The Lydians and their World (2010)

by Yıldız Akyay Meriçboyu

Lydian Jewelry


Jewelry manufacture in Sardis, the capital of Lydia, was a highly sophisticated craft. Gold from the Pactolus Stream running through Sardis was the source of the Lydians’ wealth, and at the same time spurred the development of jewelry-making.

In jewelry-making, production and decoration techniques are different. Developed jewelry techniques are already observed by ca. 2800 BC. Gold jewelry recovered from various parts of the world informs us about the development of production and decoration techniques. Design was also influenced by advances in technology. Jewelry workshops produced not only jewelry but also gold and silver tablewares as well as daily accessories, which were offered to wealthy patrons.1

Lydian jewelry often bears religious themes. In fact, jewelry is the most convenient medium of art for the expression of religious beliefs. Since gold, electrum (an alloy of gold and silver), and silver are easily shaped, they can be studied in order to understand the beliefs of the period better, while taking their ornamental function into consideration.2

Western Anatolia was the terminus of trade routes coming from the Near East. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, as a result of land and maritime trade, Phoenician agents, influenced by Assyria and Egypt, entered the Aegean world. This period is referred to as the East Greek Orientalizing period. Among the most important assemblages are the votive offerings from the Artemision at Ephesus, and finds from Rhodes and some East Greek islands. The Ionian style of western Anatolia influenced Lydia. Some of the gold finds recovered from the tombs around Uşak belong to the Lydian period. These finds prove that most of the Artemision material is indeed Lydian (see Kerschner, “The Lydians and Their Ionian and Aiolian Neighbours”).

Lydian jewelry includes various diadems, necklaces, earrings, brooches, fibulae, knobbed pins, and cloth appliqués. These were often decorated with granulation, which was popular during this period, while filigree work is rare. Beaded wires were used to cover the joints or as borders. They are well-matched with güverse ornaments.


Lydian jewelry can be traced back to the seventh century BC, and the finds from both the Artemision and Uşak should be of Lydian origin. A gold plaque found in Aydın in the late nineteenth century, now in the Louvre, shares the same style as the Rhodian examples. The horseshoe-shaped plaque bears a goddess relief in Daedalic style, rosettes3 and animal heads in the round. Pendants once attached to rings at the curved side of the plaque are now lost.4 This is an important find for Lydian jewelry, since it enables us to establish the links with the East Greek islands.5 Among the Rhodian gold finds, rectangular plaques belonging to pectorals are prominent, which mostly bear the figure of Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals). On these examples the goddess was depicted with wings holding either a lion or panther with triple-dotted skin. The triple-dot motif is the attribute of both the Mother Goddess and the Father God, who later took the name Dionysus, since the sacred animal of both gods is the panther. The triple-dot motif is associated with birth; it represents reproduction and fertility. It also occurs on the western Anatolian finds, proving that the Rhodian examples are of Sardian origin.6 This motif was also employed for Artemis, Anahita, and Aphrodite, and can be traced down to the Late Hellenistic period in western Anatolia. In the light of the Hittite texts, it was claimed that the winged goddess on the Rhodian finds was the Anatolian goddess Kubaba/Cybele, whose cult survives in that of the Ephesian Artemis.7 Two objects in the Louvre Museum support the idea that the Rhodian artifacts are of Sardian origin. From the sides of the gold plaques from Kamiros, long chains hang down, which are fitted to beads in the shape of a pomegranate and bell, all of Anatolian origin.8 The bell-shaped beads in particular are present among the Sardian necropolis assemblage of the Persian period.9

