BMCR 2010.02.64

The Aigina Treasure: Aegean Bronze Age Jewelry and A Mystery Revisited

, The Aigina Treasure: Aegean Bronze Age Jewelry and A Mystery Revisited. London: The British Museum Press, 2008. 127. ISBN 9780714122625. $100.00.

This book is the result of a workshop in 2000 when 11 scholars of Bronze Age art in the Eastern Mediterranean examined the Aigina Treasure (hereafter, Treasure) in the British Museum.

In the “Preface” (7), J.L. Fitton summarizes the workshop: the Treasure probably came from “one or more” Middle Helladic tombs at Kolonna, similarities in technique make it likely that much of the Treasure was made in a single workshop, and an overlooked map of Aigina has an “X marks the spot” where the Treasure was found.

Dyfri Williams’ “Introduction” (8-10) outlines Kolonna’s chronology to the end of the Middle Bronze Age. He then focuses on the Aphaia sanctuary, deriving the goddess from a west Cretan cult of Artemis and remarking on the more than 700 terracotta figurines of women and animals.

Williams now presents “The Story of the Aigina Treasure” (11-16). George Brown (1837-1887) had property in Aigina, to the north and east of Kolonna (fig. 9), and it was there that he was said to have found the Treasure in 1880. In 1891 his son (also George Brown) takes the Treasure to England and offers it to the British Museum through the firm of Cresswell Brothers; it was bought the following year. On 12 November 1913, Cresswell drew a circle on a map of Aigina for A.H. Smith, Keeper of the Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum (fig. 10), indicating where GB I had found the Treasure — near the eastern end of the Kolonna site, south of where earlier reports had indicated the find-spot. Williams also cites anecdotal evidence that GB I often bought antiquities and that he kept the Treasure hidden in his cellar (12, 15). These anecdotes indicate that the Treasure might be an assemblage accumulated between 1880 and 1887.

This reviewer finds it difficult to trust the map. It seems convenient that Cresswell would have known where the Treasure was found 33 years after the fact, especially since GB I did not work for him and had kept the Treasure hidden.

The “Catalogue and Technical Report” by J. Lesley Fitton, Nigel Meeks, and Louise Joyner (17-31) is the heart of this book. It catalogs the Treasure in detail, including the techniques of manufacture and materials.1 The illustrations, in color and black and white, are stunning.

The major pieces deserve notice. The Master pendant (cat. 1) has a flat backing plate that is “part-soldered” to the ajouré front. One of the suspensions disks is noticeably larger than the others, an ancient repair.

The two pairs of “earrings” subdivide into a “better” pair (cat. 2) and a “worse” pair (cat. 3). “There are similarities that link the two pairs together and thus to one workshop, but there is also evidence for two goldsmiths at work” (18). Fitton, Meeks, and Joyner also remark how, as earrings, they would be a “failure” (19). The reviewer wonders whether they might have been elaborate hairnets.2

The sphinx-head pectoral (cat. 5) is in two pieces, front and back, soldered fully (19, 23). The authors conclude that the different methods of soldering and of suspending the discs (vs. the “earring” discs) indicate a “different workshop practice” or “different goldsmith within the same workshop” (20).

The gold lion-head jewel (cat. 6) consists of a lion-head boss and basin connected by a long pin as if to bracket some lost material. This is the only piece in the Treasure that has filigree (20).

There are five gold finger rings. The four cloisonné rings with lapis lazuli (cat. 17-20) have the tops of their cell walls burnished to form a ledge to hold the stones in place. One gold ring bezel (cat. 21) has a circular bezel decorated with hatching; the authors do not cite the Aegean parallels.3

Next come six (modernly strung) necklaces of various gold and stone beads. One set depicts a right hand grasping a breast in different materials (five of gold, three each of lapis lazuli and cornelian); their identical size and shape “means that these beads were most probably associated at their manufacturing stage” (22).

In their section on technique, the authors conclude that the major objects could have made by two workmen with a third making the sphinx pendant.

Florens Felten next describes “Aigina-Kolonna in the Early and Middle Bronze Age” (32-35). The few myths about Aigina mostly concern the period before the Trojan War. Kolonna’s periods IX and X are contemporary with the Treasure. He concludes with a description of the new, but still unpublished EH III treasure.

Stefan Hiller contributes a study of the “Ornaments from the Warrior Grave and the Aigina Treasure” (36-39). While the MH Warrior Grave contributes little to our understanding of the Treasure, Hiller thinks that it is a LBA tomb robber’s cache, that it is not homogeneous, and that it exhibits “a certain provincial quality when compared to original Cretan gold ornaments” (38).

In “The Aigina Treasure: The Mycenaean Connection” (40-42), Robert Laffineur states that “the Aigina Treasure consists of items originating from different parts of the eastern Mediterranean, and dating from slightly different periods as well” (40). He then cites parallels, beginning with Crete (items from the Chrysolakkos at Malia), then the Near East (ivory sphinxes at Malia, the Dab’a pendant [more below]), and finally the Greek mainland (a gold necklace and gold cup from Peristeria). Laffineur considers the lion-head jewel to be Orientalizing.

