The Gold of Taranto

Jewelery collection from the Hellenistic and Roman periods

Around the middle of the fourth century BC, the craftsmen of Taranto achieved a standard of excellence and prestige, which fueled exports and influenced the customs of a large part of the Mediterranean, in a wide range of goods.

This included the production of luxury textiles, and, above all, the celebrated goldsmithery, which even today constitutes one of the most attractive elements of the rich collections of the MArTA.

Navicella earring (Second half of the 4th century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Boat-shaped earring

Different variants of the boat shape are the most common designs for earrings, an essential part of women’s apparel, and among the most documented items of personal adornment in the tombs of Taranto. 

This exceptionally large specimen (height 9 cm, width 5 cm) was found in a tomb on the Via Umbria in Taranto, and dates back to the second half of the fourth century BC.

The complex decoration is achieved using various techniques: filigree, the weaving of thin metal wires twisted together; granulation, the welding of tiny spherical grains onto the sheet to form prearranged designs;

and knurling, a beaded effect achieved by making ridges on a metal surface using pressure from a blade. This boat-shaped earring is decorated with pendants and carved foil elements, such as the winged female figures (Nikai) on the edges.

Disc earrings with triple pendant (First half of the 4th century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Disc earrings with female head pendants

This pair of gold earrings was uncovered in a burial in Crispiano from the mid-fourth century BC. It bears traces of pink, red and blue enamel, is shaped as disks with a beaded edge adorned with rosettes and four layers of petals.

Two small roses with filigree petals are attached to the sides of the disc, from which hang two thin double-link chains each with three smooth, biconical beads and three filigree spheroidal beads, with bells at the ends.

A female head adorned with a frontal diadem, earrings with rosettes and cluster pendants, and filigree necklaces are attached to the bottom of each disk. The head-shaped pendants are closed by a piece of foil with a small fissure, where small bits of fabric or sponge soaked in perfume could be inserted.

Diadem (Mid 4th century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Semi-cylindrical gold foil diadem 

This frontal diadem, from Crispiano and dating to the mid-fourth century BC, is made of gold foil folded into a half cylinder, curved and edged with a knurled thread and flanked by a running wave motif executed using the same technique.

The main surface of the object is decorated with vegetative spirals in knurled thread with volutes and palmettes and ending with bell-shaped flowers.

The small holes at the edges were used for attaching the gold foil to a core made of a perishable material, perhaps wood, using nails.

Bracelet (Early 3rd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Twisted rod bracelet

Coming from Mottola, the parure includes a necklace, a ring and the gold twisted rod bracelet .The ends of the rod are in the form of antelopes’ heads, with knurled wire horns and the orbital cavities originally filled with semiprecious stones.

Ribbon Necklace (Early 3rd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Ribbon necklace

Part of the same set a, this ribbon necklace with palmette endings is a unique piece of goldsmithery made in Taranto. It consists of six double-link chains welded together ending with eyelets, used to suspend it from the shoulders of a dress.

Ring (Early 3rd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Gold ring with bezel

This ring, which seems to belong to the same set bears an elegant female portrait on the circular bezel. The model for this depiction can be found in an Alexandrian context, in the court portraiture of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.

Diadem (Late 4th - early 3rd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Diadem with heracles knot

This rare gold ring diadem dating back to the first half of the third century BC was found in a pit tomb in Ginosa Marina, in the chôra of Taranto near the border with the territory of Metapontum.

The diadem is embellished by a large Heracles knot in the center, which is densely decorated on the frontal part with filigree and vegetation-themed knurling ornamentation.
The motif known as the knot of Heracles, originally from an Egyptian environment, may have arrived at the Taranto ateliers through the mediation of oriental Greek goldsmiths.

Nucifrangibulum (nutcracker) (Late 4th - early 3rd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Nutcracker

This peculiar example of a bronze nutcracker realistically depicts two female hands, embellished with spiral bracelets in gold foil ending in snake protomes at the wrists, with the hands elegantly clasped together.

A hinge placed between the palms allowed the two parts to be leveraged apart.
Originally a handle was attached to the base of the hands with quadrangular pins.

Datable between the end of the fourth and the beginning of the third centuries BC and found in a tomb in C.da Rondinella in Taranto, this unique object associated the practical function of a table tool with symbolic meanings and rituals of the area.

Earrings with pendant in the form of a bunch of grapes (Late 3rd - early 2nd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

The Tomb of Gold in Canosa

In 1928, in Canosa, an important center of ancient Daunia, a hypogean (underground) tomb was accidentally discovered containing several cells side by side and a monumental façade.

Hinged casket (Late 3rd - early 2nd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

The most notable discovery in the hypogeum was a young aristocratic woman, whose name – Opaka Sabaleida – was engraved in dotted letters on the hinge of a silver cosmetic case in the shape of a shell.

Diadem - front viewMArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

This case, an ornamental box, a splendid floral wreath diadem, a set of toiletries and other precious objects, from which the tomb takes its name, accompanied the woman to the afterlife.

Folding mirror (Late 3rd - early 2nd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Some of the most notable objects are a silver box mirror, Alexandrian glass cups and a sceptre in perforated gold leaf, an emblem of rank and perhaps of some priestly dignity.

Diadem - front viewMArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Floral wreath diadem

This diadem, found in the Tomb of Gold in Canosa, is a masterpiece of the Hellenistic era of Tarantine goldsmithing. It is a truly unique piece, assembled together from separate elements by expert engineering.

The support consists of two gold sheets folded into a channel and joined by a hinge. A refined floral composition wrapped around it executed in openwork filigree, with bunches of flowers, different types of berries and leaves held together by a continuous ribbon embellished with enamel in different shades of green, as an imitation of a garland.

Diadem - detailMArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Each partially mobile element is fixed to the support by small rings, while the use of colored enamels and semiprecious stones (garnets and carnelians) enhances the whole naturalistic effect.

Diadem - front viewMArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

It has been suggested that the diadem was tied at the nape of the neck with a fabric ribbon, as it has eyelets at the ends of its support that are decorated with enamelled oak leaves.

Hinged casket (Late 3rd - early 2nd century BC)MArTA - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Shell-shaped cosmetic case

This cosmetic case in silver foil with hot gilding from the Tomb of Gold in Canosa is designed in the form of two valves imitating the shape of the Pecten jacobaeus shell. They are joined by a hinge bearing a dotted inscription in the local language that reads OPAKAS SABALEIDAS, probably a reference to the owner.

A nereid riding a sea monster with a garnet set in its eye, is depicted inside the lid. 

The outside of the lid reproduces the nereid on Cetus with some variations. There are two symmetrically engraved dolphins on a running wave motif near the hinge.

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