Rapor 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 1. Lydian Pottery: An Overview


Ancient historians, describing the Lydians, wrote mainly about the kings and palaces, although Herodotus (I.7) gave us some insight into the common people and the city of Sardis as he understood them to be. In contrast to the historical view of rulers and their wealth, this book introduces the reader to those finds from ancient Sardis that show how ordinary Lydians lived and worked. The two sectors, House of Bronzes (HoB) and Pactolus Cliff (PC), under discussion here, shed light on the houses and workshops, the streets and refuse pits, the objects of daily life and tools for industry, of the people who lived in this city in the centuries before it was destroyed by the Persians in the middle of the sixth century B.C.

We start with a chapter on Lydian pottery, since this is the most ubiquitous material throughout the site, as well as the most helpful for seeing the relationships of the Lydians with their neighbors to the west and the east. Studying the pottery enables us to understand the chronology, the trade relationships, and the local taste in eating and cooking wares.

Masses of pottery came from both of these areas at Sardis, providing a rich cache of Lydian ceramics that ranges from delicate tableware to heavy “breadtray” and massive storage jars. Although the archaeological finds also included pottery imported from Greek and Anatolian centers, this summary here in Chapter 1 concentrates on local Lydian pottery.1 It provides a framework for understanding the favored shapes of Lydian pots, the range of decorative designs used by Lydian pot painters, and the makeup of the clay itself; and along the way, a look at how Lydians made use of their pottery even after it was broken and turned into a reused product.


Since most of the pottery shapes in the later levels found in the Lydian Trench of sector HoB approximate forms well known to students of Greek pottery, the conventional Greek terms have been used here.2 However, the details of the profiles in some instances differ considerably from the Attic or Corinthian norms that are the common points of reference. Whole vessels are rare in the occupation levels at sectors HoB and PC, and few graves that might have preserved whole pots are known from this period.

Lydian pottery shapes are related both to Anatolian and to Greek examples. It is unclear to what degree Greek terms for the shapes of pots should be applicable to those that are related to native Anatolian traditions. This is particularly an issue in the earlier periods, when the shapes (especially of the monochrome ware) are more closely related to vessels found at Gordion or Midas City in Phrygia than to those from Greece.3 In some cases the shapes are so similar to Anatolian parallels that they must either come from the same source or belong to a tight local tradition that is widespread in western Anatolia. Many similarities to the shapes and surface treatment of pots from Larisa on the Hermus can be found, once again most notably among the monochrome pieces assigned to the pre-Greek settlement, but continuing into the Orientalizing period.4 The Aeolic pieces from Old Smyrna raise the issue of terminology.5 What might properly be called an oinochoe in a later level would more likely be called a jug in an earlier level, since the use of Greek terminology would be inappropriate. We use “jug” for such vessels in the earlier periods, and “oinochoe” in the catalogues of Lydian II and Lydian I objects.

For specific shapes, see Figures 1.1a and 1.1b, which show the typical Lydian forms, most of which are mentioned in the following pages. In addition to these standard pottery shapes, there are clear signs of daily life in occasional pieces such as strainers (HoB 213, HoB 555), racks for holding a roasting spit (HoB 106, HoB 230), and an oven grate (HoB 251).

Krater, Lebes, and Pot Stand

Kraters with a high foot, like those found at Exochi on Rhodes, were favored in Lydian III (see the Table of Chronology with Elevations), and we suppose many to be local imitations, although some were certainly direct imports.6 One such import is a large krater, with concentric circles and wiggly vertical lines in a reserved panel (i.e., a panel with no paint), which can be reconstructed on paper (HoB 351). It was found on the late eighth-century Destruction Level and is important for its dating. The shape does not appear in Lydian II, and one supposes that its role was absorbed by large bowls on stands. Later forms (HoB 556) are close to the typical shape for Corinthian column kraters (in Lydian I),7 but imitation of their decorative scheme is not attempted. The skyphos krater is another large open form (HoB 447, HoB 749), and others stem from differing treatments of the neck or turn of the shoulder.

A variation of the krater with a high foot is the round-bottomed lebes that must be set in a stand so as not to tip over. Both the krater and the lebes held large amounts of liquid that would be scooped out and then poured from a smaller vessel. The introduction of the lebes shape may be proposed for the end of the eighth century, even if no “certified” pieces appear until Lydian II (HoB 750).

The early pot stands for the lebes are biconical in shape (HoB 386), and tended to be fancier than the simple cylindrical type that came later. Imported versions of the biconical stand are decorated with bands around the belly in Brown on Buff; Lydian versions are elegantly decorated in Black on Red with geometric designs (HoB 179).8 But not only the large lebes needed a pot stand. Any round-bottomed pot (cooking or otherwise) would require a stand to stay upright wherever it was set down. It typically took the form of a cylindrical ring on which to set a pot (HoB 535). Frequently a substitute was made out of the broken neck of a hydria or amphora (Fig. 1.2), especially during Lydian I. See the many examples from HoB, such as HoB 524HoB 533.9


Jugs, also called oinochoai, were common items, found everywhere, and were much needed in daily life for water and wine. A particularly fine example of the trefoil oinochoe is a red Bichrome and streaky vessel, HoB 753, where elaborate concentric hooks decorate the shoulder, while streaky glaze covers the body (see Fig. 1.11). Another is a broad Bichrome jug with strong concentric hooks, again on the shoulder (HoB 620). Trefoil oinochoai ranged from large examples like these to small and delicate ones (HoB 754HoB 762).

