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Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum

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Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum

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Ancient Carved Ambers in the
J. Paul Getty Museum
Faya Causey
With technical analysis by Jeff Maish, Herant Khanjian,
and Michael R. Schilling

This catalogue was first published in 2012 at http: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
// The present online version Names: Causey, Faya, author. | Maish, Jeffrey, contributor. |
was migrated in 2019 to Khanjian, Herant, contributor. | Schilling, Michael (Michael Roy),
/ambers; it features zoomable high-resolution photography; free contributor. | J. Paul Getty Museum, issuing body.
PDF, EPUB, and MOBI downloads; and JPG downloads of the Title: Ancient carved ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum / Faya
catalogue images. Causey ; with technical analysis by Jeff Maish, Herant Khanjian,
© 2012, 2019 J. Paul Getty Trust and Michael Schilling.
Description: Los Angeles : The J. Paul Getty Museum, [2019] |
Includes bibliographical references. | Summary: “This catalogue
provides a general introduction to amber in the ancient world
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a followed by detailed catalogue entries for fifty-six Etruscan,
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a Greek, and Italic carved ambers from the J. Paul Getty Museum.
copy of this license, visit The volume concludes with technical notes about scientific
.0/. Figures 3, 9–17, 22–24, 28, 32, 33, 36, 38, 40, 51, and 54 are investigations of these objects and Baltic amber”—Provided by
reproduced with the permission of the rights holders publisher.
acknowledged in captions and are expressly excluded from the CC Identifiers: LCCN 2019016671 (print) | LCCN 2019981057 (ebook) |
BY license covering the rest of this publication. These images may ISBN 9781606066348 (paperback) | ISBN 9781606066355 (epub)
not be reproduced, copied, transmitted, or manipulated without | ISBN 9781606060513 (ebook other)
consent from the owners, who reserve all rights. Subjects: LCSH: J. Paul Getty Museum—Catalogs. | Amber art
objects—Catalogs. | Art objects, Ancient—Catalogs. | Art
First edition 2012 objects, Etruscan—Catalogs. | Art objects—California—Los
Paperback and ebook editions 2019 Angeles—Catalogs. | LCGFT: Collection catalogs. Classification: LCC NK6000 .J3 2019 (print) | LCC NK6000 (ebook) |
DDC 709.0109794/94—dc23
Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles LC record available at
Getty Publications LC ebook record available at
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500
Los Angeles, California 90040-1682 Front cover: Pendant: Divinity Holding Hares (detail, 77.AO.82, cat. no. 4).
First edition: Every effort has been made to contact the owners and
Marina Belozerskaya and Ruth Evans Lane, Project Editors photographers of objects reproduced here whose names do not
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Elizabeth Zozom and Elizabeth Kahn, Production concerning copyright holders is asked to contact Getty Publications
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2019 editions: URLs cited throughout this catalogue were accessed prior to first
Zoe Goldman,Project Editor publication in 2012; during preparation of the present editions in
Greg Albers, Digital Manager 2019, some electronic content was found to be no longer available.
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Suzanne Watson,Production been retained, but hyperlinks have been disabled in the online and
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Distributed in the United States and Canada by the University of
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Distributed outside the United States and Canada by Yale University
Press, London

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Amber and the Ancient World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Jewelry: Never Just Jewelry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Amber Magic? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
What Is Amber? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Where Is Amber Found? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
The Properties of Amber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Ancient Names for Amber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Color and Other Optical Characteristics: Ancient Perception and
Reception . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Ancient Literary Sources on the Origins of Amber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Amber and Forgery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
The Ancient Transport of Amber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Literary Sources on the Use of Amber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
The Bronze Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Early Iron Age and the Orientalizing Period . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
The Archaic and Afterward . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
The Working of Amber: Ancient Evidence and Modern Analysis . . . . . . . . . . 78
The Production of Ancient Figured Amber Objects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Catalogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Orientalizing Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92
1. Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94

2. Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos) with Bird . . . . . . . . . 102
3. Pendant: Addorsed Females . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
4. Pendant: Divinity Holding Hares . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
5. Pendant: Lion with Swan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
6. Pendant: Paired Lions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Ship with Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
7. Pendant: Ship with Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Korai . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
8. Pendant: Standing Female Figure (Kore) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
9. Pendant: Head Fragment from a Standing Female Figure (Kore) . . . . 145
Human Heads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
10. Pendant: Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
11. Pendant: Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
12. Pendant: Satyr Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
13. Pendant: Satyr Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
14. Pendant: Female Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170
15. Pendant: Winged Female Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
16. Pendant: Winged Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177
17. Pendant: Female Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179
18. Pendant: Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
19. Pendant: Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
20. Pendant: Female Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
21. Pendant: Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186
22. Pendant: Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
23. Pendant: Winged Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
24. Pendant: Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
25. Pendant: Female Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 194
26. Pendant: Female Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196
Animals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198

