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 4. Lydian IV: Iron Age (Ninth to Early Eighth Century B.C.)


The term “Lydian IV” designates the strata in HoB between the Early Iron Age floor and associated deposits at *95.00–94.75 and below (discussed in the previous chapter), and the late eighth-century Destruction Level of Lydian III (see the following chapter). Because of the lack of floors1 and walls from this period, selected sherds have been presented in the catalogue, arranged more or less by level, fabric, and shape. This will provide a sequence with which other finds (from Sardis or elsewhere) may be associated, without prejudice as to the absolute date within the presumed time span. In addition to painted pottery, the catalogue includes many pieces of Gray Ware, which is by far the most common tableware, to elucidate the sequence of shapes and decoration in these levels. Some objects made of other materials have been included in order to add detail to the picture of daily life at Sardis, which is necessarily dominated by the pottery.

There is no reason to regard the area as deserted for a long time during this period, despite the absence of organized building remains. Except for the quantity of painted pottery from the turn of the Iron Age in the eleventh century B.C. (i.e., the Mycenaean or sub-Mycenaean, or imitations thereof, and the local Protogeometric pottery, such as HoB 1), painted pots are rare until levels that we understand are from the early part of the eighth century, or the end of Lydian IV.2 As many as possible of the painted pieces datable to Lydian IV (such as HoB 245, a fragment of a Bichrome krater), whether local or imported, have been included for future reference, but they are as yet insufficient to serve as the basis for firm stylistic or chronological conclusions. We do not have enough painted pieces from any particular level to make specific internal divisions as far as the chronology of the Iron Age (Lydian IV) at Sardis is concerned. We are hoping that careful study of the mass of Gray Ware will provide more precision, at least in terms of favored shapes and rim profiles. A selection is presented here as a beginning.

The preservation of items from daily life in Lydian IV is less rich than it was in the earlier levels, but the characteristic tools are maintained. A few artifacts, tools, and raw materials, usually of inorganic materials, were found with the pottery, as these few pieces will demonstrate:

HoB 240, a well-worn whetstone with a suspension hole

HoB 239, a small stone conical polisher or pounder made of a dense igneous stone with iron stains and inclusions

HoB 277, a bone toggle

HoB 266, a brecciated stone bead, about 4 cm long, with a natural perforation

HoB 103, a grinding stone3

HoB 237, an iron sickle

Pieces of flint4

In addition, a substantial whetstone or polishing stone of greenish mudstone (HoB 282), heavier and larger than most Lydian whetstones, was found here.5 It was obviously unsuitable for carrying around on a string or in a pouch, in contrast to the lighter ones. It probably had a more or less permanent place in a workshop, where it was set on a bench and used in place, unlike the handheld whetstones that were rubbed against the edge of the blade being sharpened. It was well used, as the depression in the top attests, and it was darkened with soot rather than burned.

*96.4 Floor at W20/S115–120

Two small test pits were dug at the southern end of the trench (called the South Side), where the only obvious Lydian IV floor level, at ca. *96.4, was found (Figs. 4.1, 4.2). Fragmentary bits of this same floor were apparently located also in the northeast end of sector HoB.6 It lay over a meter above the Early Iron Age levels discussed in the previous chapter.7 This surface corresponds to a less well-defined floor level observed to the north and east in all the deep soundings, and must belong to the middle of the eighth century or before. We identify it as the latest phase of Lydian IV. The more southerly of the two test pits also revealed the stubs of two flimsy walls, one of which was from Lydian IV, with the top of the wall at *96.75, and the other, a Lydian III wall, a meter higher at *97.70 (see Fig. 4.2).

A thoroughly hardened and reduced piece of mudbrick with one face preserved was kept from a generally reddened matrix from the Lydian IV floor.8 Coarseware and pithos fragments were the most frequent in volume and number in this level. According to Swift’s calculations, Gray Ware comprised the largest proportion of sherds, amounting to 30–50 percent or more of the finds. He also observed that pithos sherds, usually of coarse pink fabric, occupied up to half the volume or more, since the sherds were so large. Smaller and finer pink-buff sherds with a sandy texture and often a gray core, the tableware of the day, were found in smaller quantities than Gray Ware. A. Ramage noted in the fieldbook at the time that from about a meter below the top of Lydian IV, the proportion of Gray Ware is less, its place being taken by coarse pink or buff ware and pithoi. In addition, small quantities of cooking pots and breadtrays made up most of the remaining fragments except for a small number of painted wares.