Round-mouthed jugs in many sizes make up a large proportion of the closed shapes; both tall and squat profiles are found in most wares. The round-mouthed jugs start early (PC 1). A typical later example is HoB 376, and there are the Phrygian-inspired round-mouthed jugs, HoB 331 and HoB 369.

Hydria and Amphora

The other common large shape for liquids is the hydria or amphora, similar in the body but different in the handles. The hydria (meaning “water jar”) has three handles: one on each side of the belly and one that goes from neck to shoulder, used to lift the vessel for pouring. The amphora, in contrast, has two handles, both reaching from the neck to the shoulder of the pot.

The Lydians had their own version of the popular decorative scheme of wavy lines that was widely used on East Greek pottery. It is particularly frequent for amphorae and hydriae that, in fragments, are notoriously difficult to distinguish from each other because the shapes preferred by the Lydians are identical except for the number and position of the handles.

Lydian amphorae and hydriae are normally wide-necked and boxy in proportion. Especially a type called “Waveline hydriae” (or amphorae, depending on the handle arrangements) has a body width that is close to its height (HoB 577).10 In fact no Lydian examples of the narrower, more elongated type of amphora that conformed to Greek taste were found in sectors HoB or PC.

It is standard on Lydian amphorae to find a marked articulation at neck to shoulder. A simple low ring-foot is also the norm. It is not clear yet when any vessel that could be properly described as an amphora first makes its appearance in Lydia, because so many of the fragments are ambiguous and may well belong to large jugs, identified by their handle attachments or trefoil mouths. The earliest piece (HoB 356) with a complete neck and handles dates to the late eighth century, but handle fragments from the Late Bronze Age levels may come from amphorae too.

The decoration is a variation of a scheme using horizontal bands at intervals down the body of the pot (HoB 522).11 The rim has a broad band inside and out, and the neck a wavy line. The shoulder carries a pair of lines set just below the band marking the articulation at the neck, which is treated like a crisscrossing festoon. More formally, and perhaps under stronger Greek influence, two horizontal S loops are set tangentially and linked by an open triangle above. On occasion this is elaborated with a doubled palmette pattern reminiscent of the “star-and-scroll” motif on Lydian architectural terracottas (PC 55).12 This may be a later development in the early sixth century. The color of the paint is usually dark brown and somewhat streaked, although there is a considerable range toward red; the body is usually yellowish brown. Since boldness rather than delicacy characterizes the Waveline class, the variety in the decoration may have arisen as easily from misjudgment as invention.


Lekythoi are not common until the sixth century and are based on an Attic prototype, but a bulging wider type was found a bit earlier. Their shape is cylindrical, perhaps slightly concave in the body, with a sharp shoulder and short narrow neck roughly at the height of the handle attachment (HoB 520). A typical feature on Lydian lekythoi is a prominent band in relief on the neck. The handle usually runs in a circular arc from under the mouth to the shoulder. A ring foot spreads abruptly from the narrowed cylinder.13


The pyxis is a closed shape that normally had a lid (HoB 540, PC 115). It is a boxy form that could be used as a container for all kinds of small household goods, but is usually associated with more delicate items such as toilet articles or cosmetics; one must assume that in the Lydian period, there were not many such delicacies for ordinary folk, so the box would have held any kind of small object.14

Stemmed Dish

The stemmed dish (sometimes called a fruitstand), with a high or low stem, is common at Sardis and much less so on Greek sites, although it has been found in such places as Emporio on Chios and Tocra in Cyrenaica.15 Perhaps it is more an Anatolian shape that was adopted in smaller quantities in East Greece. It seems to have been a widely used serving dish for everyday use, although twenty-three were found together in a house (elsewhere at Sardis), suggesting that they may have been used simply as plates.16 They make up a large proportion of the domestic ware from the late eighth century in Lydian III. The usually shallow bowl was conducive to some of the most inventive and exuberant patterns for Lydian pot painters (HoB 325 and frontispiece).17 A shallower version without a stem is sometimes called a plate or dish (HoB 740). Examples of open bowls and shallow dishes have either a stem or a short flaring foot descending from the center of the dish. The shape continues to be popular even after the introduction of specialized shapes like skyphoi or flat plates. The rim profiles are quite bewildering in their profusion, showing that one must be cautious in making chronological judgments on this basis alone.

Cup and Skyphos

The cup is most prevalent in Gray Ware (HoB 113),18 but several examples were also found in the local Brown on Buff (HoB 75, HoB 394), which at the end of the Bronze Age was often polished. The shape is in fact popular over several hundred years, but is particularly frequent in our Early Iron Age levels. It can be compared in shape and chronological range to cups from peninsular Greece and from Samos or Chios.19 Cups with a slight flare in the walls and a low chamfer at the base, many of them in Gray Ware, bear a strong resemblance to those from Gordion (HoB 113) and also to those from Emporio. Later cups, wider, shallower, and with two handles, look more like those from Ionia and often copy bird bowls.20

The skyphos21 is another kind of cup, but has a decidedly different shape. It depends closely upon painted Corinthian prototypes of the Late Geometric period (HoB 467),22 but the shape seems to have been adopted, first in local Gray Ware and with a rounded body (HoB 329), in the latter part of the eighth century.23 The decoration of the Lydian skyphos bears only a rough resemblance to the more delicate painting of the Corinthian prototype, and they never adopted the fine horizontal lines on the body. The borrowing is mainly in the organization of the handle zone as a separate area, either reserved, or for decoration (e.g., HoB 500).24 On the other hand, Lydian skyphoi are not nearly as fine and thin-walled as those from Corinth. The most obvious deviation from the original Greek shape is the way in which the Lydian potters play with the profile of the foot, among later skyphoi setting the bowl on an improbably high conical stand (HoB 517).25

The frequency of skyphoi increases through the seventh and into the sixth century. Streaky skyphoi gain significantly in popularity around the middle of the seventh century; and latest of all comes the addition of white bands or dots to the rims, feet, or interiors. Several variations for the addition of white paint are used, and the decoration is not confined to skyphoi.

