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The Archaeology of Lydia: From Gyges to Alexander

The Archaeology of Lydia: From Gyges to Alexander

By Christopher H. Roosevelt. Pp. xviii + 314, figs. 97, tables 8, plans 5, maps 8. Cambridge University Press, New York 2009. $99. ISBN 978-0-521-51987-8 (cloth).

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Lydia, which is the linchpin to understanding ancient East-West power relations in Anatolia, has proven to be a difficult region to comprehend because of the complexities and limitations of both the archaeological and historical records. However, this thoroughly researched and beautifully presented book is organized and written with such clarity that it will make a welcome introduction to Lydia for any reader.

The book is organized into two sections, the first a systematic discussion of the settlement history of Lydia, the second an abbreviated catalogue of finds from survey sites across the region incorporating much original data. These two sections are nicely balanced, with the former taking up the first two-thirds (203 pages) of the volume and the remainder being the catalogue, notes, and bibliography. The survey site entries in the catalogue are used to illustrate the archaeological basis of the preceding discursive section, making them an integral part of the book and the presentation of its core argument, rather than just a tedious addendum.

The chapters that make up the discursive part of the book are logically arranged so as to build up a well-founded picture of the current state of knowledge about Lydian archaeology. The thrust of the analysis of this section of the book is directed toward understanding the impact of hegemonic change in the upper echelons of Lydian society and the resultant cultural change on the ground; this is evidenced by survey data for altered settlement patterns and cult and funerary practices. This approach inevitably forces Roosevelt to address issues such as the sheer size of the Lydian territory relative to the paucity of its archaeological data set, the nature of that archaeology, and its relationship to Greek classical mythohistorical traditions about Lydia. While Roosevelt addresses these issues directly, he does not let himself and his readers get bogged down in a lengthy problématique of Lydian studies but rather moves on to provide a clear, yet appropriately qualified, narrative of the development of settlement and culture in the region of ancient Lydia. For example, questions such as the definition of “landscape,” which could have been prolonged and highly theoretical, are dealt with in a pragmatic manner without being overly redacted.

Chapter 2, which sets out the cultural and historical framework for the study, presents the most clear and succinct discussion of the cultural history of Bronze Age–Iron Age western Anatolia currently available. Roosevelt highlights areas of uncertainty but is still able to draw out a sufficiently coherent chronological narrative that can be used to provide the basis of what is to follow. Any conclusions drawn are sufficiently circumscribed to make sure the reader is always aware of the inherent limitations of the sources and chronology he is using.

The main geographical area of study is the region of central Lydia, around and to the north of Sardis, which has been the subject of Roosevelt’s own Central Lydia Archaeological Survey (CLAS) field project. This was the heart of the original Lydian kingdom and continued to be of central importance as Sardis’ rulers extended their influence outward, eventually forming an empire that covered much of western Anatolia. Chapter 3 describes the geography and environment of Lydia, the central region of which included the rich alluvial plains of the central Hermus (modern Gediz) River valley, with Sardis on the south side and the Bin Tepe tumulus fields and the Gygean Lake (modern Marmara Gölü) to the north. Greater Lydia, the precise limits of which are not always easily defined and which presented a variety of landscapes, including mountains, valleys, and plains, is also described.

For many, Lydia is synonymous with its capital city of Sardis—for ancient writers, it was the center of political events, and for modern archaeologists (including Roosevelt), it provides the main typological sequences and comparanda for study. Sardis, which is the subject of chapter 4, is referred to throughout the book as being cosmopolitan, and it does appear to demonstrate a “material eclecticism” (7) of identifiably Lydian, Greek, and Persian cultural traits in its complex archaeological remains. Given the severe limitations of the evidence for sites beyond Sardis, this understanding of the Lydian capital is essential, even if such a methodology risks prioritizing the culture of the metropolis over that of the Lydian countryside, something of which Roosevelt himself is evidently well aware.

