Folded gold cross

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

                                       Staffordshire Hoard_Video

Leslie Webster, former Keeper of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum describes this discovery:
"...this is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England in the seventh and early eighth century as radically, if not more so, as the 1939 Sutton Hoo discoveries did; it will make historians and literary scholars review what their sources tell us, and archaeologists and art-historians rethink the chronology of metalwork and manuscripts; and it will make us all think again about rising (and failing) kingdoms and the expression of regional identities in this period, the complicated transition from paganism to Christianity, the conduct of battle and the nature of fine metalwork production - to name only a few of the many huge issues it raises. Absolutely the metalwork equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells."

Inscribed gold strip, front (left) and back (right) 


Voyages to Antiquity,“Sicily is the Key to Everything”, Athens-Rome, 20 May-3 June 2011.

M_Jackson/blog/Voyages to Antiquity/Sicily

“Sicily is the key to the cruise of a lifetime” for Dr Monica Jackson

Back home in wintery Sydney, my thoughts return to the start of the Voyages to Antiquity cruise to Sicily, Malta and the Sorrentine Peninsula in May this year. If I listen carefully I might just be able to hear the strains of a Noel Coward classic drifting out from the Charleston Lounge, where Stacey’s piano and the string trio entertained us each evening.

Here on Deck 6 at the stern of the ship we ate delicious food in the casually elegant Terrace Cafe, the dining venue of choice for many of the passengers in such perfect weather. As the coastline recedes I reflect that I am indeed fortunate to be on board this elegant mid-size ship the MV Aegean Odyssey, as one of the lecturers. The ship is beautifully appointed and all the lectures take place in the splendid Ambassador Lounge.

Each day of our cruise was a delight and an adventure. Excursions were always of great interest and meticulously planned with staff members always on hand. From Piraeus we sailed to the Peloponnese and the lovely seaside town of Nauplia, named for one of the Argonauts, the son of the sea god Poseidon. Here we visited the world famous heritage sites of Epidaurus and Mycenae with its famous Lion Gate. I was particularly impressed to have a personal Quietvox receiver, which made it so much easier to hear our excellent guides.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae
The Lion Gate at Mycenae

Then on to Sicily - the island with a palimpsest of history, romance and legend. On a clear and beautiful morning we arrived in the magical town of Taormina, perched in the hills looking out towards the glowing cone of Mt Vesuvius. We then proceeded to Syracuse the birthplace of Archimedes.
The hills of Taormina
The hills of Taormina

In Syracuse I had the great good fortune to see a wonderful collection of ancient jewellery in the Archaeological Museum. Before visiting the fabulous and well-preserved Greek temples in Agrigento’s Valle dei Templi, Segesta and Selinunte, we sailed to Malta .

St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta
St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta

In Malta we explored the romantic and ancient town of Mdina and its capital Valletta. In St John's cathedral is Caravaggio's famous masterpiece "The Beheading of St John".

Dr Monica Jackson in Valletta
Dr Monica Jackson in the old capital Mdina, Malta

Categories: Cruises, Destinations, On board the Aegean OdysseyLeave a comment

From the Island of the Knights Templar we sailed to Agrigento and the majestic UNESCO site of the Valley of the Temples. Here was an unexpected bonus - a temporary exhibition of magnificent classically inspired bronzes by  the Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj - strategically placed around the ancient landscape. But this was only the beginning - there was still the unparalleled excitement of exploring more of the the wonderful temples of north western Sicily, Segesta and Selinunte and lunch in the 19th century wine cellars of Marsala.

"Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true"

             Temple of Concordia & sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in Valley of the Temples, Agrigento,Sicily
Igor Mitoraj
From Palermo and Monreale we cruised the Tyrrhenian Sea through the Aeolian Islands - past dramatic Stromboli with its erupting volcano. Our destination was the south of Italy and the ancient Greek city of Paestum (Poseidonia) in the province of Salerno. Here in what the Romans referred to as Magna Graecia (Greater Greece) the delights of the ancient Doric temples awaited us. From Paestum we continued on to Sorrento to explore Pompeii and Herculaneum completing our cruise in Rome.

