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 9. Introduction to the Lydian Levels at Pactolus Cliff

The sector Pactolus Cliff (PC) represents a small area of occupation along the eastern cliff of the Pactolus River. Excavation began here in the summer of 1959 after a partial collapse of the high bank during the previous winter (Fig. 9.1). As a result of the collapse, villagers found large blocks of marble from a tomb (Fig. 9.2) and pieces of sculpture that they brought to the excavation house in February of that year. Fragments of an Asiatic sarcophagus, including the head of a young woman and the head of a horse, had been found in the riverbed, and excavations were initiated that summer near where the sculpture had been found.1

The site, investigated over two seasons, was located on top of the remaining cliff, about 700 meters north of the Temple of Artemis (Fig. 2.1: no. 13). At the upper levels, the excavator, Mario Del Chiaro, found the Hellenistic “Tomb of the Lintel,” and a Roman mausoleum with two rooms preserved (the Large Vaulted Chamber [LVC] and the Small Vaulted Chamber [SVC]), as well as several simple Roman stone-lined pit graves (Fig. 9.3).2 The later tombs were built directly over Archaic and earlier Lydian remains: in one instance the Hellenistic builders had rested a wall directly on a Lydian wall beneath;3 and a long east–west Lydian wall (Wall 9; see below) was found immediately below the southern end of the northernmost Roman burial. However, once Del Chiaro reached the Lydian levels, about four meters below the present ground level, he found relatively little disturbance from Hellenistic or Roman foundations.

Excavating at PC faced certain inherent difficulties imposed by the nature and location of the site. Lying between the village houses and the cliff edge, which had been worn away by the action of the river, the area was constricted by those boundaries. George M. A. Hanfmann often remarked that he was sorry that we had not done more with the site,4 but after the 1960 season, heavy winter rains and the river had caused damage to the cliff edge; and furthermore, the pressing excitement of sector HoB and the new excavations at Pactolus North (PN), which lay between Pactolus Cliff and the old highway bridge, took away the attention of the excavators. By 1980 the winter rains and the flooding of the Pactolus River had entirely claimed the remains in the area of Pactolus Cliff (Fig. 9.4).

Occupation at Pactolus Cliff lasted from the Iron Age to the Archaic period, and the pottery can be dated from the middle ninth to the middle of the sixth century B.C. Thus, the site complements the information and observations gained from the Lydian levels in sector HoB.5 In contrast to what was found at HoB, there was almost no evidence from the period of Persian dominance: only one piece of Attic pottery, a late fifth- or fourth-century fragment of a squat lekythos, found in a place that was not well stratified.6 One of the latest Archaic finds is a terracotta star-and-scroll terracotta sima tile (PC 55) datable to 580–540 B.C.;7 thus, at PC, sometime around the middle of the sixth century, there begins a hiatus in the record8 that lasts until the Hellenistic period—which falls beyond the confines of this study.

The time periods that have been spelled out in Chapter 2 for the finds in sector HoB (p. 31) will be used here as well. In other words, based on comparison with the stratigraphy in HoB, and also by comparing the general mix of pottery shapes and decoration in the comparable levels, it can be stated that the earliest period at PC belongs in Lydian IV, ninth to eighth centuries, when Gray Ware and pithos fragments are predominant but pottery with geometric decoration makes an entrance. Indeed, PC produced a good deal of ninth-century Black on Red pottery in particular.

Lydian III, covering the last quarter of the eighth century, is still characterized by a large proportion of monochrome and pithos fragments, and the painted pottery is consistently of the earlier geometric type. Lydian II, from the early to mid-seventh century, has much geometric decoration on the pottery, but the many imports and their local imitations reflect Orientalizing influence. Lydian I, from the later seventh to the mid-sixth century, shows a predominance of Orientalizing motifs. This area to the west of the city, then, seems to have been abandoned for two hundred years or more before it became a Hellenistic (and later, a Roman) cemetery.

The overall coordinates of the trench, including the Hellenistic and Roman remains, were W225–242/S600–615 (Fig. 9.5), about 200 square meters; the Lydian layers, between *91.00 and *87.00, were about 7.5 × 10 m, or an area of about 75 square meters.9

The stratigraphy of the Lydian levels and the relationship of finds to architectural features is something of a problem at PC, as the excavator used no coordinates; instead, the area was dug in “zones” that were defined by walls or, in some cases, simply by arbitrary limits that are now impossible to reconstruct; references to markers such as “Walls XY” or “Diagonal Cut at X” can no longer be identified. Nevertheless, certain developments can be discerned. In some instances, a wall created an artificial dividing line between zones: Wall 9, which is of the latest period, Lydian I, separates Zone 1 from Zones 2A and 3 (Fig. 9.5), all of which produced much material from Lydian III and II. And Wall 3 separated Zones 2A and 3 from Zone 4. Indeed, some pottery fragments from the same vessels were found in different zones.10 A diagonal cut was made through the heart of the trench, passing through Zones 3 and 2A, in order to get a clearer sense of the layers, both natural and artificial. Levels were recorded,11 but there was never any mention of pits within levels, or of other disturbances to the stratigraphy. The nomenclature has been retained since it is the only way of determining the rough findspots.

