Ancient Near East, Achaemenid Persian Empire, ca. 550 to 330 BCE. Comprised of 93% gold (equivalent to 22K+) and lavishly decorated with turquoise and garnet cabochons, a magnificent pair of matching bracelets with zoomorphic head terminals reflecting a taste for luxury and opulence. The skill and artistry employed to render every inch of each bracelet's surfaces is astounding. The animal heads feature almond-shaped garnet eyes, teardrop-shaped bright blue turquoise ears, and an abundance of turquoise inlays to further embellish the forms. Furthermore, the intricate modeling of their snouts as well as the sinuous motifs - perhaps wings or plumes - adorning their bodies along the bangles is beyond impressive. Size of largest: 3.7" W x 2.625" H (9.4 cm x 6.7 cm); (interior): 2.9" W (7.4 cm); (largest turquoise): 0.75" L x 0.2" W (1.9 cm x 0.5 cm); quality of gold: 93% (equivalent to 22K+); total weight: 91.7 grams (smaller is 43.6 grams, and larger is 48.1 grams)
The Achaemenid love of gold and silver was famous throughout the ancient world. Plato wrote of how the acquisition of gold and silver was considered a virtue while Alcibiades, another Athenian, wrote of the enormous wealth in gold and silver that the Persians had. In a society where flaunting wealth was important, these bracelets would have been prized possessions, demonstrating the high social status of its wearer. In addition, the inclusion of lions, ibexes, swans, gazelles or mythical creatures such as griffins or horned lions in jewelry like this was customary. It is likely that these treasured bracelets eventually became grave goods, placed into a tomb alongside other cherished pieces to accompany the deceased into the afterworld.
The Achaemenid Persian Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE (including Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Caucasus, Thrace and some parts of India) is generally regarded as one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world. Its capital, Pasargadae, was Cyrus the Great's final resting place and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These bracelets compare with examples in the Tillya Tepe (Hill of Gold) - a burial site for one man and five women of whom one was a princess - in Jowzjan province dating to the 1st century BCE. See "Bactrian Gold: From the Excavations of Tillya Tepe Necropolis in Northern Afghanistan" by Victor Sarianidi (1985), translated from Russian by Arthur Shkarovsky-Raffe Aurora Publishers, Leningrad, especially pp. 163-167.
Provenance: private California, USA Collection; ex-private collection of a doctor who traveled to Iran and Afghanistan to practice medicine, acquired in the late 1950s
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Bracelets have a few chips and losses to some stones, minor abrasions, and light encrustations, with stable hairline fissure in the middle of the smaller bracelet, and minor softening to some finer details, otherwise intact and excellent. Wonderful patina and stones throughout.