27. Roundel: Animal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
28. Plaque: Addorsed Sphinxes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
29. Pendant: Hippocamp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
30. Pendant: Cowrie Shell / Hare . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210
31. Pendant: Lion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 214
32. Pendant: Female Animal (Lioness?) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
Lions’ Heads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
33. Pendant: Lion’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223
34. Spout or Finial: Lion’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225
35. Pendant: Lion’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
36. Pendant: Lion’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
Boars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231
37. Pendant: Foreparts of a Recumbent Boar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
38. Plaque: Addorsed Lions’ Heads with Boar in Relief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
Rams’ Heads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 238
39. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243
40. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245
41. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 246
42. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247
43. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248
44. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
45. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250
46. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
47. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
48. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 254
49. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 255
50. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 256
51. Pendant: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257
52. Finial(?): Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258
53. Spout or Finial: Ram’s Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259

Other Animal Heads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 260
54. Pendant: Bovine Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261
55. Pendant: Horse’s Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 264
56. Pendant: Asinine Head in Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 268
Forgery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 270
57. Statuette: Seated Divinity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 271
Technical Essay: Analysis of Selected Ambers from the Collections of the J.
Paul Getty Museum—Jeff Maish,Herant Khanjian,and Michael R.
Schilling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 272
Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 286
About the Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297


Amber and the Ancient World
The J. Paul Getty Museum collection of amber antiquities The ambers were acquired by their donors on the
was formed between 1971 and 1984. Apart from the international art market. The loss of any artifact’s context
RomanHead of Medusa(figure 1), which Mr. Getty is immeasurable, and any attempt to discuss ambers
acquired as part of a larger purchase of antiquities in without their original context is, to borrow an analogy
1971, all the other ancient amber objects were acquired as from Thorkild Jacobsen, “not unlike entering the world of
gifts. The collection is made up primarily of pre-Roman poetry.” Poetry plays a part in locating the cultural
material, but also includes a small number of Roman- ambients in which the ambers of this catalogue once
period carvings, of which the Head of Medusa is the most performed. In addition to ancient literary sources, the
important. The pre-Roman material includes a variety of work here is examined via a large interdisciplinary
jewelry elements that date from the seventh to the fourth toolkit, including art history, archaeology, philology,
centuries B.C.: fifty-six figured works and approximately pharmacology, anthropology, ethnology, and the history of
twelve hundred nonfigured beads, fibulae, and pendants. medicine, religion, and magic.
This volume examines the fifty-six objects of pre-Roman At a critical moment in writing this introduction, I read
date representing humans, animals, and fantastic two of Roger Moorey’s final contributions, his 2001
creatures, plus a modern imitation. The Getty’s Schweich Lectures, published as Idols of the People:
nonfigured pre-Roman objects and the Roman works are Miniature Images of Clay in the Ancient Near East (2003),
not included in this catalogue. and his Catalogue of the Ancient Near Eastern Terracottas
in the Ashmolean (2004). Both were important to the final
shaping of my text. (It is from the latter publication that I
borrowed Jacobsen’s quotation.) Certain of Moorey’s
observations played critical roles; among them is his
cautionary note in the Catalogue: “Even if it may be
possible to identify who or what is represented, whether
it be natural or supernatural, that does not in itself
resolve the question of what activity the terracotta was
involved in.”1
Indeed, in what “activity” were these carved ambers
involved? This catalogue attempts to address this
question. Keeping in mind the challenges presented when
working with decontextualized artifacts, I make
comparisons to scientifically excavated parallels, to
documented works in museums, and, with extra care, to
unprovenanced material in other collections, public and
private. The evidence suggests that amber was dedicated
primarily to female divinities, and that most pre-Roman
Figure 1 Head of Medusa, Roman, 1st–2nd century A.D. Amber, H: 5.8 cm amber objects were buried with women and children.
(23⁄10 in.), W: 5.8 cm (23⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 71.AO.355. Individually and as a whole, the Getty Museum’s amber
objects are important witnesses to the larger social
picture of the people who valued the material.2

