Byzantine jewellery was a continuation of Roman traditions. As in many other cultures throughout history, Byzantine jewellery acted not only as an embellishment, but most importantly as a direct display of someone’s wealth and social status. Interestingly, it also acted as a diplomatic tool. The earring with composite pendant was the most common type of ear ornament during the Byzantine Empire. This type consists of a hoop to which is attached a small ring holding a single pendant, with the basic scheme allowing certain variations of detail. Precious stones or glass bead may be mounted in box-settings of square, rectangular, or circular shape. We know from literary sources that the production of precious metalwork and jewellery in Imperial workshops was controlled by the Imperial treasury, or officinum, which supervised the Imperial factories that made precious metalwork.
‘Opus interrasile’ was a technique used by goldsmiths to make elegant jewellery from the third through to the tenth century AD. Designs were traced onto sheets of gold and the background was punched with holes of various sizes to highlight the pattern, with fine details then worked on the surface. The patterns formed by piercing the metal encouraged the play of light and shadow across the object’s surface. This technique was very popular during the Roman empire, and was used by the majority of jewellers in the Byzantine empire.
To find out more about the Byzantine world please see our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire: Art and Christianity.