2.11.12

Ancient jewelry from the British museum's collection

It is still not known when exactly people started to adorn themselves with jewelry, at first to beautify themselves, then to proclaim their wealth and social status as well as to protect from the multitude of frightening ills that could befall them. At some very early stage in man's history different materials began to be selected and fashioned for those purposes. The British Museum has a huge collection of jewelry ranging in date from about 5000BC to the middles of the twentieth century. When I was visiting the museum I took pictures of most impressive from my point of view pieces and here they are. First post is dedicated to the jewelry of the Ancient World.


One of the pair of gold armlets from the Oxes Treasure (5th - 4th century BC). This object is one of the most important surviving items of ancient Persian craftsmanship. It is likely they were intended for display rather than being worn.The hoop is almost solid metal at the back, but becomes tubular towards the ends, which are fashioned in the shape of winged griffins. The hollows chased into the horns, face and body of the monsters were originally inlaid, as were the applied gold cloisons on the wings and upper parts.

A Hittite necklace (Turkey, 1700-1500BC). Each of the gold hawk pendants, which are strung on gold wire, originally had three disc pendants attached, but several are now missing.

A gold necklace from the Greek city of Tarentum, southern Italy (4th century BC). The filigree-decorated necklace is composed of interlocking rosettes and other ornaments, from which hang flower-buds and female heads. Two of the large heads have a cow's ears and horns and so represent Io the priestess of Hera.


Earrings of the 5th century BC. The pair of spiral, gold-plated bronze earrings ending in griffins' heads are from Amathus (Cyprus). They are decorated with blue and green enamel. This type of earrings is a Greek Cypriot speciality.
Another pair is gold filigree-decorated earrings from Eretria, Euboea (Greece). They have green enamelled rosettes and eight tiny pendants in the form of cockle-shells. On top of the crescent sits a siren.

Gold Etruscan strap necklaces from the Tuscan Maremma (6th century BC). The first one of plaited wire and suspended chains, beads, rosettes, acorns, lotus flowers and buds. The second necklace is hung with the heads of a river-god, sirens, flowers, buds, scarabs and settings for onix gems and amber.

Gold Etruscan ear-studs (6th century BC), richly decorated with filigree, granulation and inlay.

The Snettisham Great Torc (1th century BC). This torc is one of the most elaborate golden objects from the ancient world. It is made from gold mixed with silver and weighs over 1 kg. The hoop is composed of eight strands twisted together, each strand being made up of eight twisted wires. The hollow ring-terminals are soldered to the hoops. The relief decoration on the terminals would have been cast with the terminals themselves, but details have been added by chasing.


Gold oak wreath with a bee and two cicadas (350-300 BC). Said to be from the Dardanelles. Each branch made of sheet gold tubes has six sprays with eight leaves and seven or eight acorns, as well as a cicada. Such wreaths were regularly made to be worn in life, usually in religious processions. Gold wreaths were also given to winners in musical contests at the Panathenaic Games in Athens.
Phoenician gold diadem from Tharros (7th century BC). The hinged gold plates are decorated with palmettes and lotuses emphasized with granulation and gold wire.

Necklace of gold links with a disc decorated with a head of Medusa. Roman, about AD 200

Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake. Roman, 1th century AD, from Pompeii

Etruscan earrings (300-200 BC). Pair of gold earrings (N3), the hollow hoops embossed with palmettes and decorated with wire rosettes. Gold earring (N4), the hoop covered  by a plate with bosses and globules; pendant female head and chains. Pair of gold earrings (N5), the discs with rosettes and a pendant vase embossed with floral designs.

Etruscan (400-300 BC). Gold earring made of thin sheet decorated with bosses, globule clusters, rosettes and filigree.

Etruscan gold rings (350-300 BC) with a plain agate (N15), an onix scarab (N16), and an engraved cornelian (N16, 17).

Etruscan (675-650 BC). Pair of gold bracelets with granulation and embossed panels. The themes of the figured panels derive from Phoenician motifs.

Gold earring in the form of a siren (320-300 BC). From a tomb at the foot of Mt.Aetos, Ithaka.

The Braganza brooch, Hellenistic (250-200 BC). This gold brooch (fibula) was made by a Greek or a Greek trained jeweller for a Celtic prince on the Iberian peninsula. It bears the figure of a naked warrior wearing a Celtic helmet and carrying a Celtic shield and his hunting dog which leaps up enthusiastically at its master. The rest of the hunt motif is hinted at by means of a boar's head which served as a sliding catch for the pin, and the other dogs' heads.

Sumerian court jewelry from Ur (2500 BC). It includes: a hair ornament with three gold rosette finials fixed to modern shafts; gold hair-ribbons; three head-dresses of lapis lazuli pendants; a pair of gold earrings; a gold and lapis lazuli choker; three necklaces with beads of gold, lapis lazuli and cornelian; and silver dress-pin with a lapis lazuli head. Jewelry of this kind was worn by many of the attendant women buried side by side in the royal graves. If worn in life or on the way to the tombs such a great quantity of jewelry, beads and leaves of gold would certainly have made a striking impression, rustling and shining in the sun.


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