Baby Feeder

Baby feeders combine the comfort of a tiny globular pot suitable for the small hands of a baby drinking milk, with a spout that works like the nipple of a breast. They start already in the Late Bronze Age (HoB 215), from a ninth- or eighth-century level in Deep Sounding C (one of the three deep pits dug in HoB in order to reach the earliest levels above the watertable), and continue in use through the life of the Lydian period (PC 12).26 These attractive little pots are normally found in Gray Ware.


The lydion, named for Lydia, is the one indigenous shape, and corresponds to the aryballos in the Corinthian repertory.27 It is small and globular, with a distinctly small foot and wide flaring neck. The use of a tall, unstable foot common in later Lydian skyphoi is paralleled in the lydion (HoB 541, HoB 542), and in the sometimes baggy lekythos. The shape is frequent at Sardis in Lydian I after about 600 B.C., both among grave goods and in domestic contexts (PC 116).28 It was widely exported; examples have been found as far away as Etruria and Sicily. It has been suggested that it served as a container for the famous and widely admired Lydian perfume known as bakkaris,29 but its occurrence in domestic contexts suggests that the container may also have been particularly suitable for liquid or greasy extracts of several kinds used in cooking, or for powdered herbs.

Mesomphalic Bowl

The mesomphalic bowl goes back to the eighth century at least and probably was current in Lydia and Phrygia before becoming popular among the Greeks. The shape is most common in Gray Ware (HoB 299),30 which is appropriate enough if it were originally a metal form and introduced before painted ware became the most frequent decorative style. The omphaloi from pots of this shape were often cut down in order to make game pieces or stoppers (Fig. 1.3).31


Lydian lamps were highly practical, and must have been everywhere, as everyone needed them. They were normally round, with a well for the oil, a raised portion in the center, and a spout with a hole in it for a wick. Many of these were found together (HoB 579) from east of Building A, at the level of Lydian I.

Hearth Stand

The hearth stand (HoB 378) was used for cooking pots to rest upon over the fire. The basic form is that of an incomplete cylinder, designed to allow air to reach the coals. It has three triangular lugs at the top, pointing inward and slightly downward. This ensures a good balance for the pot that rests on top, and also helps the flow of air, since there would be a gap between the bottom of the pot and the walls of the cylinder. Function may not only have conditioned the form but probably further ensured that there was little change in shape or fabric over several hundred years.

Because hearth stands32 were actually put on the hearth and exposed to open flames (HoB 727 and Fig. 1.2), they were normally made of cooking ware material.33 The surface of the pot is often somewhat smoothed, but not enough to disguise the grits in the body.

Cooking Pot

Cooking ware is used almost exclusively for one- or two-handled globular cooking pots (HoB 462, HoB 460).34 The shape and wall thickness of cooking pots change over time. The Early Iron Age examples are obviously handmade and thick, with a wide, flat bottom and a re-entrant curve in the profile; by the end of the eighth century (Lydian III) they are more likely to be rounder and thinner with a rather constricted neck.

The pots would have had lids, sometimes with round or square cutouts for a spoon or ladle (HoB 340).35 One enormous lid may have been for smoking food over the fire (HoB 339; Fig. 1.4). It had an interesting and so far unique decoration, namely wool pressed into the clay when it was still wet. Other lids in red polished clay (HoB 518) probably sat directly on top of a pot rather than over the fire.

Most of the pots made of cooking ware fabric are in fact, as the name suggests, cooking pots or lids, or hearth stands, and few pots that had any purpose other than these were made of cooking ware; but if exceptions prove the rule, then a rare amphora made of cooking ware serves this purpose (HoB 711).


The term “breadtray” is almost always used for just one shape, that is, large, flat, squarish pieces of lightly fired clay, typically ca. 0.50 × 0.50 m.36 Normally a breadtray has three raised edges, while the fourth side is open (HoB 492). Two small horizontal projections, like diminutive handles, rise from the corners of the open side. Considerable variety occurs in the profiles of these raised edges and also of the open edge (from half-round to nearly square), but so far no chronological pattern has been discerned. The underside often has sooty traces, sometimes in a regular pattern as if the tray had been set on the ledge of a built hearth. It could thus have served as a griddle or frying pan.


Lydian pithoi of the Iron Age tend to be globular, with a somewhat constricted neck (HoB 216), but can be narrower (HoB 463). Because they often had pointed bottoms, they would have been set in the ground, where they would be more stable. A much more rounded pithos from the Late Bronze Age, one that had been used for a burial (HoB 105), had small lug handles.37 This one was a half-meter tall, but the size of the pointed pithoi seems to range from a height of about three-quarters of a meter to one and a half meters and about one meter in diameter, although the number of examples with complete profiles is small.

