Greek Long Earrings and Byzantine Dangling Earrings

Home Research Paper Greek Long Earrings and Byzantine Dangling Earrings
Greek Long Earrings and Byzantine Dangling Earrings


 The style of Byzantine dangling earrings resembles Greek long earrings and shares common features. For example, gold was usually the preferred metal, colorful inputs as enameling and gemstones were highly popular during both periods. Moreover, the forms were mainly complex . Nevertheless, two types of jewelry under consideration belong to different eras and possess distinctive features. Byzantine earrings have a specific form with a central element and three dangling pieces, while the shape of Greek long earrings is less restricted. The form restriction of Byzantine style was influenced by much stricter life of the period. Indeed, Christian symbolism appears almost in every Byzantine accessory. Moreover, gemstones were central in Byzantine earrings. However, in Greek earrings, their position was less significant. The motifs that were used in Greece only for visual pleasure started corresponding to Christianity or were excluded from the use in the Byzantine period. Both similarities and differences were caused by the social, religious, and culture background. Thus, the object of the essay is to identify the style peculiarities of Greek long earrings and Byzantine dangling earrings and to compare them.

Jewelry is one of the most ancient facets of the human activity. The changes of the jewelry style can show the definite epoch, geography, belief, and tribe. The jewelry can be used for functional, denotative, fetish, and esthetic reasons. Both Greek long and Byzantine dangling earrings have no functional meaning. However, they might have denoted social status, explained social beliefs of that time, and  provided the general picture of esthetic pleasure.

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The art of jewelry was developed in the cradle of the contemporary art – Ancient Greece, especially in the times of Golden Age. During the excavation, archeologists found magnificent gold jewelry that impressed with the delicate work and accuracy. Various metal refinement methods, including forging, casting, calking, engraving, threading and enameling, were founded since gold was considered to be the most precious material. Greeks preferred massive long earrings which people were often unable to wear. The natural and abstract patterns were predominant compared with the mythological pictures. In fact, the Greek style provides a basis for the future forms of art, including jewelry.

The impact of Ancient Greece on the life of Romans and the art styles was strong. The Byzantine jewelry is a direct continuation of Roman tradition and Greek style as well. However, it contained Christian implication and had a further development. The Byzantine epoch had stricter values and rules of life which were reflected in the earrings’ style. Indeed, the role of religion cannot be underestimated in that period. The jewelry style depended crucially on the norms of Christianity which forbade the mythological images and the praise of human body. Another core difference of the period related to the values of the era. Gemstones were more important than gold. As a result, the main Greek material became a frame for the stones during the Byzantine period.

Even though the styles can require similar materials, great metal and gemstone refining skills, and represent resembling final visual image, Byzantine jewelry is not a complete plagiarism of the Greek style because it had the unique meaning, tradition, and skills. Thus, the essay focuses on the core similarities and distinctive features of two styles.

Greek Long Earrings

The history of the Greek jewelry comprises the time beginning from the Minoan civilization (3000 BC) to the rise of the Roman Empire (27 BC). The Greeks did not have strict style boundaries in their jewelry, especially in the creation of earrings. They had various forms and shapes. The development of Greek long earrings started with the simple elements linked to diadems and hair ornaments with dangling earrings , which were enormously large and impossible to wear.

During Minoan and Mycenaean phases, the earring trend embraced conical hoops with the barred ends . Later, the hoops become more scalloped and wedge-shaped. They had braided elements composed of more than one link developing the moving form . According to Mark Cartwright, the most prominent symbols on the earrings were solid bull’s heads which can also justify the high level of the metal refining techniques in the times of those two civilizations. A bull was a symbol of Zeus and his absolute power, while a cow symbolized the fertility of Hera. Thus, jewelry also had a spiritual sense.

After the decline of Minoan and Mycenaean cultures, there was an obvious stagnation of jewelry art. Classical period was the rebirth of the craft. The decorative motifs of earrings were represented by the diverse natural images of flowers, leaves, beetles, animal heads, shells, as well as historical and mythological events .

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The Hellenistic period was known for the rise of the state due to the campaigns of Alexander, which brought gold and gave new possibilities for Greek craftsmen. The accessories became more sophisticated. Furthermore, new concepts became popular. For example, the earrings were decorated with the crescent taken from Turkish flows, the images of music instruments and myths, including Nike, Eros, and Siren.

The Hellenistic era introduced new technologies ­­– cameo and polychrome. In fact, the Greeks managed to create the most notable method of carving. The cameo is a small curved stone, bone, or wood with a portrait or a scene. It was invented in the times of Alexander . It became one of the symbols of the Greek art, as well as the massive earrings with the inlay of colorful stones or glass . The cult of human body had its roots in jewelry, especially when individuals appeared near the complicated ornaments .

