Monday, September 28, 2020

Diadems symbols of wealth, victory, and royalty

 The diadem, an ornamental headband worn by monarchs as a symbol of royalty and sometimes by others, such as victorious athletes in the classical world, may have had its origins in central Asia.  One of the oldest examples of a diadem worn by a priest king of the Indus Valley Civilization dates to approximately 3000 BCE.  Originally the term referred to an embroidered white silk ribbon but was later replaced by a circlet of precious metal, sometimes in the shape of a wreath.

During the Hellenistic period, High-ranking or wealthy Greek women often wore elaborate diadems and hairnets of gold and gemstones as part of their jewelry.  Greek and Macedonian diadems were sometimes adorned with a large Hercules knot, inspired by the one the hero used to tie the paws of the lion skin he wore. Due to its protective quality, the Hercules knot also became important in marriage symbolism and was a common motif for women's jewelry of the Hellenistic period, and in royal Macedonian art more generally. The Roman author Pliny (23-79 CE) even attributed healing qualities to the Hercules knot. 

Roman emperors from the time of Diocletian onwards wore a diadem and it was this object that the Foederatus general Odoacer returned to Emperor Zeno (the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire) after his expulsion of the usurper Romulus Augustus from Rome in 476 CE.

Two segments of a Diadem Greek late 3rd-2nd century BCE Gold that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.

Gold and garnet strap diadem with Herakles knot Greek 3rd-2nd century BCE that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Closeup of Gold Diadem with Rams' heads possibly Hyksos Egypt or southern Levant 2nd Intermediate Period Dynasties 15-16 1640-1550 BCE that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A reproduction of A diadem of King Tutankhamun New Kingdom 18th Dynasty 1332-1323 BCE that I photographed at the "Discovery of King Tut" exhibit in New York City.

Gold Diadem featuring Dionysos and Ariadne from a tomb at Madytos on the European side of the Hellespont Greek 330-300 BCE that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The centerpiece of this Hellenistic diadem is a Herakles knot, known for its apotropaic powers and its status as a symbol of fertility. Walters Art Museum, c. 3rd – 2nd century BCE courtesy of the museum and Wikimedia Commons.

Funerary diadem produced around 150 BCE from the Crimean Peninsula at the Glyptotek Munich courtesy of the museum.

Gold diadem. Greek, probably made in Alexandria, Egypt, and belonging to a noblewoman of the Ptolemaic dynasty (220–100 BCE): the clasp is shaped as a Herakles knot now in the Getty Villa courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Wolfgang Sauber

Diadem Greek 2nd century BCE Gold and glass that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas

Diadem with Ornamental Frieze Greek 4th century BCE Gold that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.

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Fred said...

Hi! Is there a reference for more about the diadem from the Indus Valley Civilization dated to approximately 3000 BCE? I would just like to more about that ancient example if I could. Thanks!

Mary Harrsch said...

Fred, I'm not sure if this is the example referenced in the Wikipedia article on diadems but it is definitely a depiction of a priest king wearing a diadem from the Indus Valley Civilization site Mohenjo-Daro excavated in 1927:

Priest King

It has been tentatively dated to 2400 BCE - 1900 BCE, not quite as old as the Wikipedia reference but dating is seldom precise. The 17.5 cm steatite statue is now on display at the National Museum in Karachi, Pakistan.

I also found this statue of a goddess from Mohenjo-Daro that appears to be wearing a diadem. As she is much more primitive than the priest king statue, I assume she is much older although a date is not given in English.