My interest was first sparked by the peculiar nature of the of other contemporary visual arts media. There are many
carved amber on display in the British Museum and by reasons for this lag, including the nature of the material itself.
Donald Strong’s masterful 1966 catalogue of the material.3 Only a small number of carved amber objects are on display in
Strong duly noted the magical aspects of the subjects of public collections; relatively few are published or even
Italian Iron Age ambers, and I took as a challenge one illustrated; and too few come from controlled contexts. Many
comment: “Many of the more enigmatic subjects among important works are in private collections and remain
these carvings probably have a meaning that is no longer unstudied. Moreover, under some burial conditions, and
clear to us.”4 because of its chemical and physical structure, amber often
suffers over time. Poorly conserved pieces are friable, difficult to
NOTES conserve and sometimes even to study; they can be handled
only with great care and therefore are notoriously difficult to
1. Moorey 2004, p. 9. photograph, illustrate, or display. Much more remains to be
learned about amber objects from a uniform application of
2. White 1992, p. 560: “We have seen in the ethnographic record scientific techniques, such as neutron activation analysis,
that material forms of representation are frequently about infrared spectrometry, isotope C12/C13 determination, and
political authority and social distinctions. Personal ornaments, pyrolysis mass spectrometry (PYMS), as recent research has
constructed of the rare, the sacred, the exotic, or the labor/skill demonstrated. For the various methods of analysis, see the
intensive, are universally employed, indeed essential to addendumto this catalogue by Jeff Maish, Herant Khanjian, and
distinguish people and peoples from each other.” White’s work Michael Schilling; also Barfod 2005; Langenheim 2003; Serpico
on Paleolithic technology, the origins of material representation 2000; Ross 1998; and Barfod 1996. C. W. Beck’s lifetime of work
in Europe, and the aesthetics of Paleolithic adornment have on amber is indicated in the bibliographies of these
informed this study more than any specific reference might publications.
indicate. Throughout his work, White underlines the variety, To date, only a very small percentage of pre-Roman ancient
richness, and interpretive complexity of the known corpus of objects have been analyzed. Several key projects specifically
prehistoric representations. It is through his work that I began related to the study of amber in pre-Roman Italy were
to understand the nonverbal aspects of adornment and to completed in recent years, including the cataloguing of amber
consider systems of personal ornamentation. See R. White, in the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris (D’Ercole 2008), and that in
“Systems of Personal Ornamentation in the Early Upper the National Museum, Belgrade, and in Serbia and Montenegro
Paleolithic: Methodological Challenges and New Observations,” (Palavestra and Krstić 2006). In addition, two recent exhibitions
in Rethinking the Human Revolution: New Behavioural and of amber from the Italian peninsula, the 2007 Ambre:
Biological Perspectives on the Origin and Dispersal of Modern
Humans, ed. P. Mellars et al. (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 287–302; Trasparenze dall’antico, in Naples, and the 2005 Magie d’ambra:
and R. White, Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind Amuleti et gioielli della Basilicata antica, in Potenza, have added
(New York, 2003), p. 58, where he cites the innovative G. H. much to the picture of amber consumption, especially for pre-
Luquet, L’art et la religion des hommes fossiles (Paris, 1926). In the Roman Italy. In 2002, Michael Schilling and Jeffrey Maish of the
2007 article, White publishes the earliest known amber pendant Getty Conservation Institute identified thirty-five ambers in the
(the amber is almost certainly from Pyrenean foreland sources), Getty collection as Baltic amber (see the addendum to this
from the Archaic Aurignacian level 4c6 at Isturitz, France. catalogue).
3. The watershed British Museum catalogue of carved amber by 4. Strong 1966, p. 11. Strong also comments: “Etruscan necklaces
Strong was published in 1966 (Strong 1966). Since that time, include a wide range of amulets of local and foreign derivation
there has been considerable research on amber in the ancient and the whole series of ‘Italic’ carvings consist largely of
world and related subjects, and a significant number of amber- pendants worn in life as charms and in death with some
specific studies have been published during the last several apotropaic purpose. The big necklaces combined several well-
years. These range in type from exhibition and collection known symbols of fertility, among them the ram’s head, the
catalogues, excavation reports, and in-depth studies of frog, and the cowrie shell. The bulla which is common in amber
individual works to broader sociocultural assessments. Still, was one of the best-known forms of amulet in ancient Italy.”
many finds and investigations (including excavation reports) (For the bulla, see n. 152.)
await publication, and the study of amber objects is behind that
Amber and the Ancient World 3

