Lion head bracelet

late 4th–early 3rd century BCE
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General Description

Ancient Greek gold and silver bracelets are rare. Because bracelets require considerably more metal than any other form of jewelry, most Greek bracelets appear to have been made from bronze, which, when polished, shines like gold. From the Archaic period onward, Greek bracelets were more or less restricted to two types: snake bracelets and animal-head bracelets like this one.

The lion-head bracelet has been considered a Near Eastern invention. The earliest known Greek example, found in a grave on the island of Rhodes, dates to ca. 600 BCE. The basic shape, already firmly established at this early stage, remained unchanged over the following centuries, but the animals' heads and the decoration of the cuff the joins the hoop to the terminals reflect artistic changes.

This lion-head bracelet that dates to the Hellenistic period seems to have been made in Magna Graecia. Three-dimensional lion-head finials decorate this flattened pennanular bracelet. The heads are worked in repoussé with additional engraving. The large teeth are made separately. The modled outside of the flat band imitates in repoussé a filigree decoration with herringbone wires, while the inside is plain. Both ends of the band are held by ornamental cuffs linking them to the lions' heads. The cuffs, in the shape of truncated cones, are decorated on the outside with a running tendril scroll, rendered in double rows of beaded-wire filigree and granulation. Small tongues and a beaded wire between two plain ones cover the join between hoop and cuff, while a herringbone filigree between an arrangement of ornamental wires marks the join between head and cuff.

In antiquity, bracelets were usually worn in pairs. However, the number of surviving Greek and Etruscan bracelets is surprisingly small.

Adapted from

Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press, 1996), 65-66; 139.