THE OAK AND THE BULL: CLASSIC GREEK MOTIFS
A booming trade between Scythians and Greek colonies on the Black Sea was highly lucrative for both sides. In exchange for cattle, slaves, and grain, Greek merchants brought to Scythia almost every kind of product manufactured in Greece. Skillful Greek goldsmiths supplied Scythian chiefs and nobles with gold adornments whose exquisite workmanship was celebrated throughout the ancient world. Whether these artisans lived in Scythia and adapted their work to the tastes of Scythian customers or their wares were exported across the sea cannot be determined with certainty.
In Greece, garlands of thin gold in the form of tree branches were votive offerings to various gods: oak garlands to Zeus, olive branches to Athena, and laurel wreathes to Apollo. Not infrequently, garlands were buried with the dead. Similar garlands were found in the burials of the Bosporan Kingdom.
Decorated with the acorns and the bull’s head, this exquisite style of jewelry is linked to the veneration of Zeus, the supreme god of the Greek pantheon, whose sacred tree was the oak and one of his avatars –the bull. A necklace with acorns is mentioned in a play by Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: “Goldsmith, you know the necklace that you repaired. As my wife was dancing the other evening, the acorn fell out of its hole.” Acorn necklaces were found on the island of Euboea, in the Aegean Sea, indicating the area from which this object could arrive in a Greek colony on the Black Sea.
1. Garland, Late 4th Century- Early 3rd Century B.C.
Gold: cutting, stamping
2. Necklace with Pendant in Form of Bull, 5th-4th Centuries B.C.
Gold: hammering, soldering, filigree, stamping
3. Earrings (Bull Heads), 5th-4th Centuries B.C.
Gold: hammering, brazing, stamping
Next Section: Garnets of Ancient Jewelry