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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Archive : Hellenistic Gold Wreath
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Hellenistic Gold Wreath - AM.0441
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 300 BC to 100 BC
Dimensions: 7.56" (19.2cm) high
Collection: Classical Art
Medium: Gold

Additional Information: sold

Location: Great Britain
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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. - (AM.0441)


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