The finds from the Artemision at Ephesus, which include the examples of Lydian jewelry, were offerings to the goddess. Her cult conveyed and preserved many elements of Anatolia’s prehistoric past. One of the attributes of the goddess, the bee, is based on the Hittite myth of Telepinu. The hawk and the falcon, which accompany Kubaba, are also among the attributes of the Ephesian goddess. The towered headdress of the goddess, which was borrowed from the Hittite protector god Dingir Lamma, points to her function as the protector of the cities.10 For these reasons, Ephesian Artemis was worshipped not only in Ephesus, but in the whole of western Anatolia and even in the Eastern Aegean islands. The priestesses of the Artemis were called Melissae. Among the Rhodian works of art are reliefs of the goddess with the body of a bee. Modern studies refer to them as the goddess Melissa.11 Rosettes occupy an important place among the assemblages of the Artemision and East Greek islands. They were introduced to Anatolia from Assyria, where they were a symbol of Ishtar during the Orientalizing period, and became attributes of the Ephesian goddess.12

Diadems of the Lydian period can be divided into three main groups. They were also found on the islands and at Rhodes. The first group consists of gold rosettes placed on a long, narrow sheet. The second group includes large, ornate rosettes that are sewn onto a headband. Griffins, bulls’ heads, beetles, birds and human figures can be used as complementary motifs. They are dated to the second half of the seventh century BC and are among the finest examples of the period.13 Wide sheets in relief decoration hammered into a mold constitutes the third group. The motifs on these diadems appear on the panels divided by vertical bands. The style is known from the Aegean world.14

Earrings take an important place among the Lydian jewelry (Nos. 110, 181, 201). Various earrings were recovered from the Artemision. They too can be divided roughly into three groups. The first group includes crescent-shaped earrings which are separated into three sub-groups. Boat-shaped ones, which form the second group, take their name from their cross-section. These are not encountered in western Anatolia or the eastern Aegean islands, and must have been peculiar, though in some aspects they bear Late Assyrian (ninth to seventh century BC) influences.15 On these earrings are grooved or plain bee abdomens, and double-edged axes in panels separated by beaded wires (No. 139, Figs. 1, 2). There are also examples with grooved surfaces, or plain surfaces with three abdomens. The fact that the rosettes and the double-axes are triple is connected with the Ephesian Goddess. The number three represents the three characteristics of the goddess, that is, as virgin, married woman, and mother. The double-edged axe is an Amazonian weapon. According to ancient sources, the Amazons established the cult of the Ephesian Goddess. In western Anatolia, the history of the Amazons goes back to the second millennium BC.16 The third group is represented by spiral earrings, whose best examples were recovered from tombs at Kamiros on Rhodes. They are very elaborate and ornate. Among the Artemision finds there are earring pendants of this type, though they are simpler and plainer.17

The known Lydian necklaces were discovered in the tombs around Güre (Uşak). They are of electrum and dated to the second half of the seventh century BC. One of them consists of globular, plain beads with string holes, and beads formed by soldering together large granules (No. 176, Fig. 3). Between these are annular, ovoid and globular plain beads. On another necklace are almond-shaped beads joined to cylindrical ones. A necklace found in Tumulus A at Gordion is also Lydian and belongs to the third quarter of the sixth century BC. On this piece, two acorn cup-shaped beads are placed between beads of Lydian type. These are the earliest known examples of acorn cup-shaped beads.18 Beads with Lydian characteristics are also known from the Artemision finds.

Necklace pendants are also found among Lydian jewelry. Pendants were fitted on a fabric collar, or sometimes hung in the middle of a necklace.19 From the Artemision come examples in the form of the goddess or her bust, whose predecessors are to be found in Hittite art of the second millennium BC. These pendants were believed to provide protection from evil. In addition to the pendants depicting the goddess, there are examples in the form of her attributes, such as the falcon or crescent.20 Three pendants discovered in a tomb at İkiztepe in Uşak are different in style from the finds from the Artemision, and are dated to the first half of the sixth century BC, perhaps to the reign of Croesus. These finds from Uşak fill an important gap, since finds from this period are rare. One of these pendants is in the form of a gold nugget, and symbolizes fertility (see Özgen, “Lydian Treasure”). A second pendant consists of a banded agate bead (No. 178, Fig. 4), while the third is a pyramidal seal of sard stone (carnelian), which bears griffin figures in intaglio on the bottom (No. 177, Figs. 5, 6, 7). The golden ring mounts on the pendants are very similar to one another.21 The İkiztepe grave belonged to a male, and Lydian men, too, wore necklaces and neck bands. Among these, pendants in the shape of recumbent rams form an interesting group (Nos. 136, 140, 184, 185, 186, Figs. 8, 9). Many of the recumbent rams are depicted wearing necklaces which point to the aristocratic origins of their owners.22

