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

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