Marbled ware is the most well-known class of Lydian decorative painting. The technique seems likely to have been invented at Sardis, where the largest number and variety of vessels with marbled decoration has been found, all with very consistent fabric and glaze. Marbled ware is widely distributed in Anatolia: on the western coast of Asia Minor, from Aiolis at the north to Ionia and Caria at the south; in the Propontus, Pisidia, and Phrygia; and as far east as Alişar and Kültepe, to the east and south of the Halys River, respectively (see Gürtekin 1998:211-12, n. 555 for distribution). Marbled ware vessels have also been found outside of Anatolia.
The marbled technique was achieved by applying diluted paint with a multi-brushed tool in an array of closely spaced vertical, horizontal, or diagonal wavy lines. The paint could be applied on a white slip, on a burnished clay surface, or more rarely a micaceous slip (Greenewalt 1978a:13, note 7). The marbling may be the sole decorative motif on the vessel or may appear concurrently with other designs, such as linear and geometric motifs (e.g. chevrons, lozenges, broken meanders, double-axes, nets, square bars, concentric circles, dotted pendant triangle, rays and simple bands), floral decorations (e.g. stemmed buds and myrtle leaves) and animal figures (e.g. silhouette painted birds, deer, goats and also animal friezes in the so-called "early fikellura” style.
This distinctive decorative idea was named “marbling” initially by the Körte brothers in their publication of their excavations of Gordion (1903:188-89; see Greenewalt 1966:126-27 for further bibliography and also for the various other names preferred for this design).
Marbling is applied to a wide range of shapes, and each site has its particular range of favorites. Lekythoi and skyphoi are very popular; other shapes that receive this technique are dishes, bowls, lydions, and phiales. Somewhat less common shapes decorated with this technique are dinoi, oinochoai, kraters, lids, and strainer-spouted jugs. Some shapes are known only from provincial centers, but are not attested at Sardis, such as Myrina-type amphoras, pyxides, and kantharoi.
At Sardis, the earliest contexts in which marbled ware vessels occur date to the late 7th-early 6th centuries BCE. The ware is very popular in 6th c. BCE contexts, and probably continued into the 5th century to judge by finds at Sardis, Gordion, and Daskyleion.
Lydian marbled ware was widely imitated; for examples of various local versions see Anatolian Lydian-style wares.