Report 8: Ordinary Lydians at Home: The Lydian Trenches of the House of Bronzes and Pactolus Cliff at Sardis (2021)

by Nicholas Cahill

Editor’s Preface

Editor’s Preface

One of Prof. G. M. A. Hanfmann’s primary objectives in starting excavation at Sardis in 1958 was to investigate the culture of the Lydians, the native Anatolian people who inhabited this region of Asia Minor in the first millennium B.C. or earlier, invented coinage, and, under a series of powerful kings, conquered and ruled over most of western Anatolia. Howard Crosby Butler, in his excavations of 1910–1914 and 1922, had dug hundreds of Lydian tombs, discovering marvelous objects of pottery, gold, silver, ivory, and other materials; but the tomb groups remain largely unpublished, and even the location of the city of Sardis during the Lydian period remained entirely unknown.

In his first season, Prof. Hanfmann excavated at a number of sectors throughout the ancient site, including two Roman baths and the Temple of Artemis; but at only one did he reach Lydian levels: across the modern (and ancient) highway from the Bath-Gymnasium Complex, at a sector he named after a Late Roman dwelling found there, the “House of Bronzes.” In the very last week of excavations, digging under one of the rooms of the Roman house, he found for the first time remains of the earlier city: a room containing a large number of characteristic Lydian vases, sherds, and other artifacts, which he nicknamed the “Lydian Shop.” While his other excavations that summer produced important results, this was a unique find, since Sardis was not only the capital, but indeed the only city of the Lydians. So exciting was this discovery that he immediately sent a telegram to John Coolidge, director of the Fogg Art Museum, on August 22, 1958, announcing that “climaxing a two months’ search, American archaeologists claimed today to have located the Lydian city of Sardis, the capital city of Croesus. Large gaily painted jars and some house walls were the tip-off that the great city of golden Lydia had been found. . . . Prof. Detweiler of Cornell, Field Advisor of the Expedition, said, ‘this is what we have been looking for.’”

Excavation at this sector, which came to be known as HoB–Lydian Trench, continued nearly every year until 1970, primarily under the direction of Gus Swift, but also with other archaeologists, including Donald Hansen, William Collins Kohler, John G. Pedley, and Andrew Ramage. The work was undertaken on a grand scale, with scores of workmen eventually excavating an area of more than 3,000 square meters through complex stratigraphy of the Roman, Hellenistic, and Persian eras to reach a series of Lydian levels, which Swift labeled Lydian I, II, and III. In three “deep soundings,” excavations reached depths of 13 meters below the surface, uncovering remains dating to the Early Iron Age and Late Bronze Age, the earliest remains then discovered at Sardis. They uncovered an enclosure of the seventh century B.C. with individual units along its perimeter, domestic and working areas of many different periods, and a wealth of artifacts, from Orientalizing vases decorated with lions and sphinxes to rusty iron. For the first time, this sector provided a stratigraphic sequence and a general absolute dating for Lydian pottery and material culture, and HoB still remains the sector that has produced the widest variety and richest collection of Lydian artifacts from Sardis, accounting for about a quarter of the total number of artifacts of all periods inventoried during more than sixty years of excavations at the site.

Meanwhile, Lydian remains were also excavated at sectors along the Pactolus stream, including Pactolus Cliff (PC), about halfway between HoB and the Temple of Artemis. As recounted here by Nancy Ramage, excavations at PC were more short-lived than those at HoB, but were very productive, particularly of remains of the early Lydian period, which have been rarer at other sectors.

Naturally, the Expedition’s interpretations of these discoveries have changed over the years. For instance, Prof. Hanfmann initially believed that the early destruction level designated as “Lydian III” might “reflect the Cimmerian raid in the first half of the seventh century.”1 Later analysis of the Corinthian pottery by Judith Schaeffer showed that the destruction was rather earlier, as is further discussed in the current volume.

Most fundamentally, our understanding of the place of these sectors in Lydian Sardis has shifted, thanks to the Ramages. Hanfmann had interpreted the large enclosure of Lydian II as a market or early bazaar, and referred to the sector fairly consistently as the Lydian Market, broadly invoking Herodotus’ description of the city of Sardis in 499 B.C. as ranged along the Pactolus. He concluded from his excavations at PC, PN, HoB, and elsewhere that these sectors formed the core of Lydian Sardis. On a stroll past HoB one evening in 1976, long after excavations there had concluded, Andrew and Nancy recognized that the prominent rise just east of the excavation sector was not a natural hill, but was largely made of mudbrick. They immediately identified this as the remains of the Lydian city wall. It took another generation to prove that the fortification enclosed the area to the east of the wall, not to the west where Hanfmann believed the Lydian city to be; leaving HoB, PC, and the other sectors as suburbs outside the defended area of the city. Andrew and Nancy’s discovery obviously profoundly affects our understanding of Lydian Sardis and specifically of HoB and PC, as reflected in this monograph.2

