The Gold jewels of Magna Grecia

By Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The gold jewels of Magna Grecia belong to the rich collection of the MANN, which starts forming by the end of the 18th century thanks to archaeological campaigns, donations and acquisition of private collections. 

Necklace (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Since ancient times, gold has been associated with the divine due to its ductility, sheen, incorruptibility and rarity. It was the symbol of royalty and its ostentation could testify the social rank of the wearer. Over time the exihibition of luxury was set up as specialized social mores, related to particular collective ceremonies, such as marriage and funerals; during these events, women used to wear jewels, used on completion of their dress, like pins and brooches.

Necklace (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Gold production

During the first millennium B.C., the Greek goldsmith production spread in a limited way and it was influenced by models created for the Meaddle East courts, thanks to the trade contacts with Phoenicia. The most ancient gold sources of supply were in the Caucasus region, in Georgia, in Armenia and in Syria.      Gold was really uncommon during the formation of the Greek colonies, whose political settlement was egalitarian in opposition to the previous motherland's one, which was aristocratic.

Braidholders (6th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

During the mid-8th century B.C., the founding of the Greek colonies in the western Mediterranean and in Southern Italy resulted in the intensification of the trading posts and in the spread of Phocean and Ionic cultural elements in the Thirrenian area, thanks also to the possibility of exploting the iron mines of Elba island. In the 6th century B.C. the artistic production of the Magno-Greek and Etruscan cities tended to approximate to the Ionic model, through the creation of gold jewels coming mostly from funeral contexts, like Ruvo di Puglia’s ones: such as "fermatrecce" and the spectacular necklace with pendant.

Braidholders (6th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The "fermatrecce" (braidholders) were used to decorate the female hairdo: the hair was wrapped around the cylindrical part leaving the largest circle visibile, which is decorated by granulation, dust and filigree thecniques.

Braidholders (6th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The granulation is an ancient gold manifacturing technique, which consists in welding small gold spherules on a gold foil, by creating or decorative motifs or to highlight some details. The technique is called dust if in the decoration there are smaller spherules, almost microscopic.

Braidholders (6th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The representations are in relief, obtained with an embossed smooth foil. The elaborate decoration consists of three parallel bands, characterized by a braid motif, kraters and masks of Gorgon alternating with spheres.

Necklace (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Necklaces of Ficco collection from Ruvo

The necklace is composed by a weaving of golden wires and a net of meshes with a series of pendant acorns, heads of Silenus, and lotus flowers.

Necklace (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

These figures have been realized with elaborate molds and details have been meticulously made, for example, with the finishing of the hair and the wrinkle of the forehead of the Silenus thanks to the granulation technique. The acorns are instead characterized by the fine dust.

Necklace (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

It is mostly characterized by a geometric design of full and empty spaces with triangular and pentagonal shapes in the upper register, and rhomboid shapes in the lower one. The jewel was created by Etruscan craftsmen and according to a recent interpretation, the jewel could be considered as a clothing ornament.

Necklace (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The necklace has been attributed to Etruscan craftsmen. It is made up of 44 globular embossed beads of gold foil. The small globes surface is defined by different decoration techniques such as the granulation and the fine dust which characterized the small palms and the ivy leaves.

Pair of fibulae (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Fibulae from Ruvo

At the beginning of 5th century B.C., the goldsmith production in Magna Grecia increased and new productive centers established themselves in Apulia and in Campania. Taranto was one of the most important and prolific goldsmith producers. In this period the series of fibulae coming from Ruvo was produced.               The most ancient specimens have a simple arc and a pomegranate in beaten foil, which hangs from the fibula through a chain. 

Pair of fibulae (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

In the upper and the lower part, the pomegranate is decorated by pod shaped motives, while it is smooth in the central part. The pendant is also decorated by a bud with a half-opened calyx in filigree.

Pair of fibulae (6th-5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Other couples of fibulae of the Magna Grecia collection have an enlarged arc in the central part. Their brackets end with an aries head representation which is decorated with fine dust and a slight engraving. The arc and the bracket are adorned by triangular and spiral decorations in filigree.