Early in the Iron Age, potters favored raised bands, often decorated with a herringbone pattern (short lines in one or two different directions) suggesting a rope around the shoulder of the jar (PC 58).38 Other patterns on the surface included crosshatched incised designs such as diamonds or triangles (PC 35). Sometimes a design or mark was inscribed with a stick or other tool in the wet clay (PC 54; Fig. 1.5); at other times it was made by drawing a finger across the wet surface, thus making a rounded groove (HoB 57; Fig. 1.6). Later potters abandoned these decorative flourishes.

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The Repair and Reuse of Lydian Pottery

The Lydians found ways to reuse pottery that had been cracked or broken. Sometimes the purpose was to make repairs to damaged pots so as to be able to continue to use them as before, although liquid contents would then be ruled out. Pithoi (HoB 216) as well as other shapes (HoB 338, HoB 765, PC 112) had holes along the edge of the break (Fig. 1.7) to bind the pieces together with leather, fabric, lead strips, or, in the case of a Waveline hydria, three metal cramps that were found in situ in its base (HoB 522). In another instance, a stemmed dish was smoothed where the stem had broken off so that it could be used as a stemless plate (PC 74).

Alternatively, new uses that were totally different from the original purpose were found for the fragments of broken pots. An example of this kind of reuse was turning the necks of amphorae or hydriae into pot stands (Fig. 1.2; see p. 4).

It has already been shown that broken pieces of pottery, especially the omphaloi of mesomphalic bowls but also fragments of any other kind of pot, were cut down for use as stoppers or game pieces (see Fig. 1.3). Some of these pieces have central holes bored into them, perhaps for reuse as spindle whorls. Additional fragments that were apparently used for other purposes are the converted stems of broken dishes (HoB 511HoB 514, HoB 737HoB 739) or the broken foot of a skyphos (HoB 517), which would have made good stoppers or possibly toys. The foot of a Gray Ware bowl, PC 65, was purposely cut down and carefully burnished to be used as a stopper or lid. A broken rim and handle may have been trimmed to make a toy animal for a child (PC 114).

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Body Fabrics

The local Lydian clay is micaceous, and the mica has a distinctive gold color.39 The clay also contains a considerable amount of iron oxide, which is responsible for the reddish color of much of the pottery. Gray Ware is the same material, but fired in a reducing instead of an oxidizing atmosphere.

Lydian pottery has four main fabric types:

Cooking ware: made from a coarse mixture of clay and various mineral tempers (components), with a high proportion of obvious quartz inclusions.

Breadtray: made from a coarse mixture of clay with talc, schist, and large pieces of mica but few quartz inclusions.

Coarse ware: made from the same material as most Lydian pottery, only thicker and less well finished. Used mainly for pithoi.

Fine and tableware: made from a finely levigated (ground) clay including only the naturally high proportion of minute flakes of mica common in the clays of this region. This category includes Gray Ware, red and buff monochrome, and painted pottery.

The colors of the clay bodies, and the paint or slips (that have a finer consistency than that of the clay body) used for surface decoration, are quite uniform within many of the different categories of Lydian pottery described here. For that reason we did not give each piece a Munsell number when describing it.40 We instead took several readings in the field to generate a typical Munsell number or occasionally a range for some of the separate wares or decorative schemes, and these are the Munsell numbers identified here in the pottery overview. Many classes of imported pottery have typical colors of body and decoration, and these colors are frequently the reason for their attribution. However, the number of instances of color alteration after firing makes unselective quoting of Munsell numbers of questionable value.

Coarse Wares

Cooking Ware

Munsell numbers: black: N3.5, sometimes with a brownish core; red: 5YR 5/4

In cooking ware, the clay body is gritty and full of quartz inclusions. It is normally black and fairly thin, although a red variety is found; the color and surface are often altered by the fire to which it was subjected during use.


Munsell numbers: red: 2.5YR 5/4 (core 5YR 4/1.5); dark reddish gray to brownish gray: 2.5YR 4/6

The linkage of fabric and shape is even closer in the case of breadtray, since only one shape is invariably made of it: all breadtrays are made of the breadtray fabric.41 This fabric is even coarser than cooking ware and has large inclusions of micaceous schist, as can be seen in a fragment of a basin made of breadtray (HoB 88). Because the pieces are only lightly fired, they tend to disintegrate in water. The color is usually a “pale red” (Munsell number: 2.5 YR 6/2).

The upper or working surface is smoothed so that only a few inclusions show, because the potential voids between the flat pieces of mica are filled with the clay body. The underside, by contrast, is left rough so that one can often see marks of the surface on which the piece was made.

The raw material for the breadtray appears to come from an area about 25 kilometers northwest of Sardis, where the rocks are rich in magnesium compounds rather than quartz.42 An intermediate clay mixture between coarse and fine has smaller grits as inclusions.

Except for the minerals mentioned, the Lydians seem not to have used much temper in their pottery proper, although it is found in other ceramic items like loom weights (HoB 645),43 sarcophagi, and furnace walls. Occasionally one finds a piece of fine ware that is Lydian in character but has no mica in it, as though Lydian imitation of Greek styles sometimes extended beyond the decoration to the fabric.44


Pithoi, very large jars (HoB 463, HoB 632) that were often set in the ground and used for storage (Figs. 3.7, 6.23), were usually made of the ordinary red clay without much additional temper. Pithoi were frequently incompletely oxidized, with the result that there is a considerable core of gray within the walls, which are often ca. 0.02 m thick.