Well after work at Pactolus Cliff had been completed, largely by Mario Del Chiaro, Prof. Hanfmann asked Nancy Ramage, author of articles and monographs on Hellenistic and Roman sculpture and on Attic pottery from Sardis, to publish the results of those excavations.3 It was a logical step to include this with the publication of Hanfmann’s other major Lydian sector, HoB. Responsibility for publishing the excavations of the Lydian Trench at HoB had been given to Gus Swift, the main excavator of the sector. But following Swift’s untimely passing in 1976, Hanfmann asked Andrew Ramage to take on this task. This was an enormous undertaking, with thousands of inventoried and uninventoried artifacts to study, scores of fieldbooks and reports, drawings and other records that allowed him to reconstruct the excavations and stratigraphy. Andrew Ramage’s primary focus was on the history of occupation at the sector, the development of its buildings, and Iron Age pottery, as well as evidence for production, industry, and trade.

We were fortunate, therefore, that Prof. Dr. Gül Gürtekin-Demir agreed to contribute to this monograph by assembling the catalogue of pottery and other artifacts from archaic levels at HoB. The selection includes artifacts with reasonably secure architectural and stratigraphic contexts, which could be tied to a particular building or level, and which thus contribute to our understanding of the sector as a whole. Gürtekin-Demir did her PhD dissertation on Lydian pottery from Sardis, working closely with Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr., and the Ramages, and is one of the world’s foremost experts on Anatolian ceramics. Their thoughtful and careful work on the assemblages of artifacts has helped make this the first thorough and comprehensive publication of Lydian material culture from Sardis, a goal of archaeologists at the site for more than a century.

As always, a long list of scholars, students, and supporters have contributed in many different ways to this publication, and to thank them properly would be the work of another monograph. Talented architects and photographers documented the excavations over the decades. Among the architects in the 1960s were Thomas Canfield, Stuart Carter, Anthony Casendino, Donald P. Hansen, A. H. Hyatt, Ralph Iler, Robert Mayers, Richard Penner, Leon Satkowski, David Stieglitz, and Robert Lindley Vann. Brianna Bricker took this diversity of plans, sketches, fieldbook drawings, and other data and brought them into order, producing the new phase plans for this volume under the direction of Andrew and Nancy Ramage, and enormously aiding in their study of this material. Among the many photographers in the earlier years were Polly Bart, Jonathan Boorstin, Elizabeth Gombosi, Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr., Martha Hoppin, Richard Hoyle, Raymond Liddell, Charles Lyman, Peter Machinist, James R. McCredie, S. E. Myers, Richard Petkun, Bonnie Solomon, and Robert Whallon Jr. (Apologies to architects and photographers whose names were inadvertently omitted here.) For more recent documentation of the finds from the excavations we are grateful to the Sardis photographers, including Sara Champlin, Jivan Güner, Ellen Jordan, Jessica Salley, and Richard Taylor. And particular thanks must, as always, go to Catherine Alexander, draftsperson extraordinaire, whose laser-keen eye noticed so many details and whose critical mind asked so many questions that otherwise might have gone unseen or unasked. She took great delight in creating watercolors of a few special pieces, and worked closely with Rana Irmak Aksoy, who digitally textured many of the pottery drawings. Other draftsmen whose work is represented in this volume include Nancy Ramage and Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.

Editing, design, and layout were done by Kerri Sullivan and Brianna Bricker, who as always brought their remarkable perception, creativity, and care to the contents and the look of this volume. Katherine Kiefer, Theresa Huntsman, and Jane Ayer Scott, previous editors of the Sardis Reports and Monographs series, contributed to its development over the years. It has been a pleasure for me to work with these very talented individuals.

Since 1958 the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (and, previously, the Ministry of Education) of the Republic of Turkey has generously supported archaeological research at Sardis. We are particularly grateful to them, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums for their ongoing support, and for permission to work at this fascinating ancient site. Over the years we have enjoyed the interest and concern of many Ministers, General Directors, and their dedicated staff, and wish we could thank them individually; in thanking the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, and Director General of Cultural Heritage and Museums Gökhan Yazgı, we extend thanks to their gracious predecessors as well. Excavations Department Director Umut Görgülü and his predecessor Melik Ayaz have offered wise guidance for many years, and we are particularly indebted to them and their staff. Eren Sülek, director of the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Manisa, and his predecessors Lütfi Ekinci, Harun Güllü, Sevgi Soyaker, Müyesser Tosunbaş, Hasan Dedeoğlu, Kubilây Nayır, and Kemal Ziya Polatkan, were particularly generous in allowing us to study, re-photograph, and draw objects in the museum even when it was particularly inconvenient for them, and we are especially grateful for their help.

