Thursday, 14 February 2013

Jewelry of ancient Persia

Lions' heads were a popular motif in Persian jewelry.
Persia made its mark on the Ancient Near East. Beginning in 550 B.C.E., the Achaemenid dnasty brought prosperity and wealth to the Persian people that lasted for more than two hundred years. Cyrus' empire encompassed today's nations of Iran, Iraq. Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Libya, plus parts of Egypt and central Asia an expanse of 7.5 million square kilometers, nearly the size of the United States. It was the ancient world's largest empire until Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 331 B.C.E.

Geographically, Persia is separated from Mesopotamia by the Zagros Mountains, but trade intermingle the two cultures. In the southern province of Elam (today's southwestern Iran) was the cultural metropolis of Susa. Like its Mesopotamian neighbors, Elam boasted ziggurats, clay writing tablets, and the use of precious metals in sculpture and jewelry Assyrians referred to these southern Iranian tribes as Persua. 

Animal were extremely popular during the Achaemenid period. They were portrayed with horns and without horns, in the shape of calves, rabbits, and rams.
Since there is no letter p in Arabic, when the Muslims conquered Persia they referred to the people as Fars (hence the Farsi language). Another ancient Iranian tribe, the Medes, controlled the region to the north. When Cyrus the Great established a unified realm, including the Medes, it became the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

The court and its royal leadership enjoyed great prosperity during the Achaemenid dynasty. Gold and silver furniture, bowls, and cups were staples of the royal court. Every year the king would send lavish gifts to the men who produced the most sons: these objects were used as currency.

While much of Achaemenid jewelry has not survived, the pieces that did display wonderful inlays and playfulness in their themes. The most important find is the Oxus Treasure of more than 1.700 gold and silver objects, which depict the influence of Mesopotamia and Elam on Persian jewelry The Oxus Treasure takes its name from the Oxus River, now called the Amu Darya, which is one of the longest rivers in Central Asia.

Another great discovery comes from a water jar found buried under one of the pavilions at Pasargadae, forty kilometers northeast of Persepolis, the capital city that was founded by Cyrus. Over one thousand items were discovered inside the enormous jar, including bracelets, earrings, and a gold cloisonné button. Cloisonné is a type of decoration in which a band of gold is filled with enamel. It is believed that this process was brought to Persia from Egypt.

Earring in Shape of Calf's Head Achaemenid, 5th century B.C.EHere is a striking example of Achaemenid jewelry in the design of two lions' heads. The lion was a symbol of the king that was often used in bracelets and rings. These particular lions' heads probably originate from northwest Persia. They have a pierced openwork design called ajoure and are circular in shape. They were sewn into clothing, probably as amulets to ward off evil.

Because of the openwork, the lion's head would look different on every occasion, depending upon the color and texture of the fabric underneath it. As Dr. J. Michael Padgett, Princeton University Art Museum Curator of Ancient Art, explains, "Such lions are represented in museum collections around the world. They are pierced through the main section to allow the fabric or leather on which they are sewn to show through. They could have been on a leather harness, or a robe, but I hey could also have been on tent hangings. The lion in particular is associated with the king of Persia with his nobility and fierceness in war and hunting and is related to the many earlier scenes of Assyrian kings going lion hunting. 

Whether they were actually stabbing them with a sword or throttling them with one hand is doubtful, but such images are expressions of their power. Being gold, the lions must have been special in their day; we may imagine hundreds of them, spangling the tent hangings and encrusting the magnificent robes of the Persian nobles."

Images of gods and goddesses were common during the Parthian Empire. This female reclining statue was likely brought to the Ancient Near East by the Greeks. She is nude except for her gold jewelry.
Such royal imagery served as propaganda to exert the authority of the kings who ruled an empire that stretched from the Aegean Sea to the plains of India. After the Battle of Salamis, the Greeks were astonished when they took the richly woven tent of Xerxes and with it the treasures it contained. In fact, the tent itself was reused to serve as a backdrop in the theater of Dionysus in Athens. The Persians influenced fashion in Greece as well, particularly theatrical costume. The Greeks were appalled by the ostentation and luxury of it all, but they were also enthralled.

Animal head bracelets decorated with filigree and granulation were a common type of Achaemenid jewelry; ibexes (wild mountain goats with massive, curved horns), lions, dragons and ducks were all popular images. Shown here are duck head bracelets, both in silver. In the brick panels at Persepolis there is a delegation shown carrying bracelets with terminating griffin heads. Animal motifs also appear in earrings, like the gold calf-shaped one on the next page and rings, like the exquisitely carved rabbit ring.

The crescent moon was a symbol of Ishtar, the goddess of love. We see this design in beautiful earrings of the Parthian Dynasty.Pectorals, large pieces of jewelry attached by chains to cover the pectoral muscles or a part of the chest are another type of jewelry from this period. This adornment existed in Egypt before it became typical of Achaemenid artisans. 'File jewelry of the Persian Empire was a classical amalgamation of all the cultures the Persians controlled.