The Siren Call of Sicily: Bronzes from the Sea, Treasures from the Tombs


Riace Bronzes, Museo Nazionale di Reggio Callabria

Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo
One of the many highlights of the cruise was a visit in Palermo to the splendid Palazzo Gangi. Here we were taken into the vanished world of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the Prince of Salina who wrote his posthumous masterpiece “The Leopard” at the time of Italy’s Risorgimento. This beautiful private residence with its Baroque ballroom, belongs now to the Principessa Carine Vanni Mantegna and her husband. On each visit the Principessa personally conducts a private tour of the Palazzo for guests of Voyages to Antiquity, followed by champagne and canapés.

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale dance in Luchino Visconti's 1963 film Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Ballroom Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi

Sicily, Through the Eyes of the Leopard

Published: July 6, 2008
The New York Times

Ask a roomful of readers about Lampedusa’s “Leopard” and more often than not you’ll find a few who will put hand to heart and say it’s their favorite book, and a few others who will simply shrug -never heard of it - or ask if it has anything to do with the Visconti movie starring Burt Lancaster (yes, it does). I suppose it’s a coincidence that a roomful of travelers will poll in a similar fashion if you ask them about Sicily, the marvelous, maddening island disparaged and adored in “The Leopard”: it’s either a favorite place, or they haven’t even thought of going there.

Sicily, Italy is the coincidence significant? I believe that if you love the novel (or the movie), you should start planning your trip right away, not because you’ll find Lampedusa’s Sicily waiting for you when you touch down (you won’t, believe me)  but because the bitter, resigned romantic nostalgia that pervades “The Leopard” is also the sensibility that savors the decaying grandeur of an island burdened with layer upon layer of tragic history - and blessed also with startling beauty, much of it perpetually waning.

The test comes when you’re a little lost, nervously peering down a deserted backstreet in Palermo that’s crooked and gloomy, with litter strewn on the dusty pavement and a narrow slice of blue sky overhead. Right in front of you is the smudged and crumbling facade of a derelict Baroque palazzo, unheralded, or perhaps marked with only a tiny plaque bearing a forgotten name and a date (late 17th century, usually, or early 18th). The sight of this noble structure is dizzying, even if the ornate balconies are wrapped in netting to keep chunks of masonry from raining down, and there’s a scraggly shrub sprouting on the rooftop. You dream of what it once was and what it might be again, but mostly you like it just as it is, a glorious residence ravished by time and neglect, and probably still inhabited. Just imagine its fabulously tattered apartments, still clinging to the memory of vanished splendor! (Sicily does this, it inspires wildly impractical reveries.)

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896-1957) inherited a palace in Palermo (he was an aristocrat - a prince, no less), and had it not been demolished by an Allied bomb on April 5, 1943, the Palazzo Lampedusa would probably be scrubbed clean today, assiduously restored in honor of an author whose only novel, published posthumously in 1958, is one of Italy’s best-loved books.


Royalty Romance and Revenge: Jewellery from the Age of Alexander the Great

Lecture for the Friends of the Nicholson Museum Christmas Party - The University of Sydney - 17/11/2005

Sydney Museums_ Golden Lecture

The magnificent gold jewellery from the Age of Alexander the Great and his successors, has been found throughout the Mediterranean, from the mysterious treasure filled tombs of the ancient kings of Thrace (modern Bulgaria), to the Macedonian Royal Tombs at Vergina in Northern Greece. It was here in 1977 that Manolis Andronicos unearthed the extroardinary tomb that is probably the burial place of Alexander's father, the great warrior king and empire builder, Phillip II.

This lecture takes you behind the scenes at the royal courts of ancient Thrace and Macedonia - into a world dominated by political and social intrigue and the mysticism of Dionysiac rituals.

These exquisitely carved ivory figures belonging to the Dionysiac thiasos or procession, once embelished the wooden funerary couch in Tomb IV known as the Tomb of the Prince at Vergina.