Martha Tedeschi, the director of Harvard Art Museums, has generously continued the tradition of housing the Sardis Expedition’s office under the auspices of the Museums, and we are grateful for her continued interest and support. Cornell University made offices, facilities, and other support available to the Ramages in their research on HoB, PC, and other matters Sardian, greatly aiding their studies. The Faculty Oversight Committee for the Sardis Expedition at Harvard, and particularly Prof. Mark Elliott, Vice Provost for International Affairs, and Prof. Adrian Stähli, chair of the committee, have been staunch supporters of Harvard’s role at Sardis.

Since 1958 the Harvard-Cornell Sardis Expedition has relied financially, logistically, and spiritually on a strong group of interested friends, the Supporters of Sardis, many of whom have maintained their ties to the project for decades. We are deeply grateful to each of them. Among the individuals and organizations who should be especially mentioned here are Dr. Alexandre Balkanski, Mr. and Mrs. Max Barus, the Bollingen Foundation, the Ruth Covo Family Foundation, the J. Stephens Crawford Trust, the Ford Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. William Frederick, Mrs. Margaretta Frederick, Dr. and Mrs. David Greenewalt and the David Greenewalt Charitable Trust, Dr. Richard Hamilton, Mr. Patrick J. Healy, the Hyacinth Foundation, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Nanette Rodney Kelekian, Julilly and Marie Kohler, Dr. Edwin H. Land and Mrs. Land, Mr. Thomas B. Lemann, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, the Loeb Classical Library Foundation of Harvard University, Rosemary Lonergan, Mr. Scott Malkin, Mr. Osman Mardin and his family, who have done so much to promote the Expedition, the Charles E. Merrill Trust, the Old Dominion Foundation, Mr. Donald I. Perry, the John and Emma Quint Memorial Fund, Mr. John J. Roche, the Billy Rose Foundation, the Rowland Foundation, Mr. Andrew Seager, Mrs. Valerie Smallwood, the Susan G. Soderquist Trust, Edward Teppo, Richard and Genevieve Tucker, the Vila B. Webber Charitable Trust, and the Zemurray Foundation, as well as several anonymous donors. It is a pleasure to thank the John M. Kohler Foundation, established in honor of his father by William Collins Kohler; the Eleanor Ransom Swift Trust, established by the wife of Gustavus Swift III, excavator at HoB from 1960 until 1970; and the estate of W. C. Burriss Young, conservator at Sardis from 1960 to 1963, in memory of Burriss Young and his parents, Helen Burriss Young and Francis Hastings Young; and to mention here the recent and very generous endowment left to the Expedition by William Collins Kohler, who excavated at Sardis, including in HoB, from 1961 to 1963. We have also benefited from grants from the U.S. Department of State and the National Endowment for the Humanities.4

Andrew and Nancy Ramage worked together at Sardis in the 1960s during these excavations, fell in love at the site in 1968, and have been together at Sardis now for more than half a century, collaborating on this and many other archaeological projects. I am deeply gratified to see this book come to fruition, and inspired by their devotion to Sardis and to each other.

Nick Cahill

Madison, Wisconsin


  • 1Hanfmann, “Sardis 1960,” p. 12.
  • 2Greenewalt, “Sardis 1976,” pp. 64–65; for a summary, Cahill 2019a.
  • 3See her earlier studies of the sector, for instance Ramage 1994.
  • 4The Department of State made grants in Turkish funds to Harvard under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Act Public Law 87-256 and Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, Public Law 480 as amended (SCC 29-543). National Endowment for the Humanities grants to Harvard University for work at Sardis and for publication work in the Cambridge office are: H67-0-56, H68-0-61, H69-0-23, RO-111-70-3966, RO-4999-71-171, RO-6435-72-264, RO-8359-73-217, RO-10405-74-319, RO-23511-76-541, RO-20047-81-0230, RO-20607-84, RO-21414-87, RP-10050-80-0387, RP-20247-81-2162, RP-20360-82, RP-20754-86; to Cornell University GM-21549-83. Recent conservation work at Sardis has been funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy, Ankara: S-TU-150-17-GR-051-A01. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.