Although most pottery in Lydian IV is monochrome or pithos, Black on Red was the dominant style among the few painted wares. Examples will be found in the catalogue,9 but one in particular, a Black on Red biconical pot stand or foot of a large krater (HoB 179; Fig. 4.3), is noteworthy. The vocabulary is reminiscent of Greek Geometric patterns, but on the other hand, it may also be associated with Phrygian or Anatolian designs. Perhaps an explanation lies in the Lydian role as a mediator between the traditions of the coast and the plateau, between the West and the Orient.

Early Bichrome wares from these levels include HoB 280 and HoB 289, in a lively mix of colors that continues for a long time. Some of these pieces are best known from parallels at the Heraion of Samos and at Emporio on Chios, where they were found in a seventh-century context;10 but since our pieces come from below the clayey destruction layer of the late eighth century (Lydian III), we can be confident of a date in the eighth century or earlier, and may use this evidence to strengthen the basis for the chronology of Lydian pottery.


The levels under those just described can be characterized as mixed beds of clayey earth, sand, and gravel. A substantial occupation level can be made out in several areas of the main trench, where small soundings or explorations went below the clay level.11 These additional tests showed that a level reported at ca. *96.5 should be taken seriously and not regarded as an isolated patch. This stratum is used to define the end of Lydian IV, which, based on Greek imports, corresponds roughly to the Middle Geometric period in Greece.

The pottery from the level at the end of Lydian IV still includes a certain number of Greek imports,12 as well as the Lydian Geometric and Bichrome pots inspired by those models.

Among the Lydian IV pieces whose motifs depend directly upon Greek sources, some, using the compass-drawn, concentric pendent semicircles and incomplete circles (HoB 73),13 are common, and find parallels in Klazomenai.14 Others have a wavy line set between close bands (HoB 162),15 perhaps based originally on sub-Mycenaean prototypes. This way of decorating seems to be a local preference, especially in Brown on Buff ware,16 and it is one that continues throughout Lydian IV.


In all, despite some strikingly decorated pottery, Lydian IV seems to be characterized by poverty and isolation. This is a situation that changes dramatically in the eighth century.

  • Şek. 4.1

    (Telif hakkı Sart Amerikan Hafriyat Heyeti / Harvard Üniversitesi)

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  • 1See below for the one clearly defined Lydian IV floor, at *96.4 in the South Side deep test pit.
  • 2At ca. *96.0. Cf. Jackson and Postgate 2010, p. 437.
  • 3Also S62.58.
  • 4F62.2 and F62.3.
  • 5Its weight is ca. 350 g, in contrast to the more usual weight of about 20 g.
  • 6At E5–10/S85–95, identified in 1964. Only the one in the South Side is shown on the photo and plan in Figs. 4.1 and 4.2.
  • 7Between *97.00 and *95.80.
  • 8In contrast to most mudbricks of later periods, it contained a considerable amount of grass or straw temper. Found at *96.10.
  • 9HoB 278, HoB 279, and, from lower down, HoB 284.
  • 10Gürtekin-Demir 2011.
  • 11At ca. *97.0 and below (e.g., two separate places: the South Side, and northeast by the mass burial: see p. 62).
  • 12HoB 281, HoB 286, HoB 288.
  • 13Also HoB 151, HoB 287.
  • 14Cf. Ersoy 2004, p. 45 and fig. 3.
  • 15Also HoB 170, HoB 256.
  • 16HoB 73, HoB 174.
  • Şek. 4.1

    (Telif hakkı Sart Amerikan Hafriyat Heyeti / Harvard Üniversitesi)

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    (Telif hakkı Sart Amerikan Hafriyat Heyeti / Harvard Üniversitesi)