One fragment preserves the torso of a bearded man with outstretched arms and another - three drunken revellers. A goat footed Pan plays the pipes with great élan as he leads the way. He is followed by a wreathed silenus and a maenad wearing a gilded diadem, necklace and bracelets.     

An important aspect of the lecture is a discussion of the jewellery from Oliver Stone's film Alexander - all of which should be dated to the second half of the 4th century BC.

In the role of Alexander the Great's mother and wife of Phillip II of Macedon, Angelina Jolie as Queen Olympias (above) wears a selection of these pieces. Like many historical aspects of the film, the jewellery is a strange mix of the scrupulously accurate and the inexplicably wrong. Her elaborate "Rich Style" disc and pendant earrings are accurate copies of finds from Macedonian tombs of the second half of the 4th cent BC. See for example the magnificent earrings in the centre above in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. However, an aristocratic Macedonian woman during the 4th century BC would not have worn an armband. Women at this time wore matching bracelets such as the pair of snake's head bracelets above from South Italy 330-300 BC, now in The British Museum. Armbands became fashionable during the 3rd century BC.

Here Angelina/Olympias wears a pediment style diadem inset with large coloured stones. This type was popular in the second half of the 4th century BC - but without the coloured stones. Precious and semi precious stones were not introduced as decorative elements in jewellery until the end of the 3rd Century BC. A plain gold pediment diadem like the late 4th century BC example above from the 'Tomb of Giovinetta' Veria (Beroia) Macedonia would be the go - decorated with a delicate impressed design of scrolling tendrils, and a piercing at either end to allow for the insertion of a ribbon tie.

Her earrings and finger rings are inset with large turquoise stones, inaccurate for the period. Her rings are reminiscent of the gold and turquoise Renaissance Revival example left. The correct style for the period is a heavy plain gold finger ring. The one on the right is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, dated to the second half of the 4th Century BC. It has an engraved oval bezel depicting Aphrodite and Eros.
Metropolitan Museum of Art_Philippe de Montebello_exhibition_on line catalogue

Flowering myrtle wreath, late 4th Cent. BC, Tomb of Phillip II Vergina, Archaeological Museum Thessoloniki


Betty Blythe as the Queen of Sheba
Contemporary impressions of seductive female figures from antiquity have been vividly shaped by Hollywood actors who have endeavoured (with varying degrees of success) to capture their enduring allure. The Queen of Sheba is one such immortal figure, played by a vampish Betty Blythe draped in 1920's style pearls in the eponymous silent movie.

The following lecture vignettes give an overview of the jewellery worn by two glamorous actors in their roles as Queens of the ancient world - Helen of Troy and Cleopatra of Egypt. Comparasions are made between jewellery preserved from antiquity, and film adaptations -  sometimes accurate but most often an ill informed mix of styles and periods.

From Helen of Troy to Cleopatra: Bejewelled Beauties of the Ancients

Lecture at The Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) - 14/10/2004

What is the historical reality behind Helen's film jewellery?

In Wolfgang Pederson's 2004 epic film Troy, we gaze upon the face of the most beautiful woman in the ancient world in the form of the actor Diane Kruger who plays the role of the Spartan Queen Helen, wife of the Greek (Spartan) King Menelaus who was abducted by the Trojan Prince Paris. In the film she is adorned with a strange assortment of jewellery styles, dating from the Early Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period.

In 1873 Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) the amatuer archaeologist and excavator of Troy, discovered a spectacular hoard of 250 gold objects at the base of a curved trench wall, near what he believed to be the ancient entrance way to Troy - the Scaean Gate - to which he gave the collective name the "Treasure of Priam". The Early Bronze Age treasure now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, is dated to 2,500 BC - a full millennium before the era in which the siege in Homer's Trojan war epic is most likely to have been set, between 1500 and 1180 BC - corresponding to the excavation levels of Troy VI and VIIa. Troy's golden era ended around 1180 BC.