When Cyrus died in 530 B.C.E., he was succeeded by his son Cambyses. Nine years later. Cambyses' son, Darius 1, took the throne. Darius quelled a rebellion of the Medes and Chaldeans, consolidated the empire, and divided it into in-dependent parts called satrapies. 
Darius then moved the capital to Persepolis, the city founded by his grandfather. Persepolis blended the art and architecture of cultures from the region. Cedar beams came from Lebanon, silver from Egypt, ivory from Ethiopia, and gold from Turkey. .Trade with the Last was equally important for jewelry design, as exotic stones such as lapis lazuli and carnelian were brought to Persia.

The grape cluster is a motif that dates back to the third millennium B.C.E. and is seen on Near Eastern jewelry from the ancient civilization of Elam since at least the eighth century B.C.E.
In 331 B.C.E. Alexander the Great defeated the armies of the last Achaemenid king, Darius III, then marched into Persepolis and burned the city as a symbol of the end of the Achaemenid dynasty. According to Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, "Alexander described Persepolis to the Macedonians as the most hateful of the cities of Asia and gave it over to his soldiers to plunder. It was the richest city under the sun and the private houses had been furnished with every sort of wealth over the years. The Macedonians raced into it slaughtering all the men whom they met and plundering the residences."

Eight years after defeating the Persians, Alexander himself died without leaving a successor.

The generals divided up his empire, and Seleucus controlled the cast; thus Persia became part of the Seleucid Empire, followed by the Parthian Empire in 250 B.C.E. Art historians believe that the Seleucid Empire did not leave its mark on the decorative arts, but it was during the Parthian Empire that jewelry and the decorative arts experienced explosive growth. It was during this time that Persia developed the Silk Road linking Persia with China and Central Asia. The Silk Road brought more than just silk: other elements previously unavailable to the Persians now arrived, such as precious stones, ivory, and metals.

The nude woman's head represents the followers of Dionysus, the god of wine, while the enlarged spirals on the face echo a Greek motif.
Figurative art in jewelry, especially images of gods and goddesses, were popular during this period, including representations of the Near Eastern goddess Ishtar (the goddess of fertility and war) in figurines linked to the fertility rite. Ishtar was one of the most important goddesses of the Ancient Near East. In addition to representing love and beauty, she was also the goddess of war because of her fierce sense of competition.

A stunning example of her representation is the Parthian statuette The Great Goddess shown above, depicting a reclining nude woman adorned with gold jewelry. She is carved from translucent alabaster with gold drop earrings. The earrings were most likely hammered and then applied to the figure. The Goddess has a voluptuous figure and is totally nude except for her jewelry Reclining female nudes were foreign to the Ancient Near Eastern artistic tradition arid was brought there by the Greeks. 

This impressive ring is unusual both for its size and for the presence of a figural intaglio. The uniquely Parthian influence is seen in the use of the large garnet cabochon. The garnet is engraved with a portrait bust of a man who displays strong features.She is related to other Hellenistic female nudes, both in her realistic proportions and posture. Her physical features arc Greek. The use of bitumen (a Near Eastern material created from asphalt, ashes, and plants) for her hair and her inlaid stone eyes identify an Eastern tradition. Her neck is marked with Rings of Venus which are fleshy creases in the neck, a desirable attribute in the Hellenistic female sculpture.

Ishtar is associated with the lion and with the planet Venus. 'The crescent moon is also one of her symbols. A famous Parthian alabaster figure of her, now found in the Louvre, is adorned with an appliquéd gold crown in the shape of a crescent moon. This crescent moon theme is also shown in the beautiful pair of Parthian gold and garnet ear pendants with turquoise shown above. 

This design, which influenced Hellenistic jewelry, is composed of an inverted teardrop-shaped element hanging from a hinged earring. It is inlaid with a large cabochon-cut garnet surrounded by beads of gold granulation, with soldering at the wide end of the teardrop. The gold crescent noon is inlaid with a sliver of garnet, and a tiny turquoise pebble is set at the bottom of the pendant with a ring of fine granulation around the base.

The richness of decoration on this beautiful bottle is indicative of the wealth and decadence of the Sassanian dynasty during its second Golden Era.In jewelry, Ishtar and her moon imagery are associated with spherical central pendants, as in the pair of Parthian gold ear pendants with dangling bells shown on the opposite page. These elaborately const meted earrings are made with a hinged strap hoop for insertion into the pierced earlobe. They are attached to an hourglass element with three granulated s-scroll straps from which hang a large, hollow spherical pendant. 

The sphere is made in two parts with six semicircles cut out of sheet wire to form the elements of the pendant. Beaded wire lines the edges and six flattened, bell-shaped pendants dangle from rings attached to the sphere's lower half, between the cutouts. The bells saving freely and make a tinkling sound as they knock against the central sphere and one another. These earrings might have been made for a dancer in the royal court.