  • Fig. 1

    Electrum earring from the Artemision at Ephesus, No. 139 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 2

    Electrum earring from the Artemision at Ephesus, No. 139 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 3

    Electrum necklace from the Lydian Treasure, No. 176 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 4

    Agate pendant from Ikiztepe, No. 178 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 5

    Pyramidal stamp seal from Ikiztepe, No. 177 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 6

    Pyramidal stamp seal from Ikiztepe, No. 177 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 7

    Pyramidal stamp seal from Ikiztepe, No. 177 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 8

    Silver recumbent ram from the Lydian Treasure, No. 186 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 9

    Silver recumbent ram from the Lydian Treasure, No. 186 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Clothing and Jewelry

Lydian clothing was worn with both fibulae and various types of brooches. In the Artemision assemblages there are examples in the shape of a falcon with open wings. Their surfaces were decorated with granulation and beaded wire. Another gold brooch is rectangular in shape, the corners of which are decorated with bee abdomens. Between them are bows with volute ends (perhaps an Amazon shield) and in the middle is a rosette. A brooch discovered at the same findspot was rendered like a horseshoe with floral motifs along the edges and a large rosette in the middle. The two tips of the horseshoe end with lion heads. It belongs to the first half of the sixth century BC. The horseshoe shape is a Lydian trait. The fibulae recently found at the Artemision also bear lion heads in the middle, and their surfaces are rather elaborate. Lydian craftsmen in western Anatolia created a fibula type with Lydian characteristics. The motifs used on these brooches and fibulae are linked to the Ephesian Goddess.23 An electrum brooch from the Güre tumuli in Uşak was shaped like a bow with volute ends symbolizing an Amazon shield, and decorated with granulation (No. 179, Fig. 10).24

Pins were also common on Lydian clothing. Knobbed pins from the Artemision are made of electrum, gold, and elephant and hippopotamus ivory, while the knobs may be of gold, electrum, silver, rock crystal, misty quartz, amber, or gilded terracotta (No. 143). The use of semi-precious stones for the knobs is peculiar to Lydia and linked to Near Eastern cultures. The pins from the Güre tumuli in Uşak usually have knobs in the form of fruits, buds, or flowers, which represent fertility. Sometimes the knobs come out of petals. In Lydian pins, there are simple ornaments functioning as transitions from the pin to knob. In the Aegean world and Greece they are quite ornate and may reach the middle of the pin body. Some knobs of the Ephesian pins were modeled like beehives resembling a basket. Basket hives are still used in Thrace. One of the Artemision pins has a bee-shaped knob25, while two examples from the Güre tumuli in Uşak have pomegranate-shaped knobs (No. 180, Figs. 11, 12). On the sliced fruit knobs the horizontal grooves may be rendered as bees. An attempt was made to represent a bee and a pomegranate together.26 Since the pins are paired, they might have been used on the shoulders.

Lydian garments were decorated with gold and silver appliqués sewn to the cloth (Nos. 133, 182). Generally rectangular in shape, these appliqués can be found in all Near Eastern cultures. They may be also applied to tents, baldachins and other items. In addition to rectangular appliqués, there are circular and star-shaped ones. By using a mold, many appliqués could be produced with the same design. The motifs on the Ephesian appliqués are related to the city’s protective goddess. Bow-shaped appliqués with volute ends and bee motifs are the most common figures (Nos. 141, 142, Fig. 13).27 In the end we may conclude that the Lydian jewelry, which displays a mixture of western and eastern traditions, pioneered the later jewelry of western Anatolia.