'Priam's Treasure' The Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Schliemann's wife Sophia above, wears the spectacular golden parure from "Priam's Treasure" (headdress, necklaces and earrings). The headdress is made up of 1,353 separate pieces. This famous photograph was the inspiration for the Early Bronze Age replicas worn by Diane Kruger (below) as Helen of Troy in the film.

Diane Kruger as Helen of Troy adorned in Early Bronze Age jewellery

Although many ancient tombs and hoards contained heirloom jewellery - Heinrich Schliemann's hoard had almost certainlly once belonged to an aristocratic Trojan woman who had lived and died more than 1,000 years before Helen was born - this is a long time to keep jewellery in the family!

Diane Kruger as Helen of Troy wearing jewellery from many periods

From these stunning (far too early) adaptations, Helen's film jewellery spirals into a confusing mix of periods and styles in true Hollywood/Bollywood tradition.

For example she is adorned with  contemporary "Indian" style earrings and a Late Bronze Age inspired "boar's tooth" necklace. The "boar's tooth" style has retained its popularity, as can be seen by its fashionable counterpart on the right.

Even more amazing is that Helen/Diane wears an accurate adaptation of a beautiful Greek Hellenistic flowering diadem, like the gold diadem below - found at Carbonara di Bari in Pulia. This type was made famous by the goldsmiths of Taranto in Pulia (Apulia) South Italy during the second half of the 3rd century BC.  

Gold diadem with roses from Bari, Apulia, National Archaeological Museum, Taranto

But what jewellery did the historical Helen Queen of Sparta really wear to bewitch the Trojan Prince, Paris ca. 1200 BC?

Diane Kruger as she might have looked adorned in Late Bronze Age jewellery 

Helen of Troy - Bejewelled Dazzler

The historical Helen would have been decked out in a parure of Late Bronze Age gold jewellery (ca. 1600-1100 BC) similar to the treasures (above) from the royal tombs in the grave circles at the ancient citadel at Mycenae near Nauplion Greece - described by Homer as "rich in gold". The Mycenaean civilization which centered on the Argolid in Greece, reached its zenith in the 14th and 13th Centuries BC.

Diadem - excavated by H. Schliemann at Mycenae in the women's grave in the upper grave circle. Athens, National Archaeological Museum. Dated to the second half of the 16th century BC.

Neckalce - Inv. 8748. From Dendra, Argolid (Chamber tomb 10). Athens, National Archaeological Museum. Late 15th Century BC. L. of neckalce 32 cm. The necklace is composed of 39 hollow, plano-convex beads, 20 in the shape of papyrus-lily and 19 in the shape of a half rosette.

Earrings - Inv. 8745. From Dendra, Argolid (Chamber tomb 10). Athens, National Archaeological Museum. Late 15th Century BC. Max. dia. 5.2 cm. The earrings are hollow, made of thin sheet-gold. They consist of an outer hoop with a rosette of 16 repoussé petals suspended inside it. Together with the necklace they are outstanding examples of Creto-Mycenaean gold.


                                                          CLEOPATRA VII

Limestone head Cleopatra VII with triple uraeus (cobra heads)
From Helen of Troy, who was the object of one of the most dramatic love stories of all time, to another legendary Queen who sacrificed all for love - Cleopatra VII (c. 69 - 30 BC). Cleopatra was the last member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, ruling Egypt from 51-30 BC. She is imortalised for her political astuteness, intelligence and personal magnatism - but above all for her love affairs with the Roman warlords Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Ptolemaic gold serpent finger ring with a garnet setting, 1st cent. BC

Love tokens exchanged between the doomed Mark Antony and Cleopatra, took the form of jewels which expressed the depth of their mutual passion and devotion. Like all legendary lovers throughout history, they understood the triumphant power of Eros - best affirmed by Virgil's immortal phrase:

     "amor omnia vincit" (Love conquers all) Eclogues. X, 69.


