Hellenistic Motives in the Jewelry of the Central Asia

Issue #3 • 94

Valentina Luneva,
Art Critic

The broad relationships between the Central Asia and Greece prove the discoveries of the headpieces with ornaments, which include, for example, a golden plaque sewn to the fabric, apparently belonging to a wealthy woman. The center of the ornate headdress was crowned with a gold plaque depicting the head of the goddess, performed in the Hellenistic traditions and framed by pearls (reminiscent of the round beads) around its circumference (Sogd (Lyavandak), about II century BC). This jewelry piece compositionally is similar to the jewelry on the character of the sculpture from Halchayan. Both pieces are decorated with colorful beads sewn next to the central medallion.
The Hellenistic influence is evidenced by the Greek amphora-like shape of the necklaces and earrings, known in the Northern Bactria on the present territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (Aruktau and Tulkhar burial grounds), Sogd, and Ferghana, with the only difference that unlike the simple earrings of the Northern Bactria of Ferghana Valley decorated with rosettes stud with pearls and turquoise or handles in the form of dolphins. Apparently, they used to be worn everywhere, because even the mold for casting such jewelry was found. Manufacturing method was simple – a ring was attached to the amphora-shaped earring that used to be inserted in the ear. This shape of earrings is shown on the character of Bactrian sculptures from Ayritam. The symbolism of the amphora is multifaceted. The amphorae made of ceramics, gold, silver and wood were used in Greece as burial urns. In addition, the amphorae were used to preserve wine, which in the ancient mythology symbolized the eternal youth, prosperity, and fertility. In antiquity and the Middle Ages in the Central Asia this form of vessel was associated with its magic protective function.
The miniature amphoriskos (67 x 26 mm) made of bronze with auspicious inscription on it was found in Khorezm. “Its spheroconical shape with corrugated surface replicated the form of the earring pendants…” (1, p. 28). Presumably, both in Greece and in the Central Asia, the products in the shape of an amphora were regarded as endowed with supernatural sacral power.
An example of the broad contacts between Greece and Central Asia is head jewelry and other types of jewelry: these are the earrings with pendants in the form of grapes, which were common in the Northern Bactria (Kampyrtepa, Yalangtushtepa). In this case, small circles in the form of granulation pellets were hanging from the ring. Pendants for clothes in the form of grape leaves made of silver were found in the Southern Bactria (Tillatepa). The image of grapes was found on the ossuary from Munchaktepa, where a male character is holding a bunch of grapes (2, pic. 169). A bunch of grapes is an attribute of the deity of fertility; it is linked to the images of the gods like Dionysus, Bacchus, and Gator.
The popularity of grapes with the Greeks was so obvious that the vintage fests were widely reflected in their art, especially in the depiction of festal processions presided by Dionysus and his retinue of Satyrs. In Greece, in addition to the cult of grapes, were other vegetation cults, like pomegranates and its flowers as a symbol of love, marriage and fertility. In one of the myths, Hades by means of the pomegranate secured the interest of Persephone. Pomegranate is indispensable attribute and symbol of the marriage associated with the goddesses Aphrodite and Hera. Hair-pins in the form of pomegranate fruit were common in the ancient Uzbekistan since the bronze age, they were found in Sapallitepa and later on – everywhere. In the ancient cult ornamentation the pomegranate was a popular motif in the Central Asia. At Kampyrtepa (Northern Bactria) a bone hairpin was found, which had a shape of a long sharply pointed rod at one end, and had a finial in the form of a stylized pomegranate at another end. The goddess of fertility Anahita used to be depicted with a branch of pomegranate. In Central Asia, the pomegranate was also symbolizing a happy marriage, while its motif was included in the embroidery for the dowry of the bride.
The pectoral jewelry expresses the common interests of Greece and the Central Asia. The most common of these figurines is the Mother Goddess as the chief deity of the pagan cult, made of the carved bone.
Pectoral pendants-amulets in the form of a naked female figure were found during archaeological excavations in the Northern Bactria on the territory of Uzbekistan on the sites of Halchayan, Kampyrtepa, Old Termez and in the Greco-Bactrian Ayhanum. The size of the figurines ranges from 38 mm to 23 mm in height. The goddess is sculptured in the traditionally frontal pose. All the figurines are similar in style and technique, they even have the same triangular holes on the back, indicating that these were the jewelry amulets, differing only by the position of hands on Halchayan and Ayhanum statuettes: one hand rests on the chest, the other one on the lap. Their possible dating are III-II centuries BC.
D. V. Rusanov notes “The process of mixing the ancient Eastern cults with Hellenistic deities was reflected in the iconography of the bone figurines-mascots of the Bactrian female deity. This is illustrated by the amulets in question, in the iconography of which one can trace the versions, perhaps, going back to the Mesopotamian (hands at chest) and Hellenistic prototypes (one hand at her breast, the other one on the lap). One thing is certain: all these amulets were made in Bactria and serve as an example of cultural interaction in the Hellenistic age” (3, p. 128-129).).
We should pay particular attention to such rare piece of pectoral jewelry as the golden pectoral from the treasure of Dalverzintepa (I century AD) with the intaglio gem in the center portraying the mythological image of Heracles. It is made of three hollow cylindrical tubes. In the centre of pectoral is a rectangle framed by granulation, where the above-mentioned oval intaglio of carnelian is placed. Perhaps intaglio served as a ring in the form of seal.
