The spread of the chain as an ornamental jewel in the Mediterranean area

per articolo bisanzio atene roma
The exchange and trade of noble metals are activities whose origins are lost in the mists of time, and which were committed to meeting the growing demand of wanting to adorn one’s body with the jewelry that would tell one’s status. The reason according to around the second millennium B.C.E. there was an important spread throughout the Mediterranean area of chains as ornamental jewelry, reaching its manufacturing heyday at the Cretan civilization.

Crete because of its strategic location in the center of the Mediterranean was the hub of major maritime trade, allowing Cretan craftsmen to take their cue and learn several truly distinctive and sophisticated crafts. It is no coincidence that among the frescoes found in the legendary Knossos palace are many figures of women sporting wide loops of chains (among which the most common were round or oval anchor chains), breastplates, or earrings of intricate workmanship. Around 600-300 B.C.E., goldsmithing activity was drastically curtailed due to the lack of material: belts made with complex interlacing of chains that ended in ornamental clasps consisting of chains with Hercules’ Knot that had at their ends a clasp embellished with animal heads date from that period.

The Greeks believed that the chain was the most suitable jewelry to represent their traditions imbued with aspects of political and philosophical life and therefore decided to export it to the colonies where artisans improved its workmanship and manufacture. This activity was to be increased later thanks to Charlemagne’s great conquests, which brought large amounts of gold to Greece that allowed for greater production of jewelry, among which Princess Catena enriched and united the various jewelry in vogue at the time. A gentlewoman of high rank could by no means exempt herself from adorning herself with numerous pieces of jewelry, and this caused the chain to be employed even outside the uses to which we are accustomed in the modern era. In fact, there was a female custom of adorning her hairstyles and forehead with precious little chains, while several rounds of light chains were worn around the neck and on the waist.



Today, Arezzo is one of the most important centers of the goldsmithing industry, and it was here in the late 8th century B.C. that the Etruscans, a people possibly from Anatolia, settled, endowed with extraordinary craftsmanship skills that were skillfully applied to the goldsmithing field. The Etruscans are credited with the introduction of goldsmithing techniques such as “granulation,” which is still implemented today in the area of decorations on the surface of jewelry. They were masters in producing even the finest gold threads, which they used to create chains or to embellish inlaid jewelry: the creation of the double-link chain is even thought to date back to them. To the Etruscans belong the collars and breastplates decorated with hundreds of small gold spheres (granulation), the necklaces consisting of several strands of chains with complicated pendants or with embossed foils following one another. Etruscan, as well as Greek influence, is the basis on which Rome developed its taste in art. The expansion of the Empire led to a conspicuous increase in gold resources, which greatly increased the production of jewelry and encouraged changing trends.

Romans began to prefer necklaces with more linear shapes, with stones set symmetrically or from which hung a coin or medal. The most common type was the chain, plain, close-knit, braided, double-knit braided, with plain or knurled gold wire. They were worn as belts, in fibulae, or let down along the hips easily adapting to the body’s shape, favoring the enhancement of the body’s form. Pliny the Elder in his “Natural History” accuses women of the time of: “doing nothing but talk about the little gold chains with which they adorn their hips and necks,” a detail that consolidates the importance that the chain already held at the time in the field of jewelry trends.

From the middle of the first century B.C., the chain became richer and richer, embellished with cylinders, discs, ellipses, pendants of metal, or precious stones, identifying itself more and more as a symbol of wealth and power. Once again, the chain stepped out of its initial role as an ornament and showed off its character of versatility and elegance by once again presenting itself with its many intrinsic qualities. A chain as ornamental jewelry tells a lot about us and our personality without the words support.


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