Greek period ended with the decline of ancient Greece oppressed by the Roman Empire. However, the fall of the civilization did not ruin the art, jewelry in particular. The trends and motifs of Greece, namely ambiguous representation within one piece of jewelry, were widely used and developed by the Romans. The Greek era became a watershed in the metal craft, especially gold. Minoans introduced granulation and filigree techniques. Moreover, the skills of engraving and enameling were developed by Mycenaeans. During the Hellenistic period, the polychrome jewelry was highly popular, especially when pieces became linked. Different types of chains and jump rings were widely used for earrings. Greek earrings developed from single piece earrings to the sophisticated ornaments of nature, mythology, and human body united with several chains.

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Byzantine Dangling Earrings

Byzantine style is a descendant of Hellenistic and Roman styles. In 334 AD, Constantine I, the first Roman emperor, declared Byzantium to be the main city of his empire. Then, the Byzantium era began and lasted until the Ottoman invasion in 1453.

During that time, jewelry defined the social class hierarchy. Obviously, it helped to understand to which class a person belonged to. Besides, there was a law that forbade anybody except for the emperor to wear precious stones, such as pearl and emerald.

It was believed that gemstones in jewelry can heal certain maladies. It was another reason for the popularity of the stones. In fact, it was also a distinctive feature which differed from the Greek ones. Mark Cartwright indicates that in Greece, they usually took special mixtures made from precious stones as medicine.

The Byzantine choice of materials related to the Greek style. Undoubtedly, gold was the most precious metal. In addition, the passion towards the colorful inputs of stones reached its apotheosis during that era. They became even more valuable and precious so that gold often appeared as a frame to the stones. Enameling created a highly popular colorful effect.

The Byzantine period followed the concepts of Christian symbolism. The obvious symbols of Christianity, such as crosses and icons, were used with the hidden pieces. The first popular hidden symbol of Christianity is number ‘three’ which represents the divine nature – Holy Trinity – in the form of pendants, stones, triangles, and ornaments. The second famous symbol was a crescent borrowed from the Hellenistic and Roman times and interpreted according to Christian dogmas. The crescent is a symbol of Mary – the Woman of the Apocalypse.

The period represented Christian iconography which was also applied to the jewelry. Cameo enabled people to include the iconography in the earrings.

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Thus, the Byzantine period borrowed Greek artistic techniques and implemented them in the jewelry art. The tendency to use gold and gemstones remained, but the gemstones had the central role in accessories. The ornaments were still sophisticated, but Christian motifs prevailed. Chains and jump rings not only linked the pieces but also gave visual pleasure. The Byzantine style influenced Romanesque art and Gothic era. Nowadays, the Byzantine trends appear in many aspects of life. For example, similar styles were present during  Dolce & Gabbana 2013/14 Fashion Show.

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To conclude, it can be stated that during both Creek and Byzantine periods, people used jewelry for different reasons. Obviously, dangling earrings had no functional features. Thus, the earrings with pendants were worn mostly for an esthetic pleasure or for denoting the social status. In fact, to announce the social status with the earrings during the Byzantium era, people should have followed regulated limitations of the use. The obsession with earrings also depended on the faith in their power. That type of jewelry achieved popularity among the public because of the spiritual connotations. For example, in ancient Greece, the earrings received unique spiritual sense due to the images of Nike, Eros, Sirens, bulls and cows. However, the religious impact was not as strong as in the Byzantine era. The Byzantine earrings legacy epitomized Christian motifs and ideas by representing crosses, triple elements, and ornaments. As a result, Greek long earrings were made in various styles. They did not have a single pattern but included the vast utilization of natural aspects, human body, and borrowed elements. Even though two styles are highly complicated and elaborate, Byzantine dangling earring had a stricter style which included many elements interpreted through the prism of Christianity. However, people from both Greek and Byzantine periods often used chains and jump rings. They resembled sometimes, but predominantly, they completely differed. For example, the cult of the human body was absent in the Byzantium style.

The metal refining skills which have their roots in the times of ancient Greece were developed by Byzantine craftsmen. The use of gold as the main metal characterizes both eras. However, its function in the earrings did not resemble. Consequently, the role of gold in the earrings was different. In Greece, gold was central in the main concept of the earrings. On the contrary, in Byzantium, gemstones had the principal position and gold was a frame element. Undoubtedly, polychromic earrings were popular in both styles, but the inputs were treated differently.