Monochrome Pottery

The most frequent body colors of Lydian tableware are gray, light brown (buff), and reddish. The clay was often used in refined form as a slip, thereby producing a more intense color for overall surface coloration as well as decoration. The identical nature of the slipped surface and clay body has been demonstrated in laboratory tests, as has the local origin of the clay.45

Gray Ware and Buff Ware

Munsell numbers:

Gray Ware:

Body: N5.5, 5Y 6/1 (greenish gray)

Surface: N7.5, N4, 5Y 5/1

Buff Ware:

Body: 7.5YR 6/6

Surface: 7.5YR 7/4

At its best, Gray Ware46 has a light, silvery, self-slipped, and polished surface with a body reduced to a uniform gray throughout (HoB 18).47 A metallic-looking shiny coat on some examples is in fact a silvery wash (HoB 68).48 Polishing or burnishing was done on the leather-hard body. Gray Ware is closely related to what is generally referred to as “Aeolic bucchero,” such as was found at Larisa on the Hermus, Bayraklı, and at Thermi on Lesbos, but that ware really belongs to the western Anatolian tradition rather than the Greek.49 Occasionally one finds borderline cases where it is hard to determine what is coarse Gray as opposed to rather fine cooking ware.

Color variation in buff monochrome can be found in earlier levels. It is possible that in early times the buff color was not intentional, but may have been overheated Gray Ware. Buff Ware is not restricted to any one shape or size and overlaps considerably with painted shapes. Mesomphalic bowls and dishes with spool handles that are related to metallic prototypes, and cups with sharp carinations, are more often found in Gray Ware (HoB 185, HoB 186, HoB 188, HoB 189) than Buff (HoB 187).50 Decoration may consist of incision in the form of shallow grooves around the pot, or stamping with circular or triangular patterns.

In the earliest level, the Late Bronze Age, Buff Ware is the most common monochrome color. Gray Ware is found at all levels from the Late Bronze Age to Lydian I (the earlier sixth century), when it peters out, but it is particularly prevalent in the eighth and early seventh centuries B.C. Careful smoothing, incision, or impressed decoration is normal for the monochrome wares, and the Lydians made use of a large number of decorative surface treatments for their pottery. The finish can vary from “stick polished” (HoB 399, HoB 561), where the marks of the polishing tool still show, to “dipped” (HoB 752), where there are no brush marks.

Gold Dust Ware

Gold Dust Ware can have a coarse body, but its surface is covered with a fine mica wash that gives it a gold tinge (PC 138, HoB 730).51 Although not common, it is a distinct type of monochrome.

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Painted Pottery

Much Lydian pottery, except for coarse ware and the bulk of the pithoi, was decorated in some way. The application of several colors often adds to the variety, but before the second half of the eighth century, most pottery is Gray Ware or other monochrome, and only a smattering of painted ware is found in earlier levels. For painted pots, geometric patterns put together with an essentially protogeometric syntax are common until the second half of the seventh century, when the Lydians’ lively adaptation of the East Greek Wild Goat style, a style they altered to suit their own taste, became dominant.52

Lydian tablewares generally use a dark-on-light system. Black or a purplish brown are common for the more complicated decorative motifs; red and white are most often used as background or for simple bands and space fillers. An unusual feature of much Lydian pottery is the use of manganese paint for dark (black, brown, purplish) colors. This allowed the potter to achieve both red and dark colors in a single oxidizing firing.53 White slip in general tends to be rather thick, as a sort of ground (HoB 289) that makes for a strong contrast with the dark, chocolaty brown favored in the late eighth century; and it brightens the reds common in the more elaborate patterns of the accompanying motifs that were formerly called “Phrygianizing.”54 But white from white Bichrome of the seventh century, especially, is thin and fugitive, although there is some use of a thick added white as dots or bands at the end of the seventh or beginning of the sixth century. The bright effect is maintained in some of the later marbled surfaces and many architectural terracottas, which have a chemistry similar to the pottery (PC 55).55 The later white bands or dots over streaky surfaces are often inadequately opaque. Other influences, affecting the Black on Red particularly, undoubtedly came from an Anatolian Iron Age practice that stretched as far east as Tarsus and that may have had roots in Cyprus or the Near East.56

Most of the decorative vocabulary (but not the chemistry) was similar to Greek Protogeometric styles. One of the most important criteria for dating, as well as a tool for assessing trade connections and the artistic taste of the Lydians, is the style and quantity of pottery imported from various places in the Greek world. A secondary corroboration of the Lydians’ taste for imported styles, and a confirmation of the contemporary nature of the actual imports, is the widespread borrowing and adaptation of Greek shapes and decorative patterns for local products.57 Clearly East Greek and Island Geometric schools were an important source, and one or two pieces that may be from Euboea have been recognized (HoB 281). It is likely that in the late eighth century, the change to painted decoration for many domestic vessels was spurred on by the elegant shapes and clear decorative schemes that Greek potters in Corinth and Euboea had been developing, and that made their way to Sardis as models.

Two fragments from large cups found near each other below the Destruction Level (see p. 33 and Chapter 5) show the relationship of Lydian to imported Greek pottery. One, a large Geometric cup of imported Greek manufacture, HoB 396, has groups of vertical straight lines and of wiggly lines in the reserved metopal area below the rim. Its cousin, HoB 395, has exactly the same shape and decoration, but is made in local Lydian clay. This is a good illustration of how the local potters are inspired by, and copy, the work of their Greek neighbors.