  • Fig. 10

    Gold brooch in form of six bow-coils, from the Lydian Treasure, No. 179 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 11

    One of a pair of pomegranate-headed (beehive) pins from Lydian Treasure, No. 180 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 12

    Pair of pomegranate-headed (beehive) pins from Lydian Treasure, No. 180 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 13

    Gold cruciform applique from Ephesus, No. 142 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

Jewelry of the Persian Period

In the fall of 547 BC, the Persian King Cyrus of the Achaemenid Dynasty defeated Croesus and put an end to the Lydian kingdom. From this date to the late sixth century BC, Anatolia underwent a period of stagnation. Archaeological evidence indicates a recovery towards the end of the sixth century. Under Persian rule Sardis retained its important position and became the capital of a satrapy. It also continued to be a center for the production of jewelry.

Jewelry in the Persian style is found in western Anatolia from 500 BC on. The Sardis necropolis, excavated between 1910 and 1914, yielded a large quantity of jewelry dated to the fifth and fourth centuries BC. As the votives from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus are of great importance for East Greek jewelry, so the finds from the Sardis necropolis are central for this period. The whole assemblage is now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and it is crucial in determining the characteristics of the Persian jewelry style. Another important assemblage is from the tumuli around Uşak, which provides us with a better understanding of Achaemenid art.28 The works of this period demonstrate traits particular to Anatolia, which originate through the synthesis of Persian and Anatolian cultures. Finds from Sardis and Uşak thus cast a light on their contemporaries.

Apart from Sardis, a second jewelry center was located at Lampsacus (Lapseki) on the Dardanelles, whose location must have been determined by the gold mines in the region. This enterprise might have begun after the Persian defeat at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. Jewelry craftsmen and artisans that were brought from Sardis continued to manufacture artifacts in mixed Lydian, Persian and Greek motifs and styles at Lampsacus. The objects from Lampsacus were exported to Thrace, the Black Sea and the Aegean. The Greek style becomes more prominent in jewelry by the late fifth century BC.29 It may be that Sardian jewelry met the demand from wealthy patrons in western Anatolia under satrapal rule, while the Lampsacus workshop provided jewelry to the elites at the satrapal center at Daskyleion.

In the Achaemenid period jewelry was worn by both women and men. It was forbidden, however, for the members of the Persian priestly class to wear garments with golden ornaments and jewelry. Compared to the Lydian, the Persian period witnesses an increased use of semi-precious stones. Beads made of colored frit, which is easily shaped, were also popular in place of semi-precious stone. Systematic excavations at Sardis can reveal whether a grave belongs to a male or a female, thus offering us a wealth of information about the status of men and women in Persian society.

Due to the different types of garments in the Persian period, knobbed pins and fibulae are absent in the archaeological record. Earrings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, rings and appliqués are the main jewelry types.

Women’s Jewelry

The earliest finds from the Sardis necropolis are dated to ca. 500 BC. The most flamboyant examples are six cloth appliqués discovered in a female grave. They depict royal sphinxes facing one another in a building below an Ahura Mazda figure in the form of a winged sun disc, whose head is missing. These Ahura Mazda figures are common in the Persian Empire. The same grave also produced cloth appliqués in the form of sphinxes, which were portrayed as walking on a band. The practice of placing the figures on a ground line began in the Persian period and continued into Roman times. The Uşak graves also produced rectangular appliqués, whose relief decoration betrays their Lydian influence (No. 182).