Jewelry: Never Just Jewelry
The fifty-six pre-Roman amber objects in this catalogue actions often lack, or carry messages too dangerous or
can be considered collectively as jewelry. However, in the controversial to put into words. In life, in funeral rituals,
ancient world, as now, jewelry was never just jewelry. and in the grave, the decoration of the body with amber
Today, throughout the world, jewelers, artisans, and jewelry and other body ornaments would have had a
merchants make or sell religious symbols, good-luck social function, solidifying a group’s belief systems and
charms, evil eyes, birthstones, tiaras, mourning pins, reiterating ideas about the afterworld. Perhaps more than
wedding rings, and wristwatches. Jewelry can signal any other aspect of the archaeological record, body
allegiance to another person, provide guidance, serve a ornamentation is a point of access into the social world of
talismanic function, ward away danger, or link the the past. Ethnographers see body ornamentation as
wearer to a system of orientation—as does a watch set to affirming the social construct and structure and, when
Greenwich Mean Time—or to ritual observances. worn by the political elite, as guaranteeing group beliefs.
Birthstones and zodiacal images can connect wearers to Interpretations of the meanings of body ornamentation
their planets and astrological signs. Certain items of imagery must consider how “artistic” languages work to
jewelry serve as official insignia: for example, the crown create expressive effects that are dependent upon the
jewels of a sovereign or the ring of the Pontifex Maximus. setting.
A cross or other religious symbol can demonstrate faith or
an aspect of belief. Not only goldsmiths make jewelry; so Jewelry is made to be worn; it is often bestowed or given
also do healers and other practitioners with varying levels as a gift at significant threshold dates; and it is regularly
of skill. In the West today, most jewelry is made for the imbued with or accrues sentimental or status value
living; in other parts of the world, objects of adornment because of the giver or a previous wearer or donor. In
may be particular to the rituals of death and intended as antiquity, jewelry also was given to the gods (figure 2).
permanent accompaniments for the deceased’s remains. Dedications might be made at the transition to
Much jewelry, especially if figured, belongs to a womanhood, following a successful birth, or in
phenomenology of images, and it functions in ritual ways. thanksgiving. Jewelry of gold, amber, ivory, or other
It is part of a social flow of information and can establish, precious materials might be placed on cult statues to form
modify, and comment on major social categories, such as part of the statue’s kosmos, or embellishment. In notable
age, sex, and status, since it has value, carries meaning, cases, such embellishment was later renewed and the old
and suggests communication within groups, regions, and material buried as deposits in sanctuaries.5
often larger geographical areas.
Underlying my discussion of ancient carved amber is the
belief that jewelry (adornment and body ornamentation)
is value-laden and that its form and material qualities (the
ancient use of rare and exotic materials reflects labor,
skill, and knowledge-intensive production) are powerful
indicators of social identity. Permanent ornaments can
endure beyond one human life and can connect their
wearers to ancestors, thus playing a crucial role in social
continuity—especially when we consider that such objects
are imbued with an optical authority that words and