Pair of fibulae, 6th-5th century B.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Pair of fibulae, 6th-5th century B.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Fibula, 6th-5th century B.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Pair of fibulae (5th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The couple of fibulae has a simple arc and a short folded bracket in smooth foil. It ends with the representation of a cable flower with twelve petals.

Pair of earrings (Second half of 4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The goldsmith production from the 4th century B.C.

From the 4th century B.C. the goldsmith production mirrored the more general phenomenon of

Hellenization which involved both the cities in Magna Grecia and the Etruscan territories. Taranto

played an important role; several types of jewels were produced there, such as: ribbon necklaces, with or without bulla, disc-shaped earrings with different pendants, like small vases, female heads and geometrical elements.

Pair of earrings (Second half of 4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The earrings have a disc with an engraved Gorgon head. It is surrounded by a line of small globes and a line of small arches. Then there is a wave motif framed by three filigree crowns.

Pair of earrings (Second half of 4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The pendant has a pyramidal shape and plant motifs and it is decorated by other small pendants like acorns, palms, aspen and oak leaves.

Pair of earrings (Second half of 4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Earrings

Earrings were widespread and their exihibition could connote a ‘’married woman’’ status. They had an ornamental function and their deposition in the grave goods testified the strong link between the deceased female and the object. The "helix" earrings attest a continued use of these jewels which were worn till the moment of death, without ever replacing them. These earrings envisaged a very large hole in the earlobe, made progressively by exapanding, to allow the sliding of the tubular corps of the helix. Then it was fixed by the interlocking of two protomes on its endpoints.

 

Pair of earrings (Second half of 4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Pair of earrings (4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Here, the end of the earrings is decorated by two female heads which are embossed, and represent the same jewels in a miniaturist way.

Pair of earrings (4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Crown (4th-3rd century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Crowns and diadems

At the beginning of the 3th century B.C. Taranto
wealth reached its peak and it resulted in a very intense goldsmith production
which continued till the Second Punic War. The crowns and the diadems, with
juxtaposition of leaves of gold foil on a rigid support, were very popular both
in Alexandria and in the cities of Magna Grecia.

The crowns and diadems, coming from Taranto and Metaponto, were found in necropolis, especially in female burials. Probably in the Magno-Greek communities this object was symbolically related to women, while in the indigenous necropolis a relationship between the crown and the symposium, to which men took part crowned, has came out.

Gold ring (4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Rings and Bezel

In Taranto and Cuma the jewel production was characterized by rings with oval or circular gold bezel, tendentially worn on the left hand, which could be decorated with different figures like the herculean knot.

Gold ring (4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

This jewel has a bezel raised by two caryatids and it is frontally decorated by a Gorgoneion, framed by two snakes whose tails shape an herculean knot.

Pair of fibulae (4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Also in Campania fibulae were very popular, especially the leech buckles. Some significant examples are the buckles coming from the tomb Stevens 185 of Cuma. These fibulae have a long bracket, decorated by palms and a pomegranate, topped by a flower with thirteen petals.

Pair of fibulae, 4th century B.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Fibula (4th century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

This one has a large bracket, ending with a flower with eleven petals and a glasse past pistil.

Pair of earrings (Late 3rd century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

From the end of the 3th century B.C. the goldsmith production of Magna Grecia cities was marked by the diffusion of standard models. This beautiful pair of earrings, coming from Ruvo, fits into this production.

Pair of earrings (Late 3rd century B.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The central section has a rhomboid shape with sides which curved inward. It is in filigree like the central rosette and the miniature flowers of the corners.

Pair of earringsMuseo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

In addition the earrings are decorated by a spherical pendant in carnelian and the so-called “monachina” hook.

Credits: Story

Texts
Mara Esposito
Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Corso di Archeologia della Magna Grecia
Prof.ssa Bianca Ferrara


Marialucia Giacco - Conservatore Sezione Magna Grecia MANN
Laura Forte - Responsabile Archivio Fotografico MANN


Photo credits
Archivio Fotografico MANN
Giorgio Albano
Francesco Esposito

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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