Ancient Bling by Elisabeth Storrs

Posted by on Jul 13, 2015 in Ancient Rome, Historical Tidbits | 1 comment

Etruscan gold ear-stud with glass inserts Circa 530-480 BC

Etruscan gold ear-stud with glass inserts Circa 530-480 BC

Etruscans loved shiny things. The more glittering and ornate the better. The most stunning examples of jewellery and art came from the era known as the ‘Orientalizing’ period from Circa 720-575BCE. This was a time when Phoenician and Greeks were attracted to Etruria due to its rich metal deposits. The Phoenicians were a sea faring people with extensive trading interests across the ancient world. Originally from the area we now know of as Lebanon, they also set up a colony in Carthage (modern Tunisia).Through their trading links, goods from Egypt and Assyria were imported into Etruria and graced the houses of the wealthy.

Enormous bronze and silver mixing bowls were decorated with mortal and mythical animals: scarabs, panthers, winged lions, chimeras and sphinxes. Ivory inlaid boxes were popular as well as faience vases (tin glaze on earthenware) and even decorated ostrich eggs (a symbol of fertility). Strange glass ‘porcupine’ vases in the shape of tiny coloured glass jugs with spiny bodies have been found and glass beads were used to decorate fibulae (brooches) and necklaces. Amber was popular and of course – gold. Sophisticated techniques that involved filigree, engraving, repousse (hammered relief decoration) and granulation (where tiny grains of gold were soldered to cover the surface of an object) were all employed by gold smiths to stunning effect.

Etruscans covered themselves with jewellery such as golden wreaths, necklaces with heavy ball shaped pendants, rings and bullae (lockets). Some pendant earrings were four inches long or were shaped in heavy grape clusters. Tiers of tiny gold beads were strung together as bracelets or diadems. And all this finery was kept in cylindrical containers known as cistae which were divided into compartments where mirrors, combs and perfume bottles were stored.

Neo-Etruscan Parure Set Circa 1860-1870

Neo-Etruscan Parure Set
Circa 1860-1870

The design of Etruscan jewellery also caught the imagination of C19th women. By 1860 neo-Etruscan style pieces had become contemporary fashion accessories and remained in demand until the end of the century. At this point complete ‘parure’ sets of jewels appeared usually consisting of a brooch, necklace and matching earrings. In fact, a few years ago I attended a Titanic exhibition and was amazed to see neo-Etruscan jewellery on display which indicates the ‘fad’ was still in existence in the early C20th. Indeed, it was only when diamond jewellery became increasingly fashionable that the allure of the finely wrought gold pieces faded in contrast to the attraction of sparkling precious stones.

So when you think of designer jewellery –or stylish home wares– the Etruscans paved the way.

For more examples of Etruscan and Neo-Etruscan jewellery, visit my Pinterest boards.

Elisabeth Storrs, July 13, 2015

The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice are currently discounted to $1.99 on Amazon US. They have recently been re-released by Lake Union. The third book, Call to Juno, will be released in April 2016.


One Comment

  1. Thank you Elisabeth! I was introduced to the Etruscans through your books, and the I read about them, the more interested I am.