object of adornment, too, are problematic. One of the more
accurate terms, amulet (figure 3), is also loaded, as it is
situated on a much-discussed crossroads among magic,
medicine, ritual, and religion. Amulet is a modern word,
derived from the Latin amuletum, used to describe a
powerful or protective personal object worn or carried on
the person. “Because of its shape, the material from which
it is made, or even just its color,” an amulet “is believed to
endow its wearer by magical means with certain powers
and capabilities.”7
Figure 2 Ring dedicated to Hera, Greek, ca. 575 B.C. Gilded silver, Diam.
(outer): 2.2 cm (7⁄8 in.), Diam. (inner): 1.8 cm (11⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul
Getty Museum,85.AM.264.
Jewelry is one of the most powerful and pervasive forms
in which humans construct and represent beliefs, values,
and social identity. When made by artists or artisans of
the highest skill, lifelike images can carry magical and
dynamic religious properties and can even be highly
charged ritual objects in their own right. Tiny carved
amber images buried with people considered to be
members of religious-political elites may well have played
such a role.
Figure 3 Amber necklaces and gold ornaments from the young girl’s Tomb
The nature and role of amber-workers—jewelers, 102, Braida di Serra di Vaglio, Italy, ca. 500 B.C. The sphinx pendant, the
pharmacists, priests, “wise women,” and magicians—are largest amber pendant, has H: 4.6 cm (13⁄4 in.), L: 8.3 cm (31⁄4 in.), W: 1.5 cm
(5⁄8 in.). Approximate total length of strings of amber: 240 cm (941⁄2 in.).
critical to reading body ornaments. Not only the materials Potenza, Museo Archeologico Nazionale “Dinu Adamesteanu.” By permission
and subjects, but also the technology of jewelry-making, of il Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali—Direzione Regionale per i
were integral to its effect. If the materials were precious Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Basilicata—Soprintendenza per i Beni
and the making mythic or magical, the results were Archeologici della Basilicata / IKONA.
appropriate for the elite, including the gods. The concept NOTES
of “maker” also includes supernatural entities, such as
magician-gods and other mythic artisans. In the Greek- 5. Paraphrased from D. Williams and J. Ogden, Greek Gold: Jewelry
speaking world, the Iliad describes Hephaistos at work in of the Classical World (London, 1994), pp. 31–32.
his marine grotto, making arms, armor, and jewelry:
elegant brooches, pins, bracelets, and necklaces. The god 6. Many figured ambers might have been brought to an ancient
crafted Harmonia’s necklace and Pandora’s crown. Greek-speaking viewer’s mind by the words daidalon, kosmos,
Daidalos put his hand to all sorts of creations and gave his andagalma,specifically the daidalon worn by Odysseus: a gold
name to one of the most famous of all Greek objects of brooch animated with the image of a hound holding a dappled
adornment: Odysseus’s brooch.6 fawn in its forepaws, the fawn struggling to flee (Odyssey
19.225–31). Sarah Morris first brought this example to my
This said, there is a problem with the language. The attention. See S. P. Morris, Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art
modern wordjewelryis, in the end, limiting and fails to (Princeton, 1992), esp. pp. 27–29. See also Steiner 2001, pp.
encompass the full significance of the carved ambers. The 20–21; and F. Frontisi-Ducroux, Dédale: Mythologie de l’artisan en
termsornamentandbody ornamentation,adornmentand Grèce ancienne (Paris, 2000).
Jewelry 5