Artisans of the Parthian Empire used the iconography of Dionysus the Greek god of wine, on everything from jewelry to vessels. This Dionysian influence is evident in the pair of Parthian gold ear pendants in the shape of grape clusters shown on the opposite page. Most grape cluster earrings of the time measure from 4 to 5 centimeters in length, so these earrings, at 6.6 centimeters, are one of the longest examples ever discovered. The earrings are an excellent representation of the synthesis of Greek and Near Eastern elements that are indicative of Parthian culture. 

Jewelry of ancient PersiaWhile the grape motif dates back to the third millennium B.C.E., the top of the cluster is fashioned in the shape of an amphora, a Greek vessel used for holding wine. The tapering cluster-shaped pendants hang from plain gold hoops; four arching handles made of beaded wire are symmetrically arranged around the shoulder of the cluster design to connect it to the neck of the amphora. Three vertically arranged areas of granulation, consisting of a triangle between two earrings might have been made for a dancer in spheres, decorate each of the smooth areas of the shoulder between the handles. There is a small gold hoop at the end suggesting that there might have been an additional pendant element that hung from the grape cluster.

The synthesis of Greek and Near Eastern design is also evident here in a pair of Parthian gold earrings in the shape of a nude woman. The head of the woman portrayed in the earrings recalls the maenads, the female followers of intaglio of a ruler or nobleman. The shape of the Dionysus; the youthful features depicted on the earrings arc wonderfully detailed for their size. The enlarged, spherical face spirals are a Greek motif. As in Greek art from the eighth to the seventh century B.C.E., the exaggerated feminine form resembles a posture on a ship's prow.

Typical of the period in the west of Persia from the 12th to 8th centuries were bronze objects such as this dress pin.During the third century B.C.L., citizens of Persia wanted to display their wealth; an example of this tendency can be seen on the opposite page, in the Parthian gold and garnet ring with a ring has Hellenistic origins but the Parthian influence is found in the use of the large garnet cabochon, the ridged treatment of the central band, and the Persian dress. Unlike today's knuckle rings, which are worn on one to three knuckles by men and women, this Parthian ring was meant only for a man. It was worn over the first knuckle, preventing the finger from moving. The ring announces, "I do not have to work!"

The Parthian Empire came to an end in 224 C.E., when the last Arsacid king was defeated by Ardashir 1 and thus began the Sassari Dynasty. This is considered one of the most influential periods in Persian history before the advent of Islam. The kings were patrons of philosophy, literature, music, and poetry Paintings, sculpture, and pottery came into their prime. Sassanian textiles and rugs, influenced by Chinese silk weaving, were often sewn with jewelry.

Sassanian society was rigidly' divided into four classes: nobles, priests, warriors, and commoners. At the center of society was the king, who ruled the nobles and the mart, its hOuse-7 hold, and the court mausoleums. The king was celebrated by banquets, hunts, and different-clam ceremonies. These events became the most common themes in jewelry'' and the decorative arts. The king was shown on horseback, -and his prey would include deer, bears, and lions.

Six bell-shaped pendants dangle from the lower half of each of these earrings. The bells make a pleasant tinkling sound when worn.A silver-gilt plate with a royal hunting scene is depicted on the next page. The royal hunt was theme on Sassanian vessels dating back to the mid-fourth century C.E., but fine detail, such as the little finger of the bowstring hand bent downward is not seen on plates produced before the fifth century C.E. The king wears all the ornaments of a royal for a hunt, including his own and tight-fitting trousers and shoes. The horse is outfitted in elaborate gear, including-an ornate saddle and *idle. As the hunt symbolized the strength of the ling this motif was popular on gifts for neighboring allies and rulers.

A Sassanian silver-gilt bottle is depicted on the opposite page. This type of vessel seems to be more secular than religious. It was probably a luxurious bottle that decorated the table of important Sassanian dignitaries. The background is entirely gilded, while the dancers appear silvery. Links to Greek mythology are visible on this piece, with the four figures of nude dancing girls executed in repousse. One is draped in spotted panther skins, holding a vase in one hand and a bunch of grapes in the other. These are attributes of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.

Pair of Bracelets with Zoomorphic Terminals Achaemenid, 6th to 5th century B.C.E
Shown here is a Sassanian silver medallion that would have been soldered to the center of a silver plate or bowl. The style of this object shows the influence of Greek art on Persia. The medallion is hammered from a single thin sheet of silver, with the border and the monster's anatomy incised afterward. The figure depicted is known as the Angha, an enormous mythical Peacock like bird with the head and claws of a lion. In legend the animal is said to possess the wisdom of the ages. Since the animal preferred water, presumably the two spade-shaped forms to the right and below represent the closed buds of a lotus flower.

By 634 C.E., the head of the Muslim military command had wrestled most of Mesopotamia from the Persians. Finally, in 642 C.E. the great Arab victory came at Nahavand (150 kilometers soul h of Hamadan) and nine years later, in 651 C.E. the Sassanid dynasty ended with the murder of ruler Yazdegerd Ill at Merv. A new era was born. The Arab- Islamic dynasties the Umayyads and the Abbasids were the new rulers. However other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism, cohabited peacefully in Mesopotamia.

Writer – Judith Price
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