Black on Red

Munsell numbers: body: 2.5YR 5/6; red slip: 2.5YR 5/8; black paint: 5R 5/2

A number of variations of Black on Red decoration can be identified, although one must be aware of differences in the firing of the pots. The description is also used for pieces that share the decorative scheme exactly but have a much yellower and browner cast to the decoration. It is probable that the discoloration comes from the burial environment rather than from a distinct form of decoration. In general, these variations are all dark paint on a lighter clay background. The relative popularity of two distinct varieties of Black on Red58 may someday become important for chronology, but at present the range is imprecise. One variety has a dull red clay surface with geometric designs in matte black or purplish paint, found as early as the beginning of Lydian IV (HoB 159);59 its sources can be traced eastward, across the Konya plain, as far as Cilicia and Cyprus. The other, not unlike the Greek traditions, is a shiny Black on Red (HoB 122).60

A number of Black on Red stemmed dishes from Pactolus Cliff bear a strong resemblance to those from another sector at Sardis, ByzFort (see Fig. 2.2: no. 23), which is located partway up the Acropolis on the north side. From a deep hole dug into a basement near bedrock came a number of Black on Red dishes that have not only the same decoration—with repeated crosshatched squares—but also the same shaped bowl and flat rim as several from PC (PC 26).61 In this group, the bowl is flatter than those from later levels at HoB, and the rim has a horizontal squared lip. Based on datable imports from yet another sector, Field 49, these dishes apparently belong in the early years of Lydian IV, or the ninth century.

The most frequent patterns (Fig. 1.8) in Lydian IV and Lydian III are concentric standing or pendent semicircles (HoB 278),62 concentric circles (HoB 179),63 crosshatched squares (PC 26),64 crosshatched meanders (PC 6),65 false meanders (PC 73), diamonds (HoB 179),66 triangles (HoB 160),67 and butterfly or double-axe patterns, also called opposed triangles (HoB 146).68 Sometimes squares are filled with wiggly lines (PC 81, PC 82), while another pattern is the checkerboard (HoB 244).69 Most of the elements of this ware are similar to Greek Protogeometric conventions, and they are commonly linked in arrangements familiar from East Greek or Attic schools of the late eighth century.

The second variety, popular in the late seventh and early sixth centuries, has an intense black on bright red slip and is found on stemmed dishes, plates, and shallow bowls.70 Unusual in decoration is a round-mouthed jug decorated with small concentric circles (HoB 331). A Bichrome jar has decidedly bold and stunning hooks (HoB 625).71 Designs regularly include concentric semicircles and other decorative vocabulary seen also in the duller Black on Red. A rather ornate, fine-lined variety of this style often uses rows of boxes with dots or short lines, referred to as dogtooth (HoB 675); numerous varieties of meanders appear in this period.72 These characteristics link the designs to the manner of “Ephesian Ware” and “Phrygianizing” decoration, described separately below (p. 17).

In Black on Red, concentric circles and semicircles (PC 31) are drawn with a special kind of compass that has several tiny brushes attached to a single wooden handle (Fig. 1.9).73 The technique was normally accomplished by a painter moving it in a circular motion, using the pointed frame of the brush as if it were the pivot of a compass.74 The inner circle is often quite small, however, and not suitable for this technique because it would make too thick a circle. A number of pottery samples show the solution to this problem: compass-drawn circles for all but the inner one, which is drawn freehand. This is seen, for example, in fragments of plates, both with full circles and with semicircles (PC 31, PC 109; Fig. 1.10).75 Another solution was to paint a blob in the center rather than a hand-drawn small circle (HoB 162, HoB 314).

When making his design around the bowl of a plate, the painter would be going along, making his concentric semicircles, but it would be hard to calculate the space ahead of time; sometimes he would run out of room, in which case he had to overlap the semicircles on the last section of decoration (PC 74).

Concentric hooks, which are made the same way but without completing the curve, do not make an appearance in Lydian pottery until Lydian II, when they are favored for the decoration of the shoulders of large jugs (HoB 753; Fig. 1.11). A highly skilled painter could turn his multipointed brush (in this case with eleven brushes on a Bichrome fragment) with remarkable control (PC 97; Fig. 1.12). The outer brush is often the thickest because it would then be able to hold more paint than the inner brushes; this was useful because the outer brush had farther to travel to complete the circle. Another able painter purposely added an extra wiggle, and stopped midstream to pick up his brush and dip it once again in the paint before continuing the curve to its completion (PC 51; Fig. 1.12). One of his brushes was fatter than the others, which makes an uneven effect in the design. The compass point shows here as it made a slight depression in the clay. Another example with an uneven pattern is HoB 620, where two brushes were too close together; on some of the hooks, the paint looks as though it was applied by one fat brush instead of two separate ones.

The multiple brush is used, too, in crosshatched squares and rectangles, and for wavy lines. On PC 81 and PC 82, six vertical wavy lines were placed within alternating squares, making a large checkerboard pattern.76 Sometimes the painter moved his tool up and down in such a way that the effect was rather like a pattern of knitted stitches, as seen here with a five-tipped brush (PC 63; Fig. 1.13). Compare this to a sherd made exceptionally neatly by a seven-tipped brush on a fragment found by the first Sardis expedition, early in the last century (Fig. 1.13).77 Different painters, some highly skilled, others less so, handled the multiple brush in so many different ways. Observations such as these show that even the most humble potsherds can reveal how pieces were decorated and how the painter worked.