What M. J. Bennett (Langdon 1993, pp. 78–80) writes about Galen, for example, sanctions the use of incantations by
Greek Geometric plate fibulae might be applicable to other doctors (Dickie 2001, p. 25, and passim).
contemporary and later precious figured ornaments in the Other works invaluable for framing this discussion of amulets
Greek-speaking world. Objects with complex imagery might and amber areThesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum, vol. 3,
reflect “the ordering of the world (kosmos).… Considering that s.v. “magic rituals”; R. Gordon, “Innovation and Authority in
kosmos meant ‘the universe,’ ‘order,’ ‘good behavior,’ as well Graeco-Egyptian Magic,” in Kykeon: Studies in Honour of H. S.
as ‘a piece of jewelry,’ the fibula was not a mere fashion Versnel, ed. H. F. J. Horstmannshoff et al. (Leiden, Boston, and
accessory, but rather a sophisticated ontological statement.” G. Cologne, 2002), pp. 69–112; S. Marchesini, “Magie in Etrurien in
F. Pinney, Figures of Speech: Men and Maidens in Ancient Greece orientalisierender Zeit,” in Prayon and Röllig 2000, pp. 305–13;
(Chicago, 2002), p. 53, with reference to Hesiod’s Theogony W. Rollig, “Aspekte zum Thema ‘Mythologie und Religion,’” in
581–84, writes: “The vocabulary of kosmos makes ample use of Prayon and Röllig 2000, pp. 302–4; Oxford Companion to
words for splendor and light: lampein, phaeinos, aglaos, Classical Civilization, ed. S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth
sigaloeis.” The point is glamour in the form of radiance, light (Oxford and New York, 1998), s.v. “magic” (H. S. Versnel), p.
emanating from shimmering cloth and gleaming metals. 441; P. Schäfer and H. G. Kippenberg, Envisioning Magic: A
Agalmaoccupied distinct but related semantic areas in Greek, Princeton Seminar and Symposium (Princeton, 1997); Meyer and
asKeesling 2003, p. 10, describes: “It could designate any Mirecki 1995; Pinch 1994, pp. 104–19; Andrews 1994; Wilkinson
pleasing ornament, or a pleasing ornament dedicated to the 1994; Ritner 1993; Faraone 1992; Faraone 1991; and esp.
gods. In the fifth century, Herodotus used agalma to refer Kotansky 1991; Gager 1992, pp. 218–42; H. Philipp, Mira et
specifically to statues, the agalmata par excellence displayed in magica: Gemmen im Ägyptischen Museum der Staatlichen
the sanctuaries of his time.” M. C. Stieber, The Poetics of Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin-Charlottenburg (Mainz, 1986);
Appearance in the Attic Korai (Austin, TX, 2004), is illuminating as Bonner 1950; and S. Seligman, Die magischen Heil- und
she probes agalma for the sculptures and their accoutrements Schutzmittel aus der unbelebten Natur mit besonderer
in her discussion of the kore as an agalma for the goddess and Berücksichtung der Mittel gegen den bösen Blick: Ein Geschichte
the korai as agalmata in and of themselves. She reminds us des Amulettwesens (Stuttgart, 1927). In Egypt, an amulet could
that the term is used of real women in literature (Helen of Troy at the very least, as Andrews 1994, p. 6, summarizes,
and Iphigenia in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon 7.41 and 208, afford some kind of magical protection, a concept confirmed
respectively). by the fact that three of the four Egyptian words translate as
7. Andrews 1994, p. 6. The literature on amulets, amuletic “amulet,” namely mkt (meket), nht (nehet) and s3 (sa) come
practice, magic, and ritual practice in the ancient world is vast. primarily from verbs meaning “to guard” or “to protect.” The
The termmagicis used here in its broadest and most positive fourth, wd3 (wedja), has the same sound as the word
sense. Although M. Dickie and others argue that magic did not meaning “well-being.” For the ancient Egyptian, amulets and
exist as a separate category of thought in Greece before the jewelry [that] incorporate amuletic forms were an essential
fifth century B.C., practices later subsumed under the term did, adornment, especially as part of the funerary equipment for
especially the use of amulets. The use of amulets implies a the dead, but also in the costume of the living. Moreover,
continuing relationship between the object and the wearer, many of the amulets and pieces of amuletic jewelry worn in
continuing enactment, and the role of at least one kind of life for their magical properties could be taken to the tomb
practitioner. Dickie 2001, p. 130, concludes that the existence for use in the life after death. Funerary amulets, however,
and wide use of amulets in Rome by the Late Republic “leads and prescribed funerary jewelry which was purely amuletic in
us back into a hidden world of experts in the rituals of the function, were made expressly for setting on the wrapped
manufacture and application of amulets, not to speak of those mummy on the day of the burial to provide aid and
who sold them.” Pliny uses three words to describe amber protection on the fraught journey to the Other world and
items used in medicine, protection, and healing: amuletum, ease in the Afterlife.
monile (for a necklace), and alligatum, when citing Callistratus. In the ancient Near East, the great variety of human problems
Greek terms for amulet include periamma and periapta. handled by recourse to amulets is already well documented in
Following Kotansky 1991, n. 5, I use amulet to encompass the the Early Dynastic period. See B. L. Goff, Symbols of Prehistoric
modern English talisman and also phylaktērion. The Greek Mesopotamia(New Haven and London, 1963), esp. chap. 9,
recipes in the Papyri Graecae Magicae use the latter term. “The Role of Amulets in Mesopotamian Ritual Texts,” pp.
In early Greece, as elsewhere earlier in the Mediterranean 162–211. The role of magic as described in Assyro-Babylonian
world, an amulet was applied in conjunction with an elite literature is relevant: magic was prescribed and overtly
incantation, as Kotansky (ibid.) describes. Incantations practiced for the benefit of king, court, and important
required the participation of skilled practitioners and receptive individuals; it was not marginal and clandestine; and only
participants. Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, lists amulets and noxious witchcraft was forbidden and prosecuted. See E.
incantations as among the techniques used to heal the sick, a Reiner, Astral Magic in Babylonia (Chicago, 1995).
tradition that continued at least into the Late Antique period.