A gold necklace from the same grave as the appliqués has grooved beads—perhaps representing pomegranates—with beads in between. A disk hangs down from the middle of the necklace. Disk pendants were popular in Persian jewelry.30 The grooves on the cylindrical beads may refer to the bees known from Lydian jewelry and imply apotropaic connotations. The production of this type of grooved beads and jewelry lasted for centuries.

Clothing fasteners of the first half of the fifth century BC were also discovered. A double fastener from the necropolis at Sardis has wide rings with groove decoration, whose tips were joined with a thick wire. The fastener was then attached to clothing.31 The fact that the jewelry of the early fifth century BC is exclusively made of gold may suggest Greek influence.

Among Sardian earrings are a number of interesting examples. A pair of earrings belonging to the early fifth century BC is circular in shape with a cut on the edge (No. 117, Fig. 14). The outer side of the ring is convex and decorated with grooves representing the abdomen of a bee. The earrings resemble those carved on the ivory female head of the second half of the sixth century BC (No. 52). Another pair of earrings is in the shape of rings, formed by two rows of large granulation joined by soldering, which shows that the Lydian jewelry continued at least on a technical level32, but stylistically they are specifically Persian. The manufacture of boat-shaped earrings continued (e.g. No. 181, Fig. 15). The plain, bulky earrings of the period have vertical carination in the center. Some rings bear asymmetrical decorations. Seed-shaped pendants and scales hang from the slightly later examples. An earring from Kula is characteristic of the Persian period and might have been manufactured in Sardis. On the bulky body is a vertical carination. There are granulation-filled triangles and a larger triangle on the front surface accompanied by interlocking circles with bubbles in the middle, which are common on the Lydian jewelry. They probably represent the goddess. Triangles are common elements in Persian jewelry, and might be the symbol of the trinity in Zoroastrianism.33

Necklaces from Sardis are made from various types of beads. In addition to examples having a single row of beads, there are necklaces with several rows. Bead materials include gold, semi-precious stones (especially sard or carnelian) and a small amount of colored frit. Grooved beads, which are also termed “melon-shaped,” have Persian-style decoration of wired beads. On women’s jewelry we encounter double-conical, globular, fruit-shaped, knucklebone-shaped, cylindrical, rectangular prism and melon-shaped beads. A unique gold necklace of high quality dated to the fourth century BC is formed by long narrow beads, which may be rendered in the shape of stylized bees. The clips on the tips were carefully executed.34 An example with acorn-shaped pendants from the Toptepe Tumulus in Uşak is unusually beautifully-crafted and sumptuous (No. 175, Figs. 16, 17). It belongs to the first half of the fifth century BC. Lydian in origin, acorns frequently appear on necklaces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. A necklace of unknown provenience bears beech cone-shaped pendants, which is the earliest example of this type.35 This type of pendant was popular in Persian jewelry. Since the cone has three leaves, it may be another connotation of Zoroastrian trinity.

The Sardis necropolis also produced rings whose bezel resembles a rhombus, and whose earliest examples date to the early fifth century BC (see Dusinberre, “Lydo-Persian Seals”). This shape gradually transforms into an oval and then a circle. Various motifs were incised on the bezel. The figures were placed on the ground line. One ring is remarkable for its plain bezel with polygonal section, another Persian trait. Most of the rings with bezels in the form of a scarabs belong to men.36

No bracelets belonging to women have been found in Sardis necropoleis, while the Toptepe Tumulus in Uşak yielded two glass ones. They are blue in color and bear chain-like frames of twisted double wires. The tips of the bracelets are modeled with lion heads. The Persians made bracelets in pairs. The mouths of the lions are closed in women’s jewelry and open in men’s.37

  • Fig. 14

    Gold earrings from Sardis, No. 117 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 15

    Pair of boat-shaped earrings from Toptepe, No. 181 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 16