Brown (or Black) on Buff

Munsell numbers: Body, rich and well preserved: 2.5YR 6/8–5/8; body, duller: 5YR 5/4–4/6; paint: 10R 4/2

“Brown on Buff” refers to the dark, purplish-brown paint on buff fabric that is used to make geometric schemes like those described under Black on Red. The variety of patterns, however, is smaller. There is much use of sets of parallel wavy lines arranged radially between bands on stemmed dishes or jugs (HoB 170), and, overall, the geometric arrangements are much looser in organization than in Black on Red. The execution is often more clumsy and not so neat, so that the whole effect is less sophisticated. The Early Iron Age marks the heyday of this style; it goes out of fashion in the mid- to late eighth century.

Lydian Geometric decoration of the eighth century in Black or Brown on Buff is frequently characterized by meanders filled with right-angled (as opposed to diagonal) crosshatching (PC 131; Fig. 1.14).78 This preference is quite unusual, since East Greek potters prefer diagonal crosshatching. The vertical hatching may be a variety of late eighth-century Lydian Geometric. On the other hand, we also have examples in Black on Red with diagonal crosshatching within meanders: HoB 504 and PC 3.


The principle behind the description of a piece as “Bichrome” is that there is a background color that is allowed to show (i.e., it is “reserved”), and at least two colors are added to complete the decoration. There are two Bichrome varieties: white and red.

White Bichrome, which starts earlier, has a white slip over part of the body of the pot (PC 115).79 There is no regular use of an overall white color except for later pieces that are imitating East Greek Orientalizing and Ephesian Ware. Two groups use a wide swath of white that functions much like the reserved background of the red Bichrome, described below. One must have had fugitive coloring, because in many examples very little of it remains beyond traces; the other is opaque and smooth. There is a rough chronological indication that the more opaque variety is the earlier, probably going back to the ninth century; that with less well preserved white is most popular in Lydian II, in the second half of the seventh century. Red Bichrome, instead, uses the reserved and smoothed body of the pot as the background color, with added designs in black, red, and white (HoB 740).80 A popular design in red Bichrome is the concentric hook that has already been discussed under Black on Red (HoB 673 and PC 97).

The nomenclature that we use has given rise to considerable confusion. Why call something “Bichrome” when it clearly has at least three colors (including the background)? The explanation is contained within the description above: the bichrome refers to two (or more) colors in addition to the one regarded as the background.81

At Sardis there are, interestingly, two Bichrome works by the same painter (Fig. 1.15), but they were found in different parts of the excavation. The first is a fragment of a large Bichrome jar (PC 29) from PC, and the other, a smaller piece with the same unusual design from HoB (HoB 334). The fact that they were found at a great distance from each other is in itself interesting, and shows that the locals in different parts of town were patronizing the same pot painter.

Lydian Orientalizing

The East Greek Orientalizing style was popular in western Anatolia from about the middle of the seventh century until the later sixth. Its basic characteristics include a white slip all over the body of the pot as a ground for a decoration that consists of bands of animals, regularly but not exclusively wild goats, as well as floral designs and filling ornament (HoB 556). East Greek Orientalizing wares differ from most examples from mainland Greece in that there is much use of outline rather than silhouette; and furthermore, the seventh-century mainland Greek style does not usually use white ground. In later examples they use incision for the clarification of details within figures. Orientalizing pottery represents a broad class, with many subcategories and centers of production, and our treatment of it here is not meant to be an exhaustive study. Further archaeological and archaeometric work will greatly enhance our understanding of the different wares and subcategories.82

C. H. Greenewalt, jr., called a particular style of what is typically called “Wild Goat” in Greece the Sardis Style.” He described it as characterized by a pink-brown highly micaceous clay covered by a white-cream-colored slip. A dark paint is used for outlines and filling, and a dull purple-gray for some details. Red paint is used as a highlight, as well as to make spots on the animals, birds, and filling ornament. Local products depict a variety of animals, but deer, dogs, goats, and lions form the main subjects, as in a stunning lebes with white ground and colorful animals (HoB 750). The style is “bold and sure, often a bit sloppy.”83

As in the East Greek examples, the preferred shapes in Lydian Orientalizing wares are jugs, the lebes, dishes with either a low foot or a high stem, flat plates, and belly-handled amphorae.84 The predominant colors are black, brown, purplish red, and the white background of Bichrome. The decorative scheme for jugs requires a series of broad zones created by thin, dark bands that serve as a groundline for the procession of varied species set around the circumference of the pot.

In addition to the usual fare of wild animals, here and there an exotic mythical beast such as a sphinx or a griffin (HoB 597) is admitted, and charming fish are found too (PC 39; Fig. 1.16).85 Human figures are nonexistent. Usually the animals are following each other, nose to tail, but every so often the pattern changes so that one will turn to confront the follower. Not all the animals are on the move; many of the goats and deer are browsing. The various predators adopt threatening attitudes, but overall most of the presentations resemble a tableau vivant more than a vivid narrative. Painters used a varied stock of filling ornament, including a range of rosettes and sometimes birds (HoB 660), as well as many small geometric shapes like triangles, semicircles, and swastikas.

Ephesian Ware and “Phrygianizing”

Two particularly colorful and attractive wares are related in their color schemes to Lydian Bichrome and Orientalizing, using an allover white slip with dark brown paint and added red.86 Ephesian Ware is best known from the finds of the British Museum excavations at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in the early years of the twentieth century,87 and more has been found by the Austrian excavators in their reinvestigation of the site, especially near the Archaic altars in front of the temple.88 The ware is typified by its rich dark brown decoration over bright pearly white slip, normally embellished with extra red. Narrow concentric brown bands broken up into white squares are common, as are dots within them. The style should be included within the general category of East Greek Orientalizing styles; it is given special mention here because it is less widely known than many Ionian styles. Furthermore, it may be a local, Lydian (rather than Ephesian) production, and it offers a transition between the Phrygian tradition and the white slip ware of the East Greek cities.

