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

by Nancy H. Ramage

Chapter 11. Conclusion to the Lydian Levels at Pactolus Cliff

The stratigraphical record in sector PC, located by the Pactolus River in the western region of Sardis, provides a limited picture of walls and floors, but delivered great quantities of associated pottery from roughly 850 to 550 B.C. Although little actual architecture remained, the pottery, mostly fragmentary, is of great interest and adds materially to our understanding of Lydian ceramics.

Not much in the way of actual structures remains from the earliest period, Lydian IV, since only short stretches of two walls were found; but in addition to the monochrome pottery and pithos fragments lying at the same level near these walls, a number of early ninth- and eighth-century painted fragments were found in various parts of the excavation. Parallels with material from HoB, including a Gray Ware baby feeder, suggest that PC was a domestic area in the Iron Age. Datable Greek imports include PC 64, PC 126, and PC 127. However, no traces of sub-Mycenaean pottery were found here.

From Lydian III, we have some large spaces with long walls and what may have been a cobbled street—made perhaps from walls that had fallen into disrepair. There was also a definable enclosed area, at least 5 × 6 m in width, bordered by Walls 3, 4, and 7. We cannot say what happened on the north or west, nor what the space was used for; but the eastern wall of this space was at some time apparently used as a water channel. A pebbled area in the northeast corner of the trench was the most obvious floor associated with the period of Lydian III.

A stepped incline that probably served as some kind of retaining wall linked Wall 5 to the cobbled “street” that lay a meter below. Signs of extensive burning in some areas of this level, especially in Zone 2, suggest that the Destruction Level, seen so clearly at sector HoB, left traces in this western part of the city as well.

In the first half of the seventh century, or Lydian II, a hard-packed mud floor was built in the westernmost area of the trench over two burned layers showing evidence of fires. These could have been the result of domestic fires or a conflagration caused by an earthquake, and as there were no skeletons or weaponry found, it seems unlikely that they were caused by violent attacks. The pottery under the second floor could be dated no later than about 640 B.C., and the pottery that lay on top of the floor is still Lydian II. Thus we may be speaking about quite a short time span for the existence of the building associated with this floor. Further evidence of fires was found in the eastern side of the trench in a layer of burned mudbrick and charcoal. A mud floor in this eastern area, 0.40 m over the pebble floor already mentioned, did not produce much material, but a fair bit of charcoal was found there.

From the latest Lydian period, Lydian I, covering the later seventh and first half of the sixth century, only one independent wall and one “renovation” survives in PC. The long Wall 9, preserved to a length of 10.50 m, and with no evidence of cross walls, seems to have served as an enclosure wall. Since the earlier Wall 6 in the south was still in existence when Wall 9 was built, these two walls may have defined a street or space between them; an addition to the earlier part of Wall 6 was built right on top of the older part.

The only clear floor associated with Lydian I, in the eastern side of the trench, was identified by mudbrick and charcoal lying upon it, but again it showed no evidence of violent activity. Two terracotta roof tiles (see PC 55 and PC 56) dated around the middle of the sixth century were found at this level.

What was this area on the banks of the river in ancient times? In the ninth century B.C., its inhabitants must have led a simple agrarian life dominated at home (or in barns) by large pithoi for storage and Gray Ware for other needs. Yet already in that century, the Lydians were making pottery with sophisticated geometric designs on their own reddish clay. The fact that Howard Crosby Butler, in the early part of the twentieth century, was finding similar material north of the Temple of Artemis1 (i.e., south of Pactolus Cliff) suggests that PC might have been one of a number of small settlements along the Pactolus River, spreading to the north of the temple area and perhaps south and west of it too. A sudden influx of new shapes as well as decoration must have stunned the people who lived there, and it is exciting to think of the lift that decorated pottery and specialized shapes suited to specific needs must have given to the local populace.

Pactolus Cliff appears to have been beyond the edge of the town center, which we now know was in the area to the east of the Lydian Trench of the House of Bronzes. The buildings of Pactolus Cliff must have looked out on the river, which may have followed a somewhat different course but could not have been far from its current one, given the configuration of the land. How interesting that in this place, some 500 meters southwest of sector HoB, its inhabi-tants—like the people living in the area of sector HoB—had remarkably fine pottery mixed with the utilitarian material that had dominated its earliest years.

The excavations at Pactolus Cliff provide a rich array of Lydian pottery that helps to fill out the picture of shapes and decoration provided by the finds in sector HoB and elsewhere in the region. And they provide evidence of Lydian occupation on the east bank of the Pactolus River,2 at a place that was not far from an early shrine that may have existed near the later temple to Artemis.3 In the record of modern excavation at Sardis it is a small piece of the puzzle, but one that adds to our knowledge of Lydian wall construction, stratigraphy, and pottery, and gives glimpses of the dwellers in a western area of the city.