Jewelry from ancient times, life in Bible times

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Jewelry in one of the Fayum portraits

The Fayum portraits
2nd century Egypt

Judith and Holofernes, painting by Klimpt

Judith's tiara
The Bible describes jewelry: Judith's tiara

Rebecca at the well, painting

Rebecca's jewelry
Nose ring, gold bracelets


 


 

 

 


 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

How some ancient jewelry survived

Women have always used jewelry to show their status and wealth, and enhance their beauty. Even the Cro-Magnons had primitive necklaces and bracelets.  

But one way or another, almost all the jewelry from ancient times has been destroyed. A few pieces survived in hiding places, put there long ago for safe-keeping during wars and invasions. These precious pieces were left untouched for millennia because the people who knew where the treasure was hidden were slaughtered or taken captive, never to return. The secret of the jewelry's location died with them. 

Other pieces of jewelry survived because of some natural disaster, such as the volcanic eruption at Pompeii (see bracelet below, which was found alongside a body). People trying to flee the cataclysm snatched up any portable valuables they could carry, then found they had left their escape too late. The valuables, often pieces of jewelry, lay hidden and forgotten for many centuries.Woman with jewelled headdress and necklace

Jewelry is portable wealth. It is also an in-your-face status symbol, letting everyone know just how rich you are. That is why young women draped themselves in their jewelry on their wedding day.

 


A cardboard carton full of fabulous jewelry from Nimrud

A treasure-trove of ancient jewels from the tomb at Nimrud (see information below)

Above: gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake. 1st century AD, Roman, found at Pompeii

Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, 1st century AD, Roman, Pompeii  

What style of jewelry was worn?

We have very little to go on, but we know that the Jewish people borrowed craftsmen from surrounding countries like Phoenicia. These men produced designs similar to the ones they made in their native countries, so it is fair to assume that Jewish women wore jewelry similar in design to Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Assyrian pieces. 

Ancient Egyptian jewelry: ring, bracelet, brooch, all of gold and semi-precious stones

Egyptian, 22nd dynasty. During this dynasty, Shoshenq I invaded the kingdom of Judah and Israel, and overran Jerusalem and nearby cities in about 925 BCE. He took the Temple and palace treasures, including the golden shields of Solomon, back to Egypt.

Gold diadem from tomb at Canossa, 3rd century BC

Gold diadem embellished with blue, green, red, and white enameled flowers;
from a tomb at Canossa, 3rd century BC

During the later Greek and Roman periods, admiration among the upper classes for foreign fashions and design was strong, and Jewish women wore jewelry similar to pieces worn in ancient Greece and Rome.

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Fayum woman with lavish jewelry One of the Fayum coffin portraits, with woman wearing important jewelry including hair ornament, necklace and earrings

Various designs of jewelry from the Fayum coffin portraits, 2-3rd century AD Egypt
See Bible Archaeology: Fayum

Links with the Bible

  • During the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam, Judah was overrun by the Egyptian ruler Shoshank I. Rehoboam was forced to pay a huge ransom to get rid of him, including not only the Temple treasures, but the jewelry belonging to the royal women of Judah. This jewelry was probably taken back to Egypt to be melted down and re-used, and then after that, who knows?

Ancient Egyptian bracelet of gold and semi-precious stones

Ancient Egyptian bracelet or gold and semi-precious stones

Ancient Persian bracelets or clasps, gold, with winged griffin

Ancient Persian bracelets/clasps

Jewelry,Bible archaeology: Gold bracelet and earrings from Pompeii

Gold bracelet and earrings from Pompeii

  • 'The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold....'.   King Sargon II of Assyria (721–705BC) is famous for his conquest of Israel. He took the ten tribes of Israel, the Lost Tribes, into captivity (2 Kings 17:6). See Nimrud Jewelry.

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Nimrud, woman at a window

The woman on this ivory plaque wears an Egyptian-style wig and an elaborate ornament with pendants in her hair. The image fits the description of Jezebel in 2 Kings 9:30-37.

  • The woman at the window with her head adorned (above), is a frequent motif in the ancient near-Eastern world. Jezebel is described like this immediately before her death (2 Kings 9:30-37).

  • See also Genesis 24:53, Exodus 32:24, 35:22, Hosea 2:13 for references to ancient jewelry.

Simple bracelet and necklace from Mesopotamia

A simple bracelet and necklace from Mesopotamia, original home of Sarah and Abraham

 

Canaanite bracelet

Bronze bracelet, Canaanite, late Bronze Age

Rare bronze 3,500 year old bracelet. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

A bronze bracelet dating to the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550–1200 BC) has been found during an excavation at Ramat Razim in the vicinity of Zefat (Tsefat, Safad). Karen Covello-Paran, director of the excavation, says,

“We discovered a wide rare bracelet made of bronze. The ancient bracelet, which is extraordinarily well preserved, is decorated with engravings and the top of it is adorned with a horned structure. At that time horns were the symbol of the storm-god and they represented power, fertility and law. The person who could afford such a bracelet was apparently very well off financially, and it probably belonged to the village ruler. It is interesting to note that in the artwork of neighboring lands gods and rulers were depicted wearing horned crowns; however, such a bracelet, and from an archaeological excavation at that, has never been found here.”