Some pieces of Ephesian Ware have been found in HoB (e.g., HoB 426),89 as well as a considerable number that imitate it, with varying degrees of success (HoB 611).90 The imitations, called Ephesianizing, may even represent an early stage in its development. Ephesian Ware has been discussed by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr., who suggested that it may have been produced at Sardis, a site with both “Anatolian or specifically Lydian as well as Greek cultural elements” characteristic of the ware.91 In A. Ramage’s opinion, and that of Michael Kerschner, who has done the most detailed work on the provenience,92 the evidence in Greenewalt’s article and the results of further stratigraphical and analytical study make a good case for an Anatolian origin for the style and for Sardis as a main center of production.

“Phrygianizing” is a catchall and usefully imprecise term invoked frequently by Swift and others to describe a miniaturist style of geometric designs, most commonly found on dishes, plates, and stemmed dishes. We have now stopped using the term, but continue to acknowledge the relationship of Lydian pottery to its sources in Gordion and other Phrygian sites. A number of distinctively Phrygian shapes are found among local Lydian products, such as the spouted mug and bowls with spool handles (HoB 297),93 and also the round-mouthed jug (HoB 331). But now we must consider whether the relationship was really so close, as no identifiable Phrygian pottery has yet been identified at Sardis.94

The most distinctive trait of “Phrygianizing” decoration is the use of fine dividing lines to form small squares that are then filled with oblique crosses (saltires) and dots. The slip is usually pale but not so white as that of the Ephesian group. For that reason, although the organization of the designs is much the same, two wares have been distinguished. Sometimes the term “white slipped” has been used to sidestep the question of origin. A full study of the inter-relationships of Greek, Lydian, and Phrygian pottery has yet to be written, although enormous progress has been made in recent years. At this point, the name should not be taken as an acceptance of Phrygian priority. There is still no reason to insist that this miniaturist style be Phrygian in origin, but continued study of white-ground painted ware does suggest that it is an indigenous Anatolian tradition.

Streaky, Banded, and Marbled

These first two categories are often combined because part of a pot may be Streaky and part Banded. When Streaky is used, it implies some intention on the part of the potter. That is, the decorator purposely uses an overall color wash and seeks variations in color, density, and tone produced by different consistencies of paint and the loading of the brush (see, for instance, HoB 753; Fig. 1.11). Associated with these techniques is the Waveline of water jars, where the lower bodies have either streaked or banded decorative schemes (HoB 522). The use of streaked paint for desirable effects is most common in the later seventh and sixth centuries and seems to be a particularly Lydian phenomenon.

Some rather thick bands have the same appearance as Streaky, and pots from earlier periods might accurately be described as streaked but not Streaky. Deciding whether streaky glaze is intentional or not is easier with banded decoration than with an overall covering. There is no point in it for bands, where the division of one zone from another is the main purpose; thus, where it appears, it has to have been done purposefully. In contrast, where streaky glaze is used as an overall covering, one might say the texture was the apparent aim.

Streaky is most common on skyphoi, often those with a reserved band at the rim (HoB 722HoB 724),95 on small jugs, sometimes in combination with tongues that form a dependent ring around the shoulder (HoB 759),96 and on column kraters. The decoration of skyphoi and kraters is occasionally enlivened by the addition of white bands or rows of dots. There is a tendency for both red and black streaked ware to be much shinier than usual, and the body is often much harder. Both conditions result from firing at a higher temperature and are often indicators of a later sixth century date.

A particularly attractive variation of the technique is found in “Marbled” ware, which varies the normally horizontal lines of standard Streaky to produce effects like the patterns in variegated stones. Sometimes Marbled decoration is set vertically on the pot (Fig. 1.7), and sometimes it looks rather like small, rounded whorls, which can be placed on the exterior or interior of a skyphos.97 Marbled comes in coarser and finer varieties, and the result at its best is most elegant. It is clear that decorators were imitating real stone (oolitic limestone) with this particular pattern, as comparison with actual specimens shows. Whether the simpler examples of marbling may be associated with individual varieties of mineral is not so clear, but at least some connection is plausible. The use of colored or variegated stones like jasper for bowls or plates, as found at Sardis, Ikiztepe, Daskyleion, and Persepolis, supports this conclusion.98

Banded is a category, like Streaky, that sometimes refers to the decoration of a whole pot but more often is used during the sorting process to describe smaller pieces that are not obviously from any of the clearly distinct categories. Thus, a piece with black bands might in fact come from a vessel with Bichrome decoration elsewhere, or it might be part of a Waveline hydria (HoB 410). The term “Banded” is not used for Black on Red or Brown on Buff, even if the piece happens to have bands.


The decoration of Lydian pottery is closely related to the schemes devised in both Greece and Anatolia; but the local potters and pot painters of Sardis had their own character, producing decorative programs often based on lively geometric designs that they combined and recombined in myriad creative ways. The concentric semicircles and hooks, triangles, diamonds, zigzags, meanders, and—from the seventh century onwards—animals, rosettes, dots, and so on are usually applied with a fine sense for the shape of the pot. The lively colors of the paint and slips together with the effective designs leave the viewer with admiration for the local Lydian styles.

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