Dominique Collon’s study, “The Aigina Treasure: Near Eastern Connections” (43-45), gives Near Eastern parallels for the seated monkeys in the “earrings,”4 but finds no parallels for the hand-breast beads (44).5 She remarks, “What struck me, when I was able to have a close look at the treasure, was the flimsy nature of the objects” (45). She concludes that they may have been made for funerary use.

Joan Aruz’s contribution, “The Aegean or the Near East: Another Look at the ‘Master of Animals’ Pendant in the Aigina Treasure” (46-50), notes that “the imagery on the pendant looks chaotic” (47-48). The Master of Animals motif appears only once in MM art (fig. 178). Apart from the Aigina pendant, male masters of birds do not occur in the Aegean, but mistresses of birds do.6 She concludes that the Treasure exhibits an international, “dynamic Mediterranean style” (50).

Robert Schiestl’s authoritative discussion of the “Three Pendants: Tell el Dab’a, Aigina and a New Silver Pendant from the Petrie Museum” (51-58) first describes the Petrie pendant with antithetic griffins and points out that “from an Egyptian point of view the animals are too close, and there is no overlapping and rarely ‘touching’ in Middle Kingdom Egyptian art” (52). Schiestl’s conclusion is that all three pendants are Aegean (56).

Yvonne J. Markowitz and Peter Lacovara discuss aspects of “Egypt and the Aigina Treasure” (59-60), pointing out that jewelry techniques “appear to have been developed elsewhere and imported into the Nile Valley” (59), while Egyptian iconography was exported widely in the form of jewelry and other bartered goods.

The last essay is Fitton’s “Links in a Chain: Aigina, Dahshur and Tod” (61-65). After a short summary, she thoughtfully discusses the Tod treasure. Though the silver cups and bowls form a unified group, she considers the hoard to be “a group of material from disparate sources brought together probably though not necessarily in Egypt, and given as an offering to the god Mont at some time during the reign of Amenemhat II” (63).

The book concludes with a bibliography and index.

This book strikes the reviewer in two ways. On the one hand, the catalogue, technical section, and photographs are invaluable. On the other hand, there is no consensus about date or style. In reading this book, one needs to keep in mind that the Treasure is not a coherent whole. As Laffineur points out (42), the bead necklaces are probably LM and the lion-jewel (minus birds) is Orientalizing. The four gold and lapis lazuli rings are probably also Late Bronze Age, but maybe not Aegean; the few Aegean cloisonné rings come from LM contexts and they contain blue glass (when it survives).7 This leaves the Master Pendant, the four “earrings,” and the sphinx-head pectoral as the core items dating to the Middle Bronze Age. More precisely, the drilled cornelian stones in the Master pendant and the four “earrings” cannot date any earlier than MM IIB, when the bow drill was first used in the Aegean for drilling hard stone beads (ca. 1700).8

In terms of style, all the discussions emphasize the international quality of the Treasure, but the fact none of the experts in Egyptian or Near Eastern art wants to claim it should imply that it is indeed Aegean, for by the Middle Bronze Age the eastern cultures had already worked out distinctive styles — it was Aegean art that was still evolving.


1. The Treasure consists primarily of jewelry: the Master of Animals gold pendant (cat. 1); two pairs of gold “earrings” (cat. 2, 3); individual gold owls and birds (cat. 4, 7); a gold pectoral with sphinx-head terminals (cat. 5); a gold ornament with a lion’s head (cat. 6); 54 gold sequins (cat. 8); three gold diadems and fragments (cat. 9-12); a gold “bracelet” (cat. 13); five gold finger rings (cat. 17-21); six sets of beads strung modernly as necklaces (cat. 14-16, 23-25); five plain gold hoops (cat. 22); and a single rock crystal bead (cat. 26). The Treasure also includes a gold bowl decorated with spirals and a rosette (cat. 27).

2. The central hoop with fanning chains looks similar to the elaborate hairnet that belonged to Queen Puabi of Ur (ca. 2600-2500) and to the Hellenistic hairnet in the Stathatos Collection in the Athens National Museum.

3. J. Sakellarakis, RGZM 27, 1980, 10 from Archanes Tholos 3; and CMS V Suppl. 1A, no. 45 from the Ayios Charalambos cave.

4. Also EM III-MM II stamp seals in the form of a seated ape (e.g., CMS II.2, no. 249).

5. Compare the Daedalic wood statuette from the Samos Heraion.

6. CMS I, no. 223a; VII, no. 134, and IX, no. 154.

7. See, for example, M.R. Popham, H. Catling, and E. Catling, BSA 1974, p. 218 fig. H, 219, pl. 37g from Sellopoulo.

8. CMS II.2, p. 109.