History of Jewelry Part 2: Byzantine and Early Christian Period|
As Christianity emerged and spread, the customs of many of its converts were incorporated into its burial habits: Romans cremated their dead, Jews buried their dead, and after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, corpse burial became de rigueur among practitioners of the Christian faith. A common thread among Christian burials was a rejection of customs considered idolatrous: people were no longer buried with all their jewelry, and thus, beginning with the 8th century AD, almost the only important gold creations that have been preserved from this period were those in religious or royal holdings. We also still find out about jewels and fashion from mosaics and painted fragments of murals.
In 330 AD, the emperor Constantine established Constantinople in Byzantium as the capital of the Roman Empire: a city that contained churches within its city walls for the first time and had no pagan temples. During this era, the craftsmanship of ancient Greece and Rome, the symbolism of Christianity, and stylistic trends from the East came together in an amazing synthesis of decorative spirit. Jewelry was ornate. Quantities of pearls and precious stones passed through Constantinople – the highway of commerce between the East and Europe – and the workmen of the waning Empire were susceptible to the possibilities of magnificence. In the mosaics at Ravenna in Italy, one can see the gold robes of the Empress Theodora set with precious stones, the emeralds encircling her neck and shoulders, covering her neck, and festooning her breast. The Emperor Justinian beside her wears a diadem on his head and a massive mantle hung with lavish pendants.
The last Western Roman Emperor was deposed by the Germanic king Odoacer in 476 AD, although Constantinople itself survived until the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Church, after the period of the decline of the Western Roman Empire, began a long period of missionary activity and expansion. As the boundaries of the Western Empire collapsed to Germanic tribes, Christianity spread into lands that had never even been Romanized. Some lands experienced a cultural shift not in terms of religion but definitely in terms of ethnic rule. All such passages of peoples forced shifts in culture and thereby shifts in jewelry trends.
Britain, for example, was not a Christian country until around AD 600. Before Britain became a subject of Rome, their jewelry was comprised of bronze pins, brooches, torqued necklaces and bracelets. Throughout the period of Roman occupation – from about 43 AD to about 410 AD – British ornamentation reflected Italian designs, though with some variation. In Britain at this time, hairpins were very popular, and were made of bone, bronze, colored glass or jet. Enameling was a popular art under the Romans and it seems to have been the intention of its artisans to imitate colored stones. Britain then passed through what is commonly known as the Dark Ages, a period of which there is little archaeological evidence. During the Anglo-Saxon period after the fall of the Roman Empire, Celtic Christianity from the northwest and the Roman Catholic Church from the southeast spread into England, and the first Anglo-Saxon king was baptized in 601. The Teutonic invasion of England absolutely influenced English jewelry; it lost its Roman character and became impressed by German styles. Goldwork became more delicate and colors were blended in extremely harmonious ways. Individual workmanship was highly valued and pieces found from this period are rife with originality. Precious stones were sometimes used as amulets and coins of foreign origin were often used as pendants or on bracelets. One of the most distinctive trends was the setting of stones – mostly garnets – upon hatched gold foil between delicate gold cloisons. This was an intricate process of inlay and often took the shape of Christian crosses inside of circular forms. No Anglo-Saxon jewelry was enameled.