In chapter 5, we finally get a synthesis of settlement and society in central and greater Lydia that draws heavily on the catalogue of survey sites at the end of the book. Methodologically, Roosevelt applies an “extensive” and synthetic survey approach to the 22,400 km² region of greater Lydia, of which the 350 km² area of central Lydia was subject to “intensive” survey (91). The result of this is “two scales of data” from central and greater Lydia (95). For example, in central Lydia, 158 tumuli have been identified, whereas just 450 are known from the much larger area of greater Lydia. Roosevelt, perhaps wisely, shies away from attempting to define any rigid methodology that might articulate the gearchange between his area of intensive survey and the rest of Lydia, focusing instead on important general observations that can be drawn from the different data, such as the considerable change in settlement patterns in greater Lydia that resulted from the coming of the Persians but that apparently affected central Lydia to a lesser extent.

The last of the discursive chapters (ch. 6) brings us to the most prominent and famous feature of the Lydian landscape—its tumuli and what they tell us about Lydian burial practices and society. Although precise dating of the tumuli is often difficult and researching them is hampered by extensive looting, Roosevelt manages to locate them alongside other contemporary burials into a coherent pattern of funerary practice that was socially differentiated but ideologically united by a shared tradition that was common to all yet incorporated eclectic elements of Lydian, Greek, and Persian funerary imagery. Here again, Roosevelt is able to use his original survey data to good effect to be able to conclude, for example, that the prevalence of lion sculptures across Lydia probably indicates that they were used in funerary contexts and had apotropaic symbolism.

In his conclusions, Roosevelt argues that the enduring cosmopolitanism that is such a consistent element running throughout Lydian culture in the period of study is in fact one of its defining characteristics. He also argues that Persian and Lydian traditions coexisted and that in the post-Achaemenid invasion (so-called Late Lydian) period, Persianisms, such as the uptake of Persian status symbols in tombs, can be read not as implication of Persian ethnicity but rather as social buy-in to the symbolism of Persian culture.

The end catalogue is neat and accessible, with short descriptions, explorations, histories, and bibliographies for each surveyed site and for relevant materials in local museum collections. The detailed table of contents and index are useful features for those who will inevitably want to plunder this valuable book for its contents without needing to follow the full development of Roosevelt’s arguments. The simplicity with which Roosevelt presents what are often complex arguments, the clarity of the written style, and the inclusion of tables that present in graphic form large sets of data (e.g., the chronological table [12]) all belie the depth of research that has gone into the preparation of this book. The photographs are excellent and the maps are generally of a high standard and clarity, although they are sometimes necessarily a bit cluttered because of the sheer geographic scale of the region being covered. However, it has to be said that some of the tables (e.g., 101, 110) are less easy to comprehend.

This book is not without problems, but these are generally not of the author’s making; rather, they are a consequence of the current state of Lydian archaeology. The lack of a precise pottery chronology for Lydia remains a problem for Roosevelt, as does his overreliance on Greek historical sources. Looting and the often piecemeal nature of the archaeological data outside the core central-Lydia area are also limiting factors, and it is ultimately only through new stratigraphic excavations in Lydia that such data will come. In the meantime, he remains reliant on the Sardis sequences alone, and this inevitably limits and influences any readings of the data from beyond this key site. It means he is unable, as yet, to reverse the historical tendency to overprioritize the capital and the interests of the elite over those of more typical Lydians who lived close to the land. Nevertheless, this is an essential book for any scholar interested in the archaeology of Anatolia, not only for its clear and eloquent synthesis of Lydian archaeology, but also for the contribution it makes to the integration of different archaeological research methodologies.

Alan M. Greaves
School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology
University of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 7WZ
United Kingdom

Book Review of The Archaeology of Lydia: From Gyges to Alexander, by Christopher H. Roosevelt

Reviewed by Alan M. Greaves

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 4 (October 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1144.Greaves

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