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Work Bracelet decorated with incrusted lion's heads

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Paire de bracelets décorés de têtes de lions incrustées

© 2010 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Herbin Nancie

Lavishly decorated with gold, turquoise and lapis lazuli, this bracelet set with lion's heads from the Achaemenid Persian period reflects the taste of dignitaries of the empire for jewelry and luxury. This type of object features in the sculptures decorating certain monuments, notably the Archers' Frieze in the palace of Darius at Susa (522-486 BC).

A bracelet set with roaring lion's heads

This bracelet from the Achaemenid period is a smooth, solid circular bangle six millimeters thick, with a slight inward bend in the middle of the circle. Each end is tipped with a lion's head with distinct anatomical features, similar to those found on the reliefs and enameled-brick panels in the palace of Darius I at Susa, particularly the Lion passant (Louvre Museum, aod489a). The muscle structure is shown with "dots and commas." This stylization, common in Achaemenian art, and the threatening appearance of the lions are also found on a rhyton decorated with lion's heads (Teheran Museum), a sword handle (Teheran Museum) and a lion-shaped weight (Louvre Museum, sb2718). On this bracelet, the cheeks and top of each lion's head are set with turquoise and the ruff is in lapis lazuli. The eyes and muzzle were originally incrustated, and the mane is decorated in cloisonné with pieces of turquoise. On either side of the heads are alternating incrustations of lapis lazuli and turquoise.

Objects found in a dignitary's grave

This object is part of a set of jewelry belonging to a dignitary of the Achaemenid empire, and has been associated with a bracelet (Louvre Museum, sb2761) and a torque (Louvre Museum, sb2760) decorated in a very similar manner to the bracelets. These items of jewelry were found in a grave at the acropolis at Susa, excavated in 1901 by Jacques de Morgan. A silver bowl and two alabaster vases completed the grave furnishings. Many bracelets of this type have been found, most having an identical shape to this one, others forming a perfect circle. They are all open-ended and decorated with the heads of animals (lions, ibex, gazelles, swans) and imaginary creatures (griffins, horned lions).

Jewelry worn by men

Jewelry was not only worn by women but also by certain dignitaries, such as those of Apadana in Persepolis, who wear ringed torques. The archers of Susa pictured on the brick panels at the palace of Darius (Louvre Museum, sb3302 to sb3311) also wear rings in their ears and a pair of bracelets similar to this one. The cloisonné and champlevé techniques were perfectly mastered by the Egyptians as early as the 14th century BC and were widely used in the Near East from the 1st millennium onward. This type of bronze and precious-metal jewelry and its decorative features were reproduced in western Iran throughout the 1st millennium. A number of fine specimens have been found in graves in Luristan, among the Treasures of Ziwiyé and Oxus. They were very popular with the Achaemenids: reliefs at Persepolis show delegations (probably Scythians or Sogdians, as well as Lydians, reputed for their expertise in gold and silverwork) bearing tributes in the form of bracelets decorated with animals confronting each other, very like this one.

Bibliography

Ghirshman Roman, Perse : Proto-iraniens, Mèdes, Achéménides, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "L'Univers des formes", n 5, 1963 (on peut y retrouver une reproduction des objets cités dans la notice : le rhyton p. 242, fig. 290, et l'épée, p. 267, fig. 328, du musée de Téhéran ; le bracelet de la tombe royale de Ziwiyé conservé au University Museum de Philadelphie, p.113, fig. 148 ; le bracelet du trésor de l'Oxus p. 249, fig. 302).
Tallon Françoise (sous la dir. de), Les Pierres précieuses de l'Orient ancien : des Sumériens aux Sassanides, Exposition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 22 septembre 1995-18 décembre 1995, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995.

Technical description

  • Paire de bracelets décorés de têtes de lions incrustées

    Epoque achéménide, vers 350 avant J.-C.

    Suse, Acropole

  • Or, lapis-lazuli, turquoise et nacre

  • Fouilles J. de Morgan, 1901

    Sb 2761, Sb 2762

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Persian empire during the Achaemenian period: palace of Darius I to Susa, 6th–5th century BC
    Room 12 a
    Vitrine 4 : Mobilier d'une tombe princière achéménide (Suse, IVe siècle avant J.-C.)

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