According to ancient authors wreaths were
presented as rewards in artistic and athletic
contests, dedicated at temples, given as
engagement gifts, awarded to war heroes and
worn at banquets. They were fashioned from
natural leaves as well as more precious materials.
The use of gold and the inherent fragility of this
example suggest that it was made as a funerary
offering for a wealthy individual. Gold wreaths
were buried in tombs (predominantly royal) in
Macedonia, Asia Minor and the North Pontic area
from the fourth century BC onwards. The
tradition of wreathing the dead however goes
back even further to the 6th century BC. The
practice was related to belief in an afterlife,
where the righteous were led to Hades (the
underworld) and participated in a wreathed
banquet. The crowning of the dead was a way of
signalling that they were worthy of eternal life.
The Greek orator Demosthenes (384-322 BC)
also records that gold wreaths were worn in
certain important religious ceremonies. In
addition the inventories of Greek temples prove
that they were left as dedications in sanctuaries,
either by prosperous individuals, foreign powers
or city states.
This wreath consists of two branches which meet
in the centre and are separated by a stylised
flower. The leaves are attached to a thin wire
bound onto the wreath which is made from a
sheet-gold tube. Gold wreaths were fashioned in
imitation of various trees including oak, olive,
ivy, vine, laurel and myrtle. Each variety was
associated with a particular god: Apollo with the
laurel, Zeus with the oak, Athena with the olive
and Dionysius with the ivy. There are two types
of leaves on this example. The majority are
pointed with detailed veining; these are
separated by pairs of smaller leaves/fruit. The
mostly likely identification is the myrtle, linked to
devotion to Aphrodite, Demeter and Persephone.
Goddesses of love, agriculture and fertility
respectively, the latter also has a particularly
close association with the underworld and the
changing seasons. This is a remarkable survival
of great beauty, a testament to the skill and
ingenuity of ancient goldsmiths. (AM)
For other examples see, D. Williams and J.
Ogden, ‘Greek Gold: Jewellery of the Classical
World,’ (British Museum, London, 1994), pp.106-
107, p. 165, p. 180; ‘The J. Paul Getty Museum…
Antiquities Collection,’ (LA, 2002), p. 90 and E.
Georgoula ed. ‘Greek Treasures from the Benaki
Museum in Athens,’ (Athens, 2005), pp. 74-75.