Sunday, November 22, 2020

Byzantine Temple Pendants

 Temple pendants are thought to have hung near the temple or cheek, suspended from the wearer’s hair or headdress. The pendant’s hollow interior probably held a piece of perfumed cloth. A small stick would have been used to guide the cloth in and out of the pendant.

When Kievan Rus, a powerful new state to the north of the Byzantine Empire, accepted Christianity as its official religion in 988, the aristocracy also adopted the manners and dress of the Byzantine court. Local artists soon produced their own versions of Constatinopolitan fashions. Temple pendants of precious metals worked in cloisonné enamel or niello are local variants of the more intricately detailed works made for the Byzantine court. As in Byzantium, temple pendants may have been worn next to the face by both the men and the women of Rus. The works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were perhaps buried by their owners when the Mongol armies under Batu Khan sacked Kiev in 1240.

In her paper "Temple Pendants' in Medieval Rus': How Were They Worn?", Ntalija Ristovska points out that  excavated burials with the precise location of ornaments on the body revealed by oxide staining on the skeleton, have shown that up to 12 rings were worn entangled in the hair at each side of the head, either in a cluster at the level of the temples or ears or arranged in a single row in the area between the forehead and the shoulders.  In some cases ornaments were secured by plaits or twisted sections of hair which ran from the temples to the back of the head.  Other examples revealed that one of more rings were threaded through leather and textile straps hanging from a headband or hat.  She also observes that combinations of different ornament types on each side of the head was common.

To read more about these ornaments and see drawings of excavated examples being worn check out her paper:

Temple Pendant and Stick ca. 1080–1150 CE Byzantine courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Temple Pendant and Stick ca. 1080–1150 CE Byzantine courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Temple Pendant with Two Birds Flanking a Tree of Life courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

An historical reenactor wearing temple pendants courtesy of Pinterest.

Two Sirens flanking a Tree of Life ca. 1000–1200 CE from Kievan Rus courtesy of the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

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