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Friday, February 12, 2021

Cypriot gold spiral earrings: Local fashion or the result of Achaemenid influence?

 According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, spirals with ornate animal-head terminals are frequently found in Cypriot tombs of the Classical period. Terracotta and limestone votive statues illustrate that from the Archaic through the Classical period it was customary for Cypriot men and women to wear such ornaments in large holes pierced through their earlobes.

When I saw these earrings, I wondered if this Cypriot practice of making large holes in their earlobes to accommodate these ornaments was a local fashion or adopted as a result of Persian rule beginning in 545 BCE, especially since most examples I have seen  are dated between the late 6th century to the 5th century BCE. I managed to find images of Achaemenid bracelets similarly made of gold tubing but each example of similar earrings I found in my research were all labeled Cypriot. Since the Cypriots were ruled by the Assyrians and even the Egyptians for a short time, I researched the jewelry of those cultures as well but found nothing similar. 


Cypriot Earrings or spiral with lion-griffin terminals, Gold and Silver, 400-350 BCE and Lion headed spirals from mid-5th century BCE, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Cypriot Gold and copper alloy spiral with lion-head terminal, 2nd half of the 5th century B.C.E. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The lion-head is made in two halves (left and right) from sheet gold.


Cypriot Earrings or spiral with lion-griffin terminals, Gold and Silver, 400-350 BCE, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Cypriot Earrings or spiral with lion-griffin terminals, Gold and Silver, 400-350 BCE, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pair of gold spiral earrings with terminals in the form of a crested griffins head. Cypriot, 475-400 B.C.E. British Museum

Gilt bronze spiral with griffin terminal. Period: Classical. Date: ca. 400–350 B.C.E. Culture: Cypriot. Medium: Gold, bronze. British Museum

Cypriot Gold allow spiral earings with Griffin terminals 5th century BCE at the British Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Paul Hudson. (digitally enhanced and recomposed)

Cypriot Gold alloy spiral earring with horned mythological creature terminal and floret, 5th century BCE, at the Antikensammlung Museum in Berlin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marsupium

Achaemenid Gold Bracelet with Inlaid Termini in the Form of Duck's Heads, Gold with lapis lazuli, agate, and carnelian inlay, mid-6th-4th century B.C.E. at the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan. The ducks are reduced to protomes with their heads turned back in a typical Achaemenid fashion. The bracelet is constructed of hollow gold tubing, and the duck protomes were formerly elaborately inlayed with colored stones. One duck bill is made of agate, the other of carnelian. The ducks were both made separately and were in all likelihood originally joined together at their breasts. In order to put on the bracelet, the birds could be separated from the circlet by removing the rivets.

The bracelet type is preserved in much simpler versions of bronze or golden wire, and details like the turned heads resting on the animals' backs seem truly Achaemenid, but a certain naturalistic tendency along with the concept of a removable part may point to a later period and attribute this piece to the circle of Achaemenizing art fashioned in the Hellenistic period. It must be stressed, however, that at the moment, this is nothing but a hypothesis. - Miho Museum, Kyoto, Japan

Achaemenid Gold Bracelet with Inlaid Termini in the Form of Seated Ducks, Gold with lapis lazuli, turquoise, onyx, and rock crystal inlay, mid-6th-4th century B.C.E. at the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan. The jeweler of this bracelet chose ducks as terminal figures and combined them with a rather heavy looking circlet that can be opened. The ducks were fashioned separately, and all the feathers and the eyes were originally characterized by inlays. The ducks' bills are not preserved. The birds are fixed to a single massive tubular circlet, which originally had colored inlays at the junction between the ducks. The use of colored inlays for the details of the feathering is a feature of Egyptianizing tendencies in Achaemenid craftsmanship. Though the "Great Kings" are known to have employed Egyptian craftsmen, the use of this technique does not necessarily imply that the jeweler was an Egyptian, because the technique was widely used on objects of truly Achaemenid style. 

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