DETAIL: A very well preserved bronze ring circa seventh or eighth century A.D. from Byzantine (Roman) Macedonia. As you can see, the ring is very elegant in design. The ring is constructed from a very simple three-rib band joined by brazing both open ends to a bezel. A very delicate ring, exquisite even by today’s standards. The large center bezel is intended to mimic a large, round cabochon gemstone. Flanking the center gemstone were originally six bronze granules, 2mm in diameter, and done in such as way as to resemble gemstone accents. Of course, there are no gemstones, but the ring presents the “flavor” of a seven gemstone ring. If you look closely, you can see that one of the six “gemstone accents” was lost sometime in antiquity. You might also notice that the large center gemstone is accented with a very fine beaded chain perimeter. What incredibly fine workmanship. Both the beaded chain perimeter embellishment, and the raised rib band were to become staples of Byzantine/Eastern European jewelry for the next thousand years. The metal granules accenting the center bezel is an embellishment which has already been very popular in Mediterranean jewelry for several thousand years prior.
What a testament to an ancient metalsmith. Given the tasteful and exquisite features, the result is a ring which is very distinctive in appearance, and a timeless, classic design. All of the metal work exhibits very fine workmanship, and is entirely intact, though close examination of the wear makes it quite obvious that the ring was worn in life. Of course you must keep in mind that the ring was produced by an artisan and sold to a patron or consumer with the idea that the ring would be enjoyed and worn by the purchased. And without any regard to twenty-first century posterity, that precisely what happened! The original medieval owner of this ring wore it, enjoyed it, and probably never could have in his most delusional moment ever dreamed that fifty generations later the ring would still exist.
The ring does evidence some porosity (fine surface pitting caused by prolonged burial in soil), however it is not to the extent which so commonly completely disfigures small metal artifacts such as this. There is clear evidence that the ring was buried for millennia. These digital close ups surely reveal the telltale signs indicating the ring was buried for centuries and centuries. However to the casual admirer, it is unlikely that it would even be noticed. The integrity of the artifact is intact, the ring quite wearable. Most small artifacts such as this suffer extensive degradation from porosity. However this specimen came to rest in fairly gentle soil, and so to the casual admirer this light porosity is not even discerned. It is only upon close scrutiny that one recognizes these indications of a prolonged burial. Aside from the moderate wear to the ring caused by some Medieval Byzantine-Macedonian citizen using it during his (or her) lifetime, there are no other detractions. This ring is well preserved and restored. It is a quite remarkable artifact.
The ring could easily be worn and enjoyed on a daily basis. Though it does evidence some wear and porosity, it is nonetheless in remarkably good condition, and is of durable construction as well. It is an interesting historical relic which pertains not only to the history of Roman Byzantium, but also to the history of jewelry production. The ring is very modern and distinctive in appearance, a classic and timeless design. The ring has a very nice dark bronze tone, very characteristic of ancient bronzer, and very attractive. The ring dates to a time when the Western Roman World had collapsed, plunging Western Europe into 1,000 years of darkness. But at the time, yet to confront Islam, the Eastern Roman Empire still flourished as one of the globe’s great powers.
The Romans as well as their Eastern Byzantine Empire successors were of course very fond of ornate personal jewelry including bracelets worn both on the forearm and upper arm, brooches, pendants, hair pins, earrings intricate fibulae and belt buckles, and of course, rings. This is an exceptional piece of Early Medieval jewelry, a very handsome artifact, and eminently wearable. Aside from being significant to the history of ancient jewelry, it is also an evocative relic of one of the world’s greatest civilizations and the ancient world’s most significant military machines; the glory, might and light which was the “Byzantine-Roman Empire”.
ANCIENT MACEDONIA: Macedon (or Macedonia) is known to have been inhabited since the Neolithic, early inhabitants including Thracians, Pannonians, and Ilyrians. It is believed by anthropologists that the original population was of Indo-European Dorian stock. The Dorians were responsible for the invasion of Myceanean Greece to the south about 1150 A.D., precipitating the “Greek Dark Ages”. Mycenea was sacked, and the archaeological record shows that many other principle cities in Greece and Crete were reduced to villages. It is known that the Greeks considered the Doric Macedonians “barbarians”, and that the Macedonians spoke a distinct language or dialect, and were considered by the Greeks as “non-Greek” speakers.
Up until the time of Alexander the Great Macedonians were not allowed to participate in Olympic Games. However with the Hellenization of the Greek Peninsula, eventually Macedon was considered Hellenic. The area of ancient Macedon was in the north part of the Greek Peninsula, and was bordered by ancient Thrace. Ancient Macedon is now split between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia (formerly part of Yugosalvia). Due to the barbarian incursions and depopulation of the region after the fall of the Roman Empire, the surviving Greek population of Macedon fled southwards into what is now the Macedonian region of Greece; while eventually the northernmost regions (present day Republic of Macedonia) became repopulated with Slavic peoples, and even later by Armenians.