In 1963 the screen goddess - Elizabeth Taylor assumed the role of Cleopatra, and this time her jewellery reflected ancient Egyptian styles. On the right above she wears a wig close to that depicted on the 1st century BC Parian marble bust (left) of Cleopatra VII, in the Musei Capitolini, Rome. On Elizabeth's head is the Uraeus (cobra) crown of Egyptian royalty. 

These lectures note an enduring verity:
jewellery touches upon our deepest hopes and fears, because it is closely linked with some of life’s major experiences and events – love, religion, marriage, victory, loss and death.                                                                   


Video clip, courtesy Elina Mirchva, Archaeological Museum, Varna 


The Nike earrings are on mirror image. They are the only examples to have come from ancient Odessos. The figures are naked except for billowing cloaks and scarves. They wear sandals and earrings. Each Nike holds a Thracian rhyton aloft in her right/left hand. A phiale (offering dish) is held in the opposite hand so that a libation might be poured into it.

The rhyton has a horn-shaped body which transforms into the protome of a deer. The body is cast with crisp flutes that gradually widen towards the top. On these earring the choice of a Thracian rhyton rather than the usual wine jug is significant. It was clearly chosen to suit the preferences of the Thracian market.


Necklace with a medallion, Aphrodite and Eros, Archaeological Museum, Varna



The Greek myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest myths of a hero's quest. It is a classic story of betrayal and vengeance. According to the Greek epic poem the Argonautica written in the 3rd Century BC by Apollonius of Rhodes, it begins when Jason's Uncle Pelias killed Jason's father, the King of Iolkos in Thessaly, Greece and usurped his throne. Jason's mother brought her son to the wise centaur Chiron (half man, half horse) who hid him away and raised him on the Mountain of Pelion.

When Jason turned 20, he journeyed to see Pelias to reclaim his throne. At a nearby river, Hera the Queen of the Gods approached him disguised as an old woman. While carrying her across the river he lost a sandal and arrived at court wearing only one. Pelias was nervous when he saw Jason without a sandal, for an oracle has prophesied that a man wearing only one sandal would depose him. Jason demanded the return of his rightful throne. Pelias replied that Jason should first accomplish a difficult task to prove his worth. The task was for Jason to retrieve the fabled hide of a supernatural ram the Golden Fleece. It was kept in a mysterious land called Colchis (western modern Georgia) situated on the eastern periphery of the known world. 

Jason assembled a team of great heroes for his crew and they set sail aboard the Argo for the kingdom of Colchis. In Greek mythology, Colchis was a fabulously wealthy place known for its precious metals. It was considered "the farthest voyage", the land where the sun rose.The arduous journey of the Argonauts took them through the narrow straits of the Bosphorus between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara and across the Black Sea.


When the Argonauts arrived in Colchis they were welcomed at the palace of King Aeëtes (Æëtes) who reluctantly promised to surrender the golden fleece on the condition that Jason alone could complete yet another series of challenges. The King's daughter, the priestess-enchantress Medea fell deeply in love with Jason and promised to use her magic to help him perform the tasks - on the condition that he pledge undying love and matrimony. After completing the final task - killing the sleepless dragon that guarded the fleece, Jason sailed triumphantly away with Medea to Iolkos.

BBC News-Fitzwilliam Museum- Ancient Gold-Georgian National Museum Tbilisi

Gold pendant with female bust and two sphinxes, Grave 24 Vani 2nd half 4th cent. BC

Metalworking, whether in gold, silver, iron or bronze, was a traditional focus of Colchian art and craftsmanship.The gold jewellery and artifacts of Colchis in the Georgian National Museum  Tbilisi exemplify an intermingling of Greek, Egyptian and Persian (Achaemenid) motifs with local styles and traditions. 

The important point is that although Colchin goldwork absorbed foreign influences, at the same time it always preserved its uniqueness and national characteristics. There is something of the truly exotic in every piece.Together these objects provide a rich and informative view of the ancient land of Colchis and its principal sanctuary city, Vani, a town in the Imereti region of western Georgia.
Gold temple ornaments with horsemen, Grave 6 Vani

Bronze appliqué of Pan, 2nd cent. BC