Persian Treasures

Persian Lands

The Assyrian Empire was succeeded by the end of the seventh century BC by the Neo-Babylonian, and then by the Persian Empire of the Achaemenids, based in modern Iran. The jewelry of the Persian lands, though influenced from the West in some respects, tends to be technically simpler but, because of the lavish use of gold, more imposing in its general effect. A hoard of gold treasure discovered somewhere on the Oxus River in Central Asia about 1877, illustrates the opulent taste in jewelry at the Persian court. The Greek historians commented several times on the remarkable quantities of gold worn, in various forms, by the Persian kings and their high officials and bodyguards; they refer, not only to bracelets and torcs, but also to applied ornaments that were sewn on to clothes.

Above: One of a pair of gold armlets from the Oxus Treasure (c. 5th—4th century BC). The hoop is almost solid metal at the back, but becomes tubular towards the ends, which are fashioned in the shape of winged griffins. The hollows chased into the horns, face and body of the monsters were Originally inlaid, as were the applied gold cloisons on the wings and upper parts. The pair to this bracelet is also in the British Museum, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum (London). H 12.4cm

The Oxus Treasure has an obscure history. It was carried by merchants to India, where most of it was eventually bought by a British official. The cosmopolitan nature of the Oxus Treasure jewelry, and indeed of other objects from the Oxus Treasure, has caused considerable confusion among scholars attempting to assess its date and origin. It is not clear whether it came from a single hoard; even if it did, it may incorporate the contents of a temple treasury that had accumulated over two or more centuries. It is possible that much of the jewelry was hidden about 330 BC when the Greek army of Alexander the Great was advancing into Central Asia, and that it represents offerings deposited during the period of the Persian Empire.

Many items in the Oxus Treasure show the influence of traditions inherited by the Persians from Mesopotamia and Elam. Thus, bracelets ending in fine animal-heads are familiar on Assyrian sculptures of the ninth century BC, and there are many comparable pieces in the treasure.

Published by Peter Lopez

Peter is a lifelong student of art with a particular passion for jewelry, vintage European cars, movies, books, and history.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: