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Vorderasiatischer Schmuck zur Zeit der Arsakiden und der Sasaniden.

This helpful work will be an aid to all working with Parthian and Sasanian jewelry, but it does not present the broad synthesizing overview that one might expect, given the title and the distinguished series in which it appears. Most of the book is concerned with the Parthian (Arsacid) period (ca. 250 B.C.-224 A.D.), with the emphasis on jewelry and its representations from the wealthy caravan city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert. The introduction to the Arsacid portion (10 pp.) is, for the most part, a survey of the writings of Rostovtzeff, Ackerman, and others on Palmyra. It also covers the excavated jewelry of Dura Europos and recounts the supposed struggles between the Hellenistic jewelry tradition and "old Iranian" elements.

The author identifies four strands or traditions in the jewelry of this period: 1) Hellenistic Greek, featuring small earrings and the use of filigree and granulation; 2) the "new Iranian tradition" of wide belts with decorative metal plaques; 3) an "old Iranian" tradition identified with Scythians and Sarmatians and characterized by the use of semi-precious stones in encrustation, and 4) a Syro-Mesopotamian tradition, developed between the first through the third centuries A.D. This last tradition is said to incorporate Hellenistic and Roman elements featuring gold and silver wire-work combined with granulation, glass, cloisonne and semi-precious stones set in medallions.

Perhaps because Palmyra had virtually no history before the Parthian period, the introduction conveys the impression that Near Eastern jewelry had no previous history either. This, of course, is not the case. Achaemenid jewelry (late 6th-late 4th century B.C.),(1) as well as the products of the Neo-Assyrian (8th-7th centuries B.C.) royal workshops,(2) already display a well-developed craft tradition. The finds at ancient Ebla (modern Tell Mardikh), about 175 km northwest of Palmyra, document the production of elegant jewelry in Syria in the first half of the second millennium B.C.(3) The designation of "new" and "old" Iranian traditions is problematic, as is the assumption that wide belts with metal plaques are Iranian in origin. These belts do not appear in Iran until the Parthian period and it is likely that their source lies farther east and north. Similarly the connection of an "old" Iranian inlay tradition to Scythian craftsmen is particularly questionable in view of the major role played by Greek craftsmen in the production of much Scythian jewelry.

The Parthian section includes no extended discussion of the technical aspects of Parthian period jewelry, such as types of wire and size and uniformity of granulation. The author mentions plating and the galvanic cells found in Parthian Iraq, but does not pursue the implications of such finds in distinguishing modern work from ancient. The author ranks her sources of jewelry as first, scientifically excavated pieces, then ancient representations, and finally works from the art market, but provides no criteria to distinguish forgeries from authentic pieces in this last category; nor does she discuss what the ancient representations do not tell us. The chapter closes with an extensive listing of sites from the Mediterranean to Pakistan where jewelry or its representations have been excavated.

Following the introduction is a 260-page catalogue of women's and men's jewelry arranged by type: head ornaments, earrings, fibulae and garment clasps, armlets and bracelets, finger rings and the like. The vast majority (220 pp.) is women's jewelry. The various jewelry types have been coded numerically in an elaborate system to indicate period, gender and jewelry type. Under this system 1.1.2, for instance, indicates Arsacid women's earrings. This category is further broken down into 22 earring types, and each type may then be further divided at least three more times. Datable examples of each type are provided along with an extensive bibliography.

This sort of methodical arrangement is appealing to the intellect and useful for quick identification, but it provides less information than first appears. Its most serious fault is that it completely divorces jewelry from the society that produced it. The craft tradition itself is ignored and the framework excludes by its structure both individuals who were responsible for the creation of the jewelry, the artist and the patron. Attention is also directed away from broader questions such as the ways in which fashions in jewelry reflect changes in the culture as a whole.

The concluding points concerning Arsacid jewelry (4 pp.) stress characteristic elements such as hinges, granulation, a stylistic preference for sharp corners and edges, a varied approach to gold surfaces, the use of a single stone or piece of glass, frequently oval, in a box setting, and a rich--one might say, baroque--combination of colors and textures. One could also draw the parallel, although the author doesn't, that the richness and variety of Arsacid jewelry is a visual expression of the heterogeneity of Near Eastern culture in this period.

The Sasanian portion of the book is much smaller, and fewer examples are discussed. This section is divided into a brief history of research and statement of problems (3 pp.), a catalogue of women's (17 pp.) and men's (19 pp.) jewelry, and concluding remarks (2 pp.). The historical introduction cites the standard Arab historians to provide a glimpse of what must have been splendid royal adornments, but decorated royal headgear with its pearled borders and pendant beads is not covered by the study. Only passing mention is made of Chinese works that illustrate the broad appeal of west Asian jewelry types and techniques across the length of the Silk Route.(4) Yet these works significantly enhance our understanding of the social context of Parthian and Sasanian jewelry.

In sum, this study with its dense 14-page bibliography and numerous illustrations is a helpful guide to Parthian and Sasanian jewelry. But the simplistic organization of the material, the omission of technical data, and the use only of line drawings of varying quality to illustrate the categories limit its effectiveness.

1 There is as yet no comprehensive survey of Achaemenid jewelry. For an overview of the evidence, see David Stronach, "Median and Achaemenid Archaeology," Encyclopaedia Iranica II, fasc. 3 (London, 1986), 293-96; and the forthcoming study by Antigoni Zournatzi, "The Island of Cyprus in the Persian Period" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley).

2 Amir Harrak, "The Royal Tombs of Nimrud and Their Jewellery," Bulletin of the Canadian Society of Mesopotamian Studies 20 (Oct. 1990): 5-13. I am indebted to Dr. Pauline Albenda for this reference.

3 Paolo Matthiae, I Tesori di Ebla (Rome, 1985), 121-25, figs. 126-28, pls. 77-82; Harvey Weiss, ed., Ebla to Damascus (Washington, D.C., 1985), cat. nos. 109-13.

4 The segmented collars with pendant bells, the multiple strands of beads, the pearled borders and jeweled crowns of the Bodhisattvas carved in the caves of Dun-huang and Yun-gang in northern China would have been equally at home in western Asia. See for instance Peter C. Swann, Chinese Monumental Art (New York, 1963), pls. 30, 34, 38 and 43; and idem, Tunhuang Painted Sculpture (Beijing, 1978), pls. 3-7, 12, 31-35. For earlier Han jewelry displaying what appears to be western techniques see Paul Singer, Early Chinese Gold and Silver (New York: The Chinese Institute in America, 1972), nos. 20 and 22, pp. 27-28. For additional west Asian influence in Tang ornament see Lawrence Sickman and Alexander Soper, The Art and Architecture of China, 3rd ed. (New York, 1971), 118.
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Author:Kawami, Trudy S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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