The ancient populations coalesced into the Kingdom of Macedonia about 800 B.C. Ancient Macedon fell to the Persian Armies of Darius the Great in the late sixth century B.C. It became more Hellenic in character after King Alexander I of Macedon began promoting the Attic (Greek) dialect and culture in the first half of the fifth century B.C. The Hellenic character of Macedon grew over the next century. Under the rule of Philip II, Macedon extended its power over the rest of northern Greece, including Thrace, Pannonia, and Illyria. Philip's son Alexander the Great conquered not only the remainder of Greece, but also the Persian Empire, Egypt, and Northern India. After his death Alexander’s generals divided the empire between them, founding their own states and dynasties.
Macedon was part of the empire created by Antigonus, remaining independent until foolishly engaging the Romans in three successive wars in the late third and early second centuries B.C. The Romans initially divided Macedonia into four republics, client kingdoms of Rome, before finally annexing Macedon as the first Roman Province in 146 B.C. With the division of the Roman Empire, Macedon eventually became part of the surviving Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. However the population of the entire region was severely depleted by destructive successive invasions of Goths, Avars, Visigoths, Huns, and Vandals. In the fifth and sixth centuries a number of Slavic tribes repopulated the desolated northern regions (what is today the Republic of Macedonia).
Most of inland (Slavic) Macedonia was incorporated into Bulgaria in the ninth century, while the ethnic Greek Aegean coastal regions remained part of the Byzantine Empire. However the period following (one century plus) was punctuated by almost incessant warfare between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire, until finally in 1018 A.D. Bulgaria fell and the whole of Macedonia was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire as the province of Bulgaria. Macedonia was ultimately to fall to the Islamic Ottoman Empire in the first half of the fifteenth century. For the next five centuries Macedonia remained part of the Ottoman Empire.
The initial period of Ottoman rule saw the complete desolation of the plains and river valleys of Macedonia. The Christian population there was slaughtered, escaped to the mountains or was forcefully converted to Islam. Towns destroyed during the conquest were repopulated with Turkish Muslim settlers. At the conclusion of World War I and the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire, Macedonia was incorporated with the rest of Serbia into the Kingdon of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). After the fall of the Soviet Empire late in the twentieth century, Slavic Macedonia became the Republic of Macedonia. Greek Macedonia remains of course, part of Greece.
HISTORY OF BRONZE: Bronze is the name given to a wide range of alloys of copper, typically mixed in ancient times with zinc, tin, lead, or arsenic. The discovery of bronze enabled people to create metal objects which were better than previously possible. Tools, weapons, armor, and building materials made of bronze were harder and more durable than their stone and copper predecessors from the “Chalcolithic” (the “Copper Age”), i.e., about 7000-3500 B.C., and the Neolithic (“New Stone Age”), i.e. about 12000 to 7000 B.C.). Of particular significance were bronze agricultural implements, tools for cutting stone, and weapons. Culturally significant was bronze statuary, particularly that of the Romans and Greeks. The ancient Greeks and Romans had a long history of making statuary in bronze. Literally thousands of images of gods and heroes, victorious athletes, statesmen, and philosophers filled temples and sanctuaries, and stood in the public areas of major cities. In fact, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Colossus of Rhodes are two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Initially bronze was made out of copper and arsenic. It was only later that tin was used, becoming (except in ancient Egypt) the sole type of bronze in the late 3rd millennium B.C. Tin-alloyed bronze was superior to arsenic-alloyed bronze in that the alloying process itself could more easily be controlled, the alloy was stronger and easier to cast, and unlike arsenic, tin is not toxic. Toxicity was a major factor in the production of arsenic bronze. Repeated exposure to arsenic fumes ultimately led to nerve damage in the limbs. Evidence of the long agony of Bronze Age metalsmiths came down to the ancient Greeks and Romans in the form of legend, as the Greek and Roman gods of metalsmiths, Greek Hephaestus and Roman Vulcan, were both lame. In practice historical bronze alloys are highly variable in composition, as most metalworkers probably used whatever scrap was to hand. In one instance of ancient bronze from Britain, analysis showed the bronze to contain a mixture of copper, zinc, tin, lead, nickel, iron, antimony, arsenic, and silver.
