Byzantine jewellery merged Roman traditions with innovations such as Christian iconography and heavily influenced the rest of the Medieval world. There was a heavy use of gold, pearls, gemstones, enamel and even coins. The Empire was rich in gold mines, found in its territories in Greece, the Balkans and Turkey. Being at the centre of key trading routes between the East and West, vast amounts of precious stones and pearls also flowed to Constantinople. Hence jewellery was extremely popular and many people would have been in the position to afford them. The Byzantine emperor Justinian, in a bid to keep jewellery exclusive, regulated its use in the Justinian code of AD 529. He restricted sapphires, emeralds and pearls to the emperor but allowing gold rings to be worn by every free man. This monopoly allowed the emperor to gift his “favourites” with such jewellery as rewards and also to foreign rulers as diplomatic gifts. By making the right to wear certain precious jewellery a prerogative granted by the emperor, Justinian further strengthens the association of jewellery to power and prestige.
To discover more about Byzantine jewellery, please visit our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire, Art and Christianity.