The Lydians and their World (2010)

by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.

Afiyet Olsun/Bon Appetit!


What did Lydians eat and drink? Fare enjoyed today in Lydian lands (provinces of Manisa, Aydın, Izmir, Uşak), except for New World and East Asian foods imported after antiquity (like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, maize, rice, peppers) and distilled liquor (produced after antiquity). A menu of lentil soup followed by şiş kebab or lamb and garlic stew with bread dipped in olive oil and a side order of chick peas could be planned from the direct evidence of residues and equipment in Lydian houses that attest basic foods, preparation methods, and serving arrangements. Such evidence includes the remains of foods themselves, such as animal and fish bones, carbonized wheat, barley, lentils, chick peas, garlic, olive pits; it also includes equipment for preparing food, such as millstones for grinding grain (Fig. 1), mortars and pestles (No. 67, Fig. 2, 3), colanders, strainers, graters, cutlery, hearths and ovens, cooking stands, baking trays, skewers, and stew pots (Nos. 6169, Fig. 4). Standard “place settings” for basic meals are suggested by the ritual dinner offerings (see Greenewalt, “The Gods of Lydia”), each of them typically featuring a stew pot, dish, knife, pitcher, and cup (Nos. 3846, Fig. 5).1

  • Fig. 1

    Grinding bench in a Lydian house at Sardis, with archaeologist demonstrating its use (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 2

    Stone mortarium and pestle from the same Lydian house (No. 67) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3

    Stone mortarium and pestle from the same Lydian house (No. 67) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 4

    Cooking equipment from one Lydian house, including: (top row, left to right) cookingware amphora (originally full of barley); cooking pots, stands, and lid; (middle row) cooking pots and stand; coarse bowls; iron spit (obelos); (bottom row) “bread tray”; iron knife; iron implement, perhaps for tending the hearth. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 5

    “Table setting” from a ritual meal, including plate, cup (skyphos), pitcher (oinochoe), stew pot (chytra), iron knife (Nos. 42--46). (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

Literary and Regional Evidence

The wide range of foods and potential complexity of their combinations are documented in texts of ancient Greek literature. A celebrated Lydian stew called kandaulos contained boiled meat, Phrygian cheese, fatty broth, dill, and breadcrumbs (literally grated bread, knestos artos); and a Lydian sauce called karyke contained blood and spices. Lydian meats would have included mutton, goat, and beef from standard herd animals, fish from the Hermus and Gygaean Lakes, and game, including deer, wild goat, and boar from Mount Tmolus, hare, and game birds like pheasant, partridge, quail, and francolin. The last is specifically recorded as a Lydian native, and, along with hare, “pancakes” seasoned with sesame, and “waffles” dipped in honey, is cited as party food by the Lydophile Ephesian poet Hipponax. Honey was plentiful in Lydia, according to a late Classical-early Hellenistic source, and nougat made from tamarisk in southern Lydia is cited by Herodotus. Lydian figs are cited by Greek and Roman writers, and chestnuts were called Sardian in Roman times because of their alleged origin at Sardis. The pharmacological treatise by the Roman doctor Dioscurides, a native of southeastern Anatolia, names many herbs that were used as spices and condiments (and that still grow in Turkey).2

Lydian drink probably included both the traditional fermented beverages of Greece and Anatolia: wine and beer. Like respectable Greeks, respectable Lydians probably drank their wine diluted with water. Mixing wine and water was the function in Greece of large bowls of the shapes called lebes and column krater, and both those shapes are common in Lydian pottery (Nos. 90, 71, 73; Figs. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), the Lydian column krater certainly having been produced in imitation of the Greek shape. Beer, on the other hand, was little known in Greece but common in Anatolia. Cited in Hittite texts of the second millennium BC, it continued to be popular in the Classical era, when the Greek historian Xenophon, encountering beer for the first time in Armenia, found it “extremely good when one was used to it.” Phrygian drinking cups with sipping spouts have been identified as beer mugs because the narrowness or sieve-screens of their spouts would have filtered out barley residues. Similar spouted cups also were made in Lydia (Nos. 70, 86; Figs. 1112), which may have been a frontier of Anatolian beer drinking. There would also have been other fermented drinks, like the Phrygian triple-whammy that combined wine, beer, and mead, or perhaps fermented milk (kumys), possibly introduced in Lydia by Cimmerians or Scythians. Very small sieve-spouted vessels (Figs. 12, 13, 14) may have been meant for very special drink, exotic or expensive like vintage cognac today, and similarly to be sipped in small quantities, or for infant feeding. Countless and ubiquitous in Lydian occupation deposits at Sardis are deep cups of the skyphos shape (nos. 77, 78, 79, 80, 147, 148; Figs. 6, 14), which, on recovery in excavation, constantly elicited Sardis Expedition workmen’s admiring refrain “Those Lydians sure drank a lot!” But nonalcoholic beverages, like barley water and herbal teas (cited by Dioscurides), as well as milk and yogurt drinks like ayran, make equally appropriate contents for such cups, as do gruel and other semiliquid cereal preparations.3

