Gold Breast Chain

Egypt, early 7th century



This body chain is the largest piece of jewellery to have survived from the Early Byzantine period. It was part of a treasure of thirty-six objects said to have been found either near Assiut or ancient Antinoupolis on the east bank of the Nile. J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), the American millionaire philanthropist, purchased ten objects from the treasure. His sister subsequently gave six of them, including this chain, to the British Museum. The tradition of wearing body chains goes back to the Hellenistic period. Contemporary terracotta figurines show the large medallions centred on the breast and middle of the back. The longer of the two chains fit over the shoulders and the two shorter ran beneath the arms. The large medallions are composed of seven smaller open-work discs. The pierced designs in the form of quatrefoils and octofoils are repeated on the chain of ninety-two small discs. The style of open-work on the body chain discs can be compared to other objects made in the early seventh century AD. This dating is supported by gold coins of the emperor Maurice Tiberius (AD 582-602) that were mounted on a gold pectoral (ornament worn on the chest) from the same treasure.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016