Snake Armlet

Item #: 4207

Date: ca. 4th century BCE – 1st century CE

Medium: Gold, garnet and ruby

Size: 2 ¾" high to bird, 2 13/16" high to rim, 3" diameter at base, 4" deep, rim-handle

Testing Reports:

Description: Snake jewelry was among the more popular luxury items in the Greek and Roman civilizations, including in the Greek colonies which flourished around the Black Sea. Extensive trade with these settlements spread Greek art, and is influence, across much of Eurasia. Some styles were copied so closely that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to be certain who crafted an item. One unusual feature of the armlet seen here is the fact that the minute scales of the snakes are each crafted separately, and attached with solder. This technique has been documented on several other artifacts examined at this facility, including a torc with dragons (dated ca. 2nd c. BCE – 1st c. CE), and a double-headed coiled snake armlet (dated ca. 2nd c. BCE – 2nd c. CE). Both of these pieces were been attributed to Central Asia, and were likely from the Scythian culture.

The two-headed snake armlet, seen here, displays many classic aspects of Hellenistic jewelry, which was quite popular with the Scythians, as well as other non-Greek cultures in Central Asia. Of particular interest is the central Herakles knot, formed by the intertwined bodies of two Asclepian (aka Aesculapian) snakes, and further adorned with inlays of garnet and ruby. Though Heralkes knots were, themselves, very popular in jewelry designs, their use in combination with snake imagery was far less common. Thus far, two comparable bracelets/armlets have been found which are relatively similar in design. Both display a central Herakles knot, formed by the intertwined bodies of two snakes, and each knot is set with a single large garnet. One of these armbands, in a private collection, is dated ca. 4th – 3rd c. BCE. The other, in the collection of the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, in Germany, is dated 3rd – 2nd c. BCE.

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