Large Canaanite cities, such as Megiddo and Hazor, have been excavated, but this is the first time a village of the Late Bronze Age has been excavated in the north of Israel. This site, Ramat Razim, is located southeast of Zefat, and is thought to have “constituted part of the periphery of Tel Hazor,” according to Covello-Paran

Gold earrings and rings found at the site of the ancient city of Armageddon.

Stop press: Archaeologists have just unearthed a hidden stash of gold jewelry (above) near the site of the ancient city of Armageddon, where the New Testament says the final battle between good and evil will take place. The jewelry was found inside a clay pot as if it had been hidden from an enemy, perhaps during a siege. The owner of the jewelry never came back to claim it.

 

Jewelry of Queen Puabi

Flattened skull and jewelry of Queen Puabi just as it was found in her tomb at Ur in Sumeria

The flattened skull and jewelry of Queen Puabi just as it was found in her tomb at Ur in Sumeria - 
where Sarah and Abraham were born. Notice, too, her perfect teeth...

Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi: crown, headdress and necklaces

Crown or headdress of Queen Puabi, gold, with gold earrings

Small pieces of gold jewelry taken from the tomb of Queen Puabi in the ancient city of Ur

Jewelry taken from Queen Puabi's tomb at Ur in ancient Sumeria, 3rd millennium BC. 
The various pieces could be arranged in several different ways, as necklace or crown

 

Polished beads found in the tomb of Queen Puabi

Polished beads found in the tomb of Queen Puabi

 

The Nimrud Jewelry

'Last year, exploring an inner room of the palace, a team of laborers (headed by Muzahim Mahmoud Hussein, leader of the Iraqi team at Nimrud) stumbled across a tomb that contained a small collection of necklaces, earrings and gilded pins. In April, Muzahim found what looked like a piece of pavement. When he and his workers cleared off the dirt, they uncovered a small ceramic pipe resembling an air vent. The "pavement" turned out to be the arched roof of a small rectangular tomb. Inside: a dusty sarcophagus. "I pried the top off with an iron bar," says Muzahim. "There was more dust inside, but when I held up the light, it was reflected back into my eyes by the gold."

Much of that gold turned out to be priceless jewelry draped around the skeleton of a young princess named Yabahya, tentatively identified as the daughter of one of Assyria's most renowned and feared kings, Sargon II. Nearby, still more jewelry and gold ornaments were piled. Mingled with the dried bones were dozens of delicately sculpted gold rosettes, scattered like flowers over the body of the dead princess.' (Quoted from Time magazine article, Philip Elmer-Dewitt, October 13 1989)

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Necklace from the ancient tomb at Nimrud in Iraq.

Necklace from a tomb at the ancient city of Nimrud, in Iraq. 
Nimrud was the capital of Ashurnasirpal II, an Assyrian king of the 9th century BC

 

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Nimrud: ugal or headdress worn by the Queen

Nimrud: ugal or headdress worn by the Queen

 

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Nimrud: gold bracelets

Nimrud: gold bracelets

 

Jewelry from Troy

 

Gold jewelry and artifacts excavated at Troy

Gold jewelry from Troy II, 3rd millennium BC

Gold pin with filigree work, from 'Priam's Treasure', Troy

Gold pin with filigree work, from 'Priam's Treasure', Troy

 

Luxury Objects

 

Mycenaean gold pendant, 17thcentury BC

Mycenaean gold pendant, 17thcentury BC

 

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: gold hairnet fragment

Gold hairnet fragment

 

Jewels of a tribal princess like Sarah, circa 1500BC

Jewels of a tribal princess like Sarah, circa 1500BC

 

An early piece of Egyptian jewelry from the 5th dynasty: collar and bracelet

An early piece of Egyptian jewelry from the 5th dynasty: collar and bracelet

 

Necklace circa 14-13th century BC, found at Mari, a flourishing city west of the Euphrates; gold and semi-precious stones

Necklace circa 14-13th century BC, found at Mari, a flourishing city west of the Euphrates

 

Necklace beads, 13th century BC

Necklace beads, 13th century BC

 

Gold necklace, 5th century BC

Gold necklace, 5th century BC

 

Roman bust of Antonia Minor showing her wearing a diadem, probably of beaten gold

This Roman bust of Antonia Minor shows her wearing a diadem, probably of beaten gold


 

See other fascinating links between 
Archaeology and the Bible
  

 

  Jewelry from the Bible period  - Archaeology of The Bible - Bible  Study Resource: Jewelry in the Ancient World

 

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