with orientalizing (“Sardis Style”) decoration that may belong to a cosmetic container, see Greenewalt 1970, 65, 79 no. 8.