  • Fig. 6

    Lydian vessels for mixing and drinking from houses near the fortification, including large amphora for storage (No. 72); column krater (No. 73); oinochoai; skyphoi; Attic black-figure komast cup (No. 103); duck vase (No. 86). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 7

    Lydian vessels for mixing wine and water: lebetes Nos. 90 and 71; column krater No. 73 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 8

    Column krater with streaky-glaze decoration, from Sardis, before mid-6th C. BC, No. 73 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 9

    Lydian duck-shaped spouted vessel, perhaps associated with beer-drinking, No. 86 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 10

    Lydian boat-shaped spouted vessel, perhaps associated with beer-drinking, No. 70 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 11

    Modern replication of a side-spouted mug from Sardis, demonstrated by Professor J. K. Anderson. The real mug (now in New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art no. 14.30.9) was made in Lydia and reproduces a common Phrygian shape that is believed to have been used for drinking beer. (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 12

    Silver side-spouted dish with strainer and Phrygian inscription, from a tomb near Bagis (and present Güre, in the province of Uşak; No. 172) (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 13

    Small side-spouted dish, decorated with fish, from the Acropolis at Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 14

    Skyphos from a grave at Sardis, No. 148 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)


  • 1For Lydian food in general, see Harvey 1995. Although archaeological evidence for distilling (in connection with cosmetics) has been claimed for the second millennium BC on Cyprus, most archaeological and literary evidence for distilling in antiquity is associated with the Roman era; see Brun 2008, 241 and Forbes 1944. For food remains and preparation and serving equipment, see Cahill 2000; for ritual dinners, see Greenewalt 1978.
  • 2Kandaulos ingredients were named by Hegesippus of Tarentum and the stew was cited by comic poets of the fourth century BC, all preserved in Athenaeus 12.516c–517a; see also Greenewalt 1978, 52–54. Karyke is cited by several writers, whose citations are preserved in Athenaeus 12.516c. For deer and wild goat in Mt. Tmolus in modern times, see Kumerloeve 1967, 387–389, 394–398. For francolin, hare, “pancakes” (teganitas) and “waffles” (attanitas) as party food, see Hipponax fr. 26a (eds. Gerber, Masson) as preserved in Athenaeus 14.6445c. Hipponax, a native of Ephesus, employed Lydian and other Anatolian words and wrote about Lydian subjects. For identification of the Lydian francolin, atagas in Greek, with Francolinus francolinus, see Thompson 1936, 59–61; Greenewalt in Hostetter 1994, 11–12 n. 24. Although the habitat of Francolinus francolinus, Turkish turaç, recorded in the late twentieth century is southeastern Turkey, Cyprus, and other parts of the Middle East ( Porter et al. 1996, 58), it formerly included the Hermus valley ( Turan 1990, 82; cf. Bannerman and Bannerman 1971, 58: “originally an inhabitant of southern Europe”). Lydian honey is cited in the pseudo-Aristotelian Mirabilium Auscultationes 831b; nougat (honey from tamarisk and wheat) by Herodotus 7.31; Lydian figs by Xenophon (Cyropaedia 6.2.22), Varro (De Agricultura 1.41.5–6), and Pliny (Natural History 15.19.69). Sardian chestnuts are cited by Pliny (Natural History 15.25.93) and Dioscorides (De Materia Medica 1.106.3, ed. Wellmann); chestnut pollen has been identified in sediment cores of a lake (Gölcük) on Mount Tmolus, in core strata beginning in the late second millennium BC, by Sullivan 1989, who carefully checked identification problems of the kind cited by Condera et al. 2004, 163; for the diffusion of chestnut from Anatolia, see Hehn et al. 1911 and Pitte 1986.
  • 3For Lydian wines, including those from Mount Tmolus, “Lydian” Mount Olympos (in Mysia), and the Katakekaumene recorded in Roman sources, see Greenewalt 1978, 36 n. 10. For beer in Hittite texts, see Greenewalt 1978, 37 n. 11; for Phrygians and beer, see Archilochus fr. 42 (ed. Gerber; cf. Hipponax fr. 56, ed. Gerber) and Sams 1977. Xenophon, Anabasis 4.5.26–27, mentions barley grains floating in beer and straight straws used for drinking. The marbled sieve-spouted cup now in New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 14.30.9; cf. Fig. 12) is the best preserved example of that shape recovered at Sardis; but there are other examples (e.g. Metropolitan Museum of Art no. 26.199.224; Sardis Expedition inventory nos. P62.355, P97.117). For the Phrygian wine-beer-mead drink, see McGovern et al. 1999 and McGovern 2000. For non-alcoholic drink, see Greenewalt 1978, 37–38 n. 11. For Greek porridge made from barley (present in one Lydian house at Sardis), see Pliny, Natural History 18.14.72.