It was common in Central Asia to complete the necklaces with the Greek and Gerco-Bactrian coins. For example, the ancient Central Asian coins with a hole in the middle were discovered, according to E. V. Rtveladze, on the site of Kampyrtepa settlement (Bactria). These are the coins of Antiochus I (280-261 BC) and Demetrius (200-185 BC). The coins were considered the talismans, which role was performed by the gods depicted in them.
Hellenistic traditions were observed in the jewelry that decorated the hands. The Central Asian population had borrowed the subtle technique of carving on precious and semi-precious stone – the glyptic, from the Greek masters. Most of these items were used as signets for the rings and were called gems (latin: gemma – the eye, the bud on the vine). This type of jewelry made of stone with incised lines was called intaglio, while the one with a protruding relief was called cameo. For production of these jewelry pieces the craftsmen used crystal, agate, onyx, emerald, sapphire, carnelian and even glass. The finished piece used to be worn on the hand in the form of a signet-ring. Similar pieces of sophisticated jewelry work could afford only the people who had a special status in society. For the manufacture of gems the masters used the emery powder mixed with oil, which was applied to the slug and then using the metal cutter the picture on stone used to be cut out. “People were working almost blindly – stone was covered by greasy coating, which from time to time had to be carefully cleaned off and check each line against the model” (4, p. 69). Production of one piece was taking up to 15 years, which was equal in time to the creation of a Gothic Cathedral. S. M. Nikolaev notes “The handover of the ring from a royal arm in the Eastern countries since ancient times was considered the greatest honor. Just so, Alexander the Great, announcing Perdiccas as his heir, gave him his ring while on his deathbed” (5, p. 22). Signet rings were made in a single copy. The Law of Solomon was prohibiting the carvers to keep the copies.
Ancient Greeks used to depict on the rings their favorite gods – Athena, Demeter, Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Mars, Victory and others, believing in their patronage. They devoted a special stone to each deity. Turquoise was associated with Aphrodite. Dark blue and light blue colors were particularly revered, they were linked to the attributes of Zeus. These colors corresponded to the eternity and immortality. Carnelians of red, orange, and brownish colors were also used in glyptic of the Hellenistic culture. These were the colors of energy and love. Carnelian was used to carve the images of Cupid, Eros and phallic amulets.
In ancient times on the territory of present-day Uzbekistan the carnelian was also used to make the intaglios and cameos depicting the mythic animals, and deities. So, a gem-intaglio made of carnelian was found on the territory of the settlement Barattepa. It was made in the form of the “fake signet ring” cut off in the way to form an oval shield with the carved image of a winged lion – Griffin (I-III centuries AD). Another signet ring was found at Kampyrtepa in Bactria. The print image obtained shows a naked female deity sitting on the throne face forward. The left side of the throne is decorated with animal head (a lion or a bull?). The deity has a high hair-dress and a face with plump cheeks. Its neck is decorated with grivna, the shins are adorned with three bracelets on each. In its left hand is “cornucopia” (or birds?). Two seals from Khorezm have a print on each side. On one print is a bird, on the second one is a goat and a double-sided trident. The winged Greek goddess of victory – Nike – is depicted on the carved glass (Sogd, Kyzyltepa burial mound).
The most widespread image was the image of Athena, engraved on a carnelian gem from Zartepa and on a golden ring with Greek inscription “Athena”, and also on a golden bracelet and engravings from Tillatepa (Southern Bactria).
Agate was also used for the manufacture of oval intaglios. Thus, an intaglio depicting two goats standing on their hind legs on the two sides of the tree was found at Afrasiab site. Their grace, elegance and ease can be compared to the Hellenistic art. (Agate – Greek: “agates” meaning useful, happy). In order to enhance the healing power of agate amulets the cameos used to be made with symbolic images of a particular disease. On one of the intaglios made of the striped agate, two horses are depicted in heraldic position.
A number of changes were also made in the clothing accessories of the Central Asian population. People began to decorate it with Hellenistic deities in the form of golded plaques sewn on their clothes (6, p. 55). The hems and the sleeves of clothing were decorated with bells and small jingles. They were found in large numbers in the archaeological excavations in Ferghana, in the areas of ancient Bactria, and Sogd. At Kampyrtepa, Gurmirou burial mound (Namangan), and in Panjakent the spheric-conical, conical and pear-shaped pendant-bells made of gold and nonferrous metal with square base were found. One of the Sogdian bells to the two sides of which the iron plates were soldered was made of fine brass. In Northern Bactria the gold used to be added to the base metal of the bells. It was believed that ringing the bell chases off the evil spirits.
In the Greco-Roman tradition, the bells were attached to the figurines of Priape (Greek God of gardens and fields, the son of Dionysus) and used in the rituals dedicated to Bacchus. Greek soldiers believed in the magical power of bells and decorated their shields with bells.
Interconnection of the cultures of Greece and the Central Asian people has brought a lot of new subjects and forms to the art of jewelry of the ancient Uzbekistan, that were used in the manufacture of head, pectoral and other types of jewelry. The culture of Hellenism is a synthesis of Greek and local Eastern cultures.

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