Walls in PC are here given numbers, 1 through 9, to allow for convenient reference to associated floors and spaces.12 A rough equivalence between the walls and periods is:

Walls 1 and 2: Lydian IV

Walls 3, 4, and 5: Lydian III

Walls 6, 7, 8, and 8a: Lydian II

Walls 6 and 9: Lydian I

Walls going in an east–west direction were destroyed on the west side where the action of the Pactolus had worn away the cliff; on the east and north, they continued under the scarp. Notably, Wall 9 was so long (10.5 m long, 0.80 thick) that it may have been an enclosure wall of some kind. No complete buildings were preserved at Pactolus Cliff.

The areas between these walls were labeled as “zones” in the fieldbooks and preliminary reports (Fig. 9.5). Zones 1 to 4 encompass all but the southeastern part of the trench, where, instead of zones, divisions were established beneath the two chambers of the Roman mausoleum that had been removed so as to expose the Lydian levels. These southeastern areas are referred to as being beneath the “Large Vaulted Chamber” to its north and south (LVC/N and LVC/S); and as the area beneath the “Small Vaulted Chamber” (SVC).13 Zone 1 was an area that ran east–west in the northern part of the trench; it was bordered on the north by Wall 7 (and the scarp) and on the south by Wall 9. Zone 2 was divided, part way through the excavation, into Zone 2 at the east of Walls 4 and 5, and Zone 2A at the west (Fig. 9.6). Zone 3 lay at the northwestern edge of the trench, and can be visually picked out by the tamped floor that was its most outstanding feature (Fig. 9.7). Zone 4 lay south of Zone 3, and again on the western and the southwestern side of the trench. The southeastern parts of the excavations were designated as “below LVC” and “below SVC.”

Mostly in the lower levels and test pits was there clear evidence of Lydian IV (Iron Age, ninth and eighth century), but these early levels also appear on and under a floor in Zone 1 (see p. 122). In a number of test pits, the lower strata belonged to the Early Iron Age, but there was no sign of Late Bronze Age pottery. Those areas that are particularly interesting for the early levels are characterized by Gray Ware and pithos sherds. Comparisons with the Gray Ware from HoB suggest that we have shapes that can be paralleled with pots from the Early Iron Age found in Deep Sounding C. Those areas at PC that have the earliest material have modern pits to the following levels:

Test pit, Zone 2: To *86.51 (see Fig. 10.2)

Test pit, Zone 2A: To *87

Test pit, Zone 3: To *84.57

Test pit, Zone 4: To *86.57 (see Fig. 10.4)

Below LVC/S: To *87.40

The overwhelming number of pottery fragments from PC could be identified as Lydian III (last quarter of the eighth century). Smaller amounts of pottery came from Lydian levels II or I, beneath the somewhat disturbed Hellenistic and Roman levels.

The ground sloped down from east to west in antiquity, so that lower levels toward the cliff edge tended to yield slightly later material than that at the same levels in other sections of the trench.

Among the many walls of PC, only the following Lydian floors were found:

At *88.40, pebble floor at the east end of Zone 1 (Lydian III)

At *88.80, mud floor at the east end of Zone 1 (Lydian II)

At *89.55, in Zone 3 (Lydian II)

At *90.15, in Zone 2 (Lydian I)

See Table 2.1 for the chronology.

The stratigraphy and finds at Pactolus Cliff, as laid out in the following chapter, will show that despite somewhat limited details in the records, a lot can be understood from this small settlement that in many ways mirrors the much larger exposure of the sector HoB.

  • Fig. 9.1

    Pactolus Cliff before excavation began, looking east, after part of the bank collapsed. The top of the Acropolis rises up in the distance. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9.2

    Pactolus Cliff, looking north, as the excavations were starting in 1959. Marble blocks, seen here, had fallen into the riverbed from tombs above the Lydian levels. The relationship of the site of PC, on the cliff at right, to the Pactolus River is evident here. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 2.1

    General map of Turkey and Greece, showing sites mentioned in this book. (Map by LauraLee Brott, ©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9.3

    Fieldbook sketch by the excavator, Mario Del Chiaro, of the Hellenistic and Roman tombs at Pactolus Cliff, before the excavation reached the Lydian levels. Fieldbook PC 1959.II: 2 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9.4

    The riverbed with the bluff where Pactolus Cliff had been, here worn away by the river and the winter rains. This is how it looked in 1986 (as recorded by the author). Again, the Acropolis peak is seen in the distance, looking southeast. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9.5