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

  • Fig. 17

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

Men’s Jewelry

Men’s jewelry is generally plain compared to women’s jewelry, for instance, the plain gold earrings from the Sardis necropolis. A pair of earrings in the form of lions’ heads dating to the first quarter of the fifth century BC, however, is exceptional. On the tips of the wide ring made of an adjacent row of large beads are lion heads with their mouths open. The ring of the earring, which fits to the ear, is attached to the lion head via a swiveling pin. A similar example is seen on the ear of a male aristocrat painted on the wall of Tumulus II at Karaburun in Elmalı.38

In the Persian period men wore various types of necklaces and pendants. Certain types of beads on the necklaces are also observed on other men’s jewelry, including tritons as symbols of fertility, triangles formed by large granulation, bell-shaped apotropaic pendants, and bell-shaped flower beads. The latter is known from the Lydian jewelry of the seventh century BC, and may be of religious significance. One sumptuous necklace from Sardis consists of two rows of beads. In the middle of various beads of gold and sard stone (carnelian), is a large, horizontally-cut sardonyx bead. It resembles a sun, and thus might have symbolized Ahura Mazda (Figs. 18, 19, 20).39 The Sardis necropolis produced frit pendants belonging to the fifth century BC. They are in the form of a egg flattened at the sides, whose upper zones were decorated with gold ringed frames and rows of triangles. To judge form the remaining traces the glass beads were blue in color. There are two interesting pendants made of rock crystal in the shape of elongated drops (No. 118, Figs. 21, 22). Gold lion-headed mounts were placed on the upper tips of the pendants; a ring is attached to the open mouth of the lion. They are dated to the first half of the fourth century BC.40 Pendants in the form of recumbent rams continued to be manufactured in the Persian period (e.g. Nos. 184, 185, 186, 197).41

Among the finds from the Sardis necropolis is an elaborate bracelet: the two ends of the long ring were joined with a large chalcedony bead fitted on a shaft. The bottom of the bead bears the intaglio figures of Athena and Hermes, while the upper surface is rounded (Figs. 23, 24, 25). It belongs to the first half of the fourth century BC. The same grave also produced a pair of plain gold round earrings. A number of bracelets with various shapes come from the tumuli at Güre in Uşak. One of them has a braided ring and a large horizontally-cut sardonyx bead. The bracelet and rings made of chains are peculiar to Persian jewelry. Another pair of gold bracelets is in the form of an omega, with a U-shaped section. The rings terminate in lion protomes with their heads turned back and open mouths. A Lydian envoy depicted on the Apadana reliefs of the palace of Persepolis (486–465/464 BC) wears a similar bracelet, which further proves its Anatolian origin. Segmented bracelets with flat terminals were also manufactured in this period.42

In the Persian period men wore both gold rings and rings with scarab stones. Their surfaces are incised and were used as seals. Walking lions and royal sphinxes are common themes (see Dusinberre, “Lydo-Persian Seals from Sardis”). Some bear personal signs. The upper surfaces of the scarab rings from İkiztepe are surrounded by a row of triangles. The hoops of the rings are in the shape of horseshoes or semicircles.43

The finds from Uşak are impressive and of very high quality, and were made by Sardian craftsmen. They must have belonged to elites living in the Uşak region. The finds from the Sardis necropolis were used by the rich upper classes of the city. Seal pendants suggest that they were often involved in trade. It is observed that differences in social status are reflected in the quality of jewelry. The Persian traits also influenced the later Hellenistic jewelry.

  • Fig. 18

    Necklace from Sardis (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 19

    Necklace from Sardis (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 20

    Necklace from Sardis (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 21

    Rock crystal pendant with lion’s head gold mount from Sardis, No. 118 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 22

    Rock crystal pendant with lion’s head gold mount from Sardis, No. 118 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 23

    Bracelet of gold wire with chalcedony seal, showing Athena and Hermes, from Sardis (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 24

    Bracelet of gold wire with chalcedony seal, showing Athena and Hermes, from Sardis (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 25

    Bracelet of gold wire with chalcedony seal, showing Athena and Hermes, from Sardis (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)