Other advantages of bronze over iron include that bronze better resists corrosion, particularly seawater corrosion; bronze resists metal fatigue better than iron; and bronze is a better heat conductor (and thus is better suited for cooking vessels). However ancient bronze, unless conserved properly, is susceptible to “bronze disease”, wherein hydrochloric or hydrosulfuric acid is formed due to impurities (cuprous chloride or sulfur) found within the ancient bronze. Traditionally archaeology has maintained that the earliest bronze was produced by the Maikop, a proto-Indo-European, proto-Celtic culture of Caucasus prehistory around 3500 B.C. Recent evidence however suggests that the smelting of bronze might be as much as several thousand years older (bronze artifacts dating from about 4500 B.C. have been unearthed in Thailand).
Shortly after the emergence of bronze technology in the Caucasus region, bronze technology emerged in ancient Mesopotamia (Sumer), Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization of Northern India, the Aegean, the Caspian Steppes (Ukraine), the Southern Russia/Central Mongolia Region (the Altai Mountains), the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean), Anatolia (Turkey) and the Iranian Plateau. By the late third millennium B.C. many Western European Bronze Age Cultures had emerged. Some of the more notable were the Celtic cultures of Middle Europe stretching from Hungary to Poland and Germany, including the Urnfield, Lusatian, and (Iron Age Transitional) Hallstatt Cultures.
The Shang in ancient China also developed a significant Bronze Age culture, noted for large bronze burial urns. The ancient Chinese were the first to cast bronze (using the “lost wax” technique) about 2200 B.C. Prior to that time all bronze items were forged. Though weapons and utilitarian items were produced in great numbers, the production of bronze in ancient China was especially noteworthy for ornamented ritualistic/religious vessels (urns, wine vessels, water pots, food containers, and musical instruments), many of immense size.
Britain’s Bronze Age cultures included the Beaker, Wessex, Deverl, and Rimbury. Copper and tin ores are rarely found together, so the production of bronze has always involved trade. Cornwall was one of the most significant sources of tin not only for Britain, but exported throughout the Mediterranean. Other significant suppliers of tine were the Taurus Mountains of Anatolia (Turkey), as well as Spain. Enormous amounts of copper was produced from the Great Orme mine in North Wales, the island of Cyprus, the European Alps, and from the Sinai Peninsula and other nearby sites in the Levant. Though much of the raw minerals may have come from Britain, Spain, Anatolia, and the Sinai, it was the Aegean world which controlled the trade in bronze. The great seafaring Minoan Empire (about 2700 to 1450 B.C.) appears to have controlled, coordinated, and defended the trade.
Tin and charcoal were imported into Cyprus, where locally mined copper was mined and alloyed with the tin from Britain. Indicative of the seafaring trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, a shipwreck from about 1300 B.C. off the Turkish coast revealed a ship carrying a ton of copper ingots, several dozen small tin ingots, new bronze tools, scrap metal, and a blacksmith's forge and tools (along with luxury trade goods from Africa). It appears that the Bronze Age collapsed with the fall of Minoan Empire, to be replaced by a Dark Age and the eventual rise of the Iron Age Myceneans (on mainland Greece). Evidence suggests that the precipitating event might have been the eruption of Thera (Santorini) and the ensuing tsunami, which was only about 40 miles north of Crete, the capital of the Minoan empire.
Some archaeologists argue that it was Santorini itself which was the capitol city of the Minoan World. However where Crete or Santorini, it is known that the bread-basket of the Minoan trading empire, the area north of the Black Sea lost population, and thereafter many Minoan colony/client-states lost large populations to extreme famines or pestilence. Inasmuch as the Minoans were the principals of the tin/copper shipping network throughout the Mediterranean, the Bronze Age trade network is believed to have failed. The end of the Bronze Age and the rise of the Iron Age is normally associated with the disturbances created by large population disruptions in the 12th century B.C. The end of the Bronze Age saw the emergence of new technologies and civilizations which included the large-scale production of iron (and limited scale production of steel).
Although iron was in many respects much inferior to bronze (and steel was inefficiently produced in very limited quantities), iron had the advantage that it could be produced using local resources during the dark ages that followed the Minoan collapse, and was very inexpensive when compared to the cost of producing bronze. Bronze was still a superior metal, resisting both corrosion and metal fatigue better than iron. And bronze was still used during the Iron Age, but for many purposes the weaker iron was sufficiently strong to serve in its place. As an example, Roman officers were equipped with bronze swords while foot soldiers had to make do with iron blades.
Pliny the Elder, the famous first century Roman historian and naturalist, wrote about the reuse of scrap bronze and copper in Roman foundries, noting that the metals were recast as armor, weapons or articles for personal use, such as bronze mirrors. The melting and recasting foundries were located at the Italian port city of Brindisi. Located on the Adriatic coast, Brindisi was the terminus of the great Appian Way, the Roman road constructed to facilitate trade and military access throughout the Italian part of the Roman Empire. The city was the gateway for Roman penetration into the eastern parts of her empire (Greece, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea Region, the Danubian Provinces, and eventually Mesopotamia).
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