    Zones and walls of Lydian levels in sector PC. Overlying Hellenistic and Roman tombs are shown lightly shaded. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9.6

    Zone 2 at left and Zone 2A at right (divided by narrower Wall 4 and wider Wall 5), looking south. The workmen are standing on the stepped incline. Wall 9 is at the lower right. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9.7

    The square tamped floor (Lydian II) of Zone 3 (at center, looking southwest). The long, narrow Zone 1 (at the right with a single man standing in it) is bordered by the long Wall 9 and also by Wall 7 at the right edge of the photograph. The short Wall 8, running roughly at right angles to Wall 9 (center of the photo), borders the tamped floor on the east side. The two walls at the lower left are Walls 4 and 5. The Pactolus riverbed lies beyond the photo frame, at the top left. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 10.2

    Test pit, Zone 2, looking west. The stones at left make up the stepped incline. Wall 1 (Lydian IV) can be seen at the bottom of the pit at lower right. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 10.4

    Zone 4, Wall 2 (Lydian IV), looking northeast: closeup of the boulder-like stones. See also Fig. 10.7. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)


  • 1These fragments had decorated the fulcrum of a funerary couch. Hanfmann, “Sardis 1959,” p. 12 and fig. 2; and Hanfmann and Ramage, Sardis R2, pp. 134–36 and cat. nos. 180, 181.
  • 2Fieldbook PC 1959.ii:2. See Hanfmann, “Sardis 1959,” pp. 12–18; Hanfmann and Mierse, SPRT, p. 65. For an overview of PC, see SPRT, pp. 41–42.
  • 3“The south wall of the dromos of the Hellenistic Tomb of the Lintel uses a Lydian wall [of the Lydian I level] as part of its foundation” (A. Ramage 1969, p. 12).
  • 4Hanfmann later wrote, “I have always felt sorry that the high overburden with village houses on top prevented us from advancing farther at PC. The Lydian structures were really large, but one would have to go farther away from the Pactolus water level to do any stratigraphic sounding. It’s a pity, for widening the dig might have indicated something about the settlement pattern between PN and the Temple” (written on the back of a Christmas card to the Ramages, 1984).
  • 5Apparently habitation did not start as early here, although it is possible that more pottery could have been found, had the water table not interfered with the excavations in 1960.
  • 6Ramage, Sardis M10, cat. Att 112 (P59.371), pl. 41; see also p. 69.
  • 7See Ramage, Sardis M5, pp. 26–27, cat. no. 43, frontispiece and fig. 87; Hanfmann and Mierse, SPRT, p. 41. For the dating of pottery, the author is much indebted to the expertise of A. Ramage. Assistance from C. Simon (particularly regarding Gray Ware) and from N. D. Cahill, C. H. Greenewalt, jr., Ü. Gungör, and R. G. Gürtekin-Demir is also here gratefully acknowledged.
  • 8The pottery record does not support the claim in SPRT, p. 101, that the area was occupied under the Persians.
  • 9No grid lines have been included on the PC plans because none were used by the excavator. The coordinates are mentioned here only to place the site on the overall plan of the city (Fig. 2.1).
  • 10Such as PC 13 and PC 18.
  • 11Stratigraphical information and interpretation is derived from the excavation notebooks and reports written by Mario Del Chiaro, and from further analysis by G. M. A. Hanfmann; but these findings have been reevaluated in the light of the present author’s studies of both the pottery and the stratigraphy. See previous publications: Hanfmann, “Sardis 1959,” pp. 12–19; Hanfmann, “Sardis 1960,” pp. 17–24; A. Ramage 1969; Hanfmann and Mierse, SPRT; N. Ramage 1994.[br]Levels at PC are not comparable to those in sector HoB, because the point of reference used was different, due to the distance from the starting point as well as the topography. Whereas in sector HoB the datum point was based on the Roman Gymnasium (see p. 23), at PC and PN the levels were taken in reference to a point on the stylobate of the Temple of Artemis. The differential between levels at PC and at HoB is 23.26 m. See also Sardis R1, p. 11.
  • 12The concordance of wall numbers used here to the original numbering (fieldbook PC 60.i:2) is as follows:[br] Wall 1 = none [br] Wall 2 = none[br] Wall 3 = A[br] Wall 4 = B[br] Wall 5 = none[br] Wall 6 = none[br] Wall 7 = none[br] Wall 8 = C[br] Wall 8a = none[br] Wall 9 = none
  • 13For the chambers LVC and SVC, see plan in Hanfmann, “Sardis 1959,” fig. 3. The dividing line between LVC/N and LVC/S was Wall 6.
  • Fig. 2.1

    General map of Turkey and Greece, showing sites mentioned in this book. (Map by LauraLee Brott, ©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)