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

by Andrew Ramage and Nancy H. Ramage

Chapter 8. Conclusion to the Lydian Trench—Sector HoB

The excavation of the Lydian Trench in sector HoB revealed a part of the city of Sardis that was filled with crude structures and outdoor spaces over a period of about a thousand years, from the Late Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period; on the other hand, the focus of this book is somewhat narrower, covering the approximately six hundred years from the Late Bronze Age through the conquest by the Persians. Our interpretation of walls, pottery, and other finds of a domestic or industrial nature creates a picture of ordinary life over that long time span. Evidence for daily living in the way of hearths, cooking ware, knives, crockery, and storage spaces sits cheek by jowl with places where objects were apparently made for commercial or industrial purposes.

The Lydian Trench produced scanty but important testimony for life in the Late Bronze Age at Sardis. The three deep soundings that went back at least to the tenth or eleventh century each revealed not only pottery, metal implements, and a donkey skeleton, but also walls, thatch, the floor of a hut, and a burial pithos. Of special importance were the few Mycenaean potsherds that confirm contact with Greece at that time. Slowly, the early periods at Sardis start to take form in the record.

The finds have been compared with those from other sites in western Anatolia, such as Troy, Beycesultan, and Gordion; at the same time, mainland Greece and the Aegean islands have been recognized for the inspiration that came from the west at different periods in the long history of Sardis. Following the development of the town through four distinct phases after the Late Bronze Age, phases that we call Lydian IV through Lydian I, has allowed a clearer picture to emerge about life among the ordinary people.

Lydian IV is a period of about two hundred years, between the Late Bronze Age and the late eighth century, when there was little communication with the rest of the Mediterranean world. Lydian potters produced mainly gray and buff monochrome wares and cooking pots, but also cups and other shapes with geometric designs derived from the occasional imports from Greece and Anatolia.

Historical markers and connections with literary sources have been sought in the archaeological record. Perhaps the most important is the date and explanation for the widespread burning that took place in the late eighth century, Lydian III. While the destruction had previously been attributed to the Kimmerian invasion, historically placed about 650 B.C., the pottery studies now confirm an earlier date, in the late eighth century, for the enormous conflagration. It may be that the cause of the destruction was an unrecorded invasion of the Kimmerians or another external group or, less likely, internal rivalries between Lydian factions, resulting in struggles for power among the nobility.

The construction of the substantial city wall 100 meters to the east of the Lydian Trench, a century after that conflagration, would have seriously affected the area. The people who lived in the zone of sector HoB would have now found themselves outside the defended quarter, and presumably in a less desirable part of the city.

The evidence for growth in the local town, with more solid buildings and an orderly arrangement of houses and shops, becomes clear through the substantial remains of Lydian II. It is in this period, the seventh century, that the best picture of life in the town emerges. Small buildings with walls of stone and mudbrick are placed in an orderly way within an enclosure wall. Internal furnishings and household goods were found still lying about as if the inhabitants had only recently departed, perhaps because of the rush of floodwaters. Of special note in this period were the bothroi, or pits, some of which served to hold garbage, while others will have been used for other household or industrial purposes. These round pits were dug down, through thick layers of gravel, into the levels of the previous period.

In the second half of the seventh century, international influences thrive, especially with the proliferation of Orientalizing pottery, both imported and imitated in the local style. The period of Lydian I provides an exciting picture of small industries in the carving of bone objects and casting of jewelry with stone molds, and undoubtedly the weaving of fine fabrics for which Sardis was famed.

After the destruction caused by the Persians in the mid-sixth century, the area of sector HoB seems to have continued mainly as an industrial area. Perhaps its location outside the great city wall meant that it became a less attractive place to build houses or workshops; but they may have used impermanent structures for both habitation and industry. The east–west thoroughfare that had been there since early times, which passed right by HoB and still existed as the main Izmir–Ankara highway until a bypass was opened in 2001, probably never lost its importance. Industry in the Lydian Trench of HoB after the Persian destruction is attested more by ceramic and other finds than by stone buildings.

What the Harvard-Cornell Expedition uncovered here may be considered a representative microcosm of an Anatolian town, famed in antiquity for its wealth and lifestyle, and regarded as an important city under the Lydian kings and beyond. But what was found in the Lydian Trench is the record not of the high and mighty, but of the ordinary worker, humble and poor, the bread makers and artisans living in reed huts and within walled enclosures. These excavations have helped to bring into focus a fascinating collage, not of the favored few of Herodotus and the early chroniclers, but of the unsung lives of ordinary Lydians at home.