Keeping in mind the cultural variants of death and burial rituals
in the places and periods under consideration here, there may
have been a considerable lag between death and the readying
of the corpse, including cremation, excarnation, or other
preparations before burial rituals. The production of
sumptuary and ritualistic objects suggests the existence of
specialists (religious-ceremonial or political-ceremonial) who
themselves may have used insignia associated with their
Jewelry 7

Amber Magic?
Whilemagicis probably the one word broad enough to of wear (figure 4). Unfortunately, we can only speculate as
describe the ancient use of amulets, the modern public to whether the ambers were actually possessions of the
finds the term difficult. As H. S. Versnel puts it, “One people with whom they were buried, how the objects
problem is that you cannot talk about magic without were acquired, and in which cultic or other activity they
using the term magic.”8 played a part. There is no written source until Pliny the
But even if it were possible to draw precise lines of Elder, around A.D. 79, to tell us how amber was used in
life (in a religious, medical, magical, or other context).13
demarcation between the ancient use of amber for Only a few fragments of information from early Christian
adornment and its role in healing, between its reputation sources add to the Roman picture. All evidence before
for warding off danger and its connection to certain Pliny is archaeological and extrapolated from earlier
divinities and cults, such categorizations would run sources—from Egypt, the Aegean, the ancient Near East,
counter to an understanding of amber in its wider and northern Europe. In Egypt, and to a lesser extent in
context. Amber’s beauty and rarity were evident to an the ancient Near East, much more is known about how
ancient observer, but its magnetic properties; distinctive, amuletic jewelry was produced, and by whom and for
glowing, sunlike color and liquid appearance; inclusions whom it was produced. In both regions, we find instances
and luster; and exotic origins were mysterious and awe- of amulets specifically designed for funerary use and of
inspiring. Amber’s fascination and associative value previously owned amulets continuing their usefulness in
prompted a wide range of overlapping uses.9 Pliny the
Elder, for instance, put together an impressive list of uses the tomb.
for amber, including as a medicine for throat problems
and as a charm for protecting babies.10 Diodorus Siculus
noted amber’s role in mourning rituals, and Pausanias
guided visitors to an amber statue of Augustus at
Olympia. The main sources of amber in antiquity were at
the edges of the known world, and those distant lands
generated further rich lore. Myths and realities of amber’s
nature and power influenced the desire to acquire it. As
the historian Joan Evans has observed, “Rarity,
strangeness, and beauty have in them an inexplicable
element and the inexplicable is always potentially
magical.”11 Beliefs about amber’s mysterious origins and
unique physical and optical properties affected the ways
it was used in antiquity and the forms and subjects into
which it was carved.12
Excavations during the last half century, especially in
Italy, have greatly improved our understanding of how
amber functioned in funerary contexts. The emerging Figure 4 Female Head in Profile pendant, Italic, 500–480 B.C. Amber, H: 4.4
picture is also enhancing our understanding of how cm (17⁄10 in.), W: 3.8 cm (11⁄2 in.), D: 1.6 cm (3⁄5 in). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
amber objects were used before their burial. A number of Museum, 77.AO.81.30. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 25.
amber pendants, including the Getty objects, show signs

We might also ask how amber pendants in the form of into the world of the living could serve a similar function
age-old subjects (goddesses [figure 5], animals, or solar in smoothing the transition into the afterworld, or world
and lunar symbols) relate to older traditions. In the of the dead. Many images allude to a journey (figure 6)
ancient Near East, Kim Benzel reminds us, symbolic that the deceased’s shade, or soul, takes after death, and
jewelry pendants signified emblematic forms of major these pieces are difficult to see as intended for the living:
deities from as early as the third millennium B.C.: these must have been gifts or commissions specifically for
the dead. The ambers that show wear do not indicate who
Symbols of divinities have a long tradition of used them. While there is no direct evidence as to
representation in various media throughout the whether the amulets found in burials were owned by the
ancient Near East. They were certainly meant to be deceased during their lives, it is tempting to assume that
apotropaic, but likely had far greater efficacy than the this could have been the case. Were they purchases, part
purely protective. An emblem was considered one of a dowry, heirlooms, or other kinds of gifts? Ambers
mode of presencing a deity.… The power embodied in were made, at some point, for someone, whether bought
[such] ornaments thus would have been analogous to on the open market or commissioned to order. Inscribed
the power embedded in a cult statue—which is Greek magical amulets (lamellae) “that had been
perhaps why in the later religions, along with idol commissioned for specific purposes (or most feared
worship, jewels were banned.14
dangers) came to represent for their wearer a multivalent
protection, a sine qua non for every activity in life. And in
the face of the liminal dangers of the afterlife passage …
this same amulet that had come to protect all aspects of
life would now be considered crucial in death, the
apotropaic token of the soul.”16
Figure 6 Ship with Figures pendant, Etruscan, 600–575 B.C. Amber, L: 12 cm
(47⁄10 in.), W: 3.5 cm (13⁄8 in.), D: 1 cm (3⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
Museum, 76.AO.76. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 7.
The wear on many objects is undeniable. Some amber
pendants are both worn and “old-fashioned” for the
context in which they were found, and they cause us to
remember that in antiquity there was a well-established
tradition of gift giving during life and at the grave.17
Figure 5 Addorsed Females pendant, Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H: 4.0 cm
(13⁄5 in.), W: 10.2 cm (4 in.), D: 1.3 cm (1⁄2 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Figured ambers, including those in the Getty collection,
Museum, 77.AO.81.1. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 3. may have been worn regularly in life for permanent
protection or benefit; others, on a temporary basis or in
The subjects of the Getty pre-Roman figured ambers vary, crises, such as childbirth, illness, or a dangerous journey.
but without exception, they incorporate a protective as Others may have been grave gifts or offerings to
well as a fertility or regenerative aspect.15 It is easy to see divinities, perhaps to propitiate underworld deities. In
that the same amulet that had helped to ensure safe entry
Amber Magic? 9

