From Troy to the Roman Empire

From Troy to the Roman Empire


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Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim Collections

The Hercules Knot

Ancient Italy’s Etruria

The Vesuvian Plain

5000 Years of Jewelry

V&A Jewelry History

The Hellenistic Age Podcast

Buy Book: Gemstone Cultural History

Buy Book: A History of Jewelry

Thessalian Fibula
Greece 8th century BC


Photography courtesy of Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim
Photography by Günter Meyer


The collection of Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim includes pieces that date back to the 3rd millennium BC. Back then, jewelry was still closely related to magical and mythical principles that influenced and shaped people’s lives.


The bases from which jewelry evolved over the course of the millennia as a phenomenon of immense aesthetic diversity include amulets and talismans, which were believed to ward off evil or to bring good luck. Jewelry also served to distinguish or honour a person, and it was used within the context of fertility or hunting magic. Natural products such as seeds, seed capsules or strangely shaped pieces of wood, as well as, later on, animal figurines crafted from clay or metal, were regarded as symbols of magical powers.


Early man had learned how to work metals. The golden pendant ear­ring found in the vicinity of Troy (Gold Pendant Earring) reveals remarkable skills and shows that, between 2400 and 2200 BC, people believed in these ancient notions related to fertility magic. The bronze bracelet (Bronze Bangle) created about 2700 years ago in the Persian high­lands, symbolizes ancient hunting magic: the stylized heads of a wild cat were supposed to confer the animal’s strength upon the hunter wearing the bracelet.


Around the same period, but far away from Persia and Italy, a gar­ment fastener was crafted in pre-Celtic Ireland from solid gold (Gold Clasp), which derives its magical power from the material alone. Composed of a sturdy bow and two “bowls,” it served to hold together parts of a person’s clothing.

The Hercules knot was a common motif in ancient times, as it was considered a magic knot. In jewels, it took on the significance of an amulet.

Etruscan Goldsmithing

The resplendently beautiful ornamental discs (Decorative Earring Discs) enhanced with tiny spherules using the ancient granulation technique, which Etruscan goldsmiths brought to perfection around 600 BC, were created in Etruria. A pair of delicately filigreed gold bracelets (Gold Bangles), also crafted in Etruria, is another example of the Etruscan goldsmiths’ extraordinary artistic craftsmanship, which is also demonstrated by a small fibula complemented with a sphinx on the catch (Gold Etruscan Fibula).

Jewelry is a universal form of adornment. Jewelry made from shells, stone and bones survives from prehistoric times. It is likely that from an early date it was worn as a protection from the dangers of life or as a mark of status or rank.

The Hellenistic hey

Greek jewelry created in the Classical and Hellenistic periods is famous for its remarkable artistic quality and high level of craftsmanship. Previously, in the Geometric period, exquisite objects, such as a large bronze fibula (Bronze Thessalian Fibula), were created particularly in northern Greece. The goldsmiths in the Classical and Hellenistic periods from the 5th to the 1st centuries BC crafted superlative pieces, such as the delicate pendant earrings depicted in Gold Pendant Earrings.


Along with a refined necklace complemented with filigreed flowers (Gold Necklace with Enamel Traces), as well as many other items of adornment – including a magnificent burial wreath made of pure gold – they were part of an impressive treasure placed in the grave of a Greek noblewoman around 330 BC. One of the masterpieces of Hellenistic jewelry is a snake bracelet (Gold Snake Bangle with Garnet), which was crafted in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and represents an enhanced version of the snake myth: the two snakes’ bodies are intertwined to form a Heracles knot, which was regarded as a symbol for warding off evil.

Etruscan civilization had its heyday in central Italy from the 8th to the 3rd century BC. The culture was renowned in antiquity for its rich mineral resources and as a major Mediterranean trading power.

Hellenistic snake bracelet
Gold, a garnet
Greece, 3rd – 2nd century BC
Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim
Photography by Günter Meyer

Etrurian and Greek influences

The Hellenisic hey
Compared to Etruscan and Greek jewelry, the pieces created in Ancient Roman times are less delicate. Nevertheless, they are of great interest in the history of jewelry – not only due to the often considerable number of pieces worn simultaneously, but also because of the many motifs and shapes adopted from Etrurian and Greek artefacts and integrated into the jewelry created during the Roman Republic and Empire.


Recurring snake motif
A pair of bracelets (Gold Roman Bangles), probably crafted in the Roman Province of Egypt around the time of the birth of Christ, also features the snake motif. In contrast, a bracelet (Gold Roman Bracelet) composed of semi-spheres arranged in pairs and made of sheet gold represents an autonomous style that was largely limited to the Vesuvian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and was popular exclusively in the 1st century AD. The fibula, being both a piece of jewelry and a useful item, also played an important role for the Romans, as is testified by a late Roman crossbow-shaped fibula (Gold Roman Fibula), a type that was often worn by men on one of their shoulders.


1 of 5

Bronze Bracelet
Lorestan Province, Iran
8th – 7th century BC

2 of 5

Gold Pendant Earring
Troy, Anatolia, Asia Minor
Circa 2400 – 2200 BC
4th century BC

3 of 5

Bronze Thessalian Fibula
8th century BC

4 of 5

Gold Garment Fastener
700 BC
On permanent loan
from The Ministry of Science, Research and
the Arts Baden-Württemberg

5 of 5

Thessalian Fibula
Greece 8th century BC



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