some cases, deceased girls may have been adorned as incorporate elements relating, for instance, to Dionysos or
brides—a common aspect of funerary ritual. Artemis, but as such, they occupy a hazy territory
between identifiable religious practices and what Einar
How these objects might have functioned in reference to Thomassen calls “the appropriation of ritual power for
clanship or other social identities, during either life or the personal ends.”18 The use of these amulets may have been
rituals surrounding death, should also be considered. dictated to some extent by skilled practitioners, but it is
Among certain populations, there might have been a likely that the original, specific use of a protective amulet
generally accepted role for amber, in the range of subjects often would have eroded into a more generalized
into which it was formed and/or the objects it portafortuna, or good-luck, role over time.19 The generally
embellished. Some subjects might have been pertinent to feared evil eye might have been warded off with any
clans or larger communities, in the way that shield amber amulet.20
emblazons might be. Some imagery might have been
special to family groups, who may have traced their Worked amber and amber jewelry were well in evidence
origins, names, or even good fortune to a particular deity, in northern Europe from the fourth millennium B.C.
animal, totem, or myth. If an elite person whose family’s onward. The earliest evidence for worked amber in Italy
founder was a divinity or Homeric hero was buried with a is from the Bronze Age. We do not know where the amber
ring with an engraved gem representing, say, Herakles found in graves dating to circa 1500 B.C. in Basilicata
(figure 7), Odysseus, or Athena, might the same have been (near Melfi and Matera) was carved. In the later Bronze
done with figured ambers? Age, Adriatic Frattesina, a typical emporium of the
protohistoric era, was a place of manufacture. Already by
this time, variety in style, subject, technique, and function
was evident. Some of these early ambers are the work of
highly skilled artisans; others are rudimentary in
manufacture and indicate work by other kinds of amber-
workers/amulet-makers, perhaps even priestesses,
physicians, or “wise women.” It is tempting to think of
multiple ritual specialists involved in amber-working and
amuletmaking, though perhaps in not so pronounced a
fashion as in contemporary Egypt—although there is
evidence for widespread amuletic usage in Italy even into
modern times. We might well envision a scenario that
includes simple gem cutters, sculptors, multiple ritual
specialists—from healers to hacks—those with fixed
locations in urban settings, and itinerants. Such a variety
of practitioners offering objects and ritual expertise is
likely, especially for amulets in a material as inherently
magical as amber.21
8. Reference from E. Thomassen, “Is Magic a Subclass of Ritual?”
in Jordan et al. 1999, pp. 55–66.
Figure 7 Engraved Scarab with Nike Crowning Herakles, Etruscan, 400–380 9. Strong 1966, pp. 10–11, considers the amuletic and the magical
B.C. Banded agate, H: 1.8 cm (3⁄4 in.), W: 1.4 cm (9⁄16 in.), D: 0.9 cm (3⁄8 in.). Los
Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 85.AN.123. aspects of amber separately from its medical uses. He
distinguishes between early Greek and later (presumably
Classical) Greek attitudes: “In early Greece the amuletic values
The extent to which some of these ornament-amulets had of amber seem to have been recognized.… But in the Greek
a role in established cult or folk religion is difficult to world generally the principal attraction of amber was its
ascertain, but it should not be either exaggerated or decorative qualities.” Strong also differentiates Italic Iron Age
denied. The diversity of subjects that appear in figured usage from the Greek: in that period, the “amber carvings …
amber over time suggests that the material was used underline the magical aspects of the use of amber.”
within many different symbol systems, but always for its Waarsenburg 1995, p. 456, successfully undertakes a religious
protective or regenerative aspects. Some pieces do interpretation in his study of the seventh-century B.C. Tomb VI

at Satricum, countering the “viewpoint that Oriental or n. 194 for further discussion of ducks in amber.) Such objects
Orientalising figurative amulets had only a very generic support the hypothesis that amber was traded with the south
apotropaic function in Italy … and [that] they would not have in both finished and unfinished forms. H. Hughes-Brock,
been understood by the native population. Related to this “Mycenaean Beads: Gender and Social Contexts,” Oxford
viewpoint is an explicit reluctance against any interpretation Journal of Archaeology 18, no. 3 (August 1999): 293, suggests,
which takes nonmaterial, sc. religious, aspects into account. “Some imports probably arrived with the specialist processes
Even the symbol of the nude female is frequently denied a already completed nearer the source, e.g., preliminary removal
specific meaning.” D’Ercole 1995, p. 268, n. 19, suggests that of the crust of Baltic amber.” Why not finished objects?
beliefs surrounding amber, other than fashion or taste, might 13. S. Eitrem, Opferritus und Voropfer der Griechen und Röme (1915;
explain the long-continuing repetition of subjects among repr., Hildesheim and New York, 1977), p. 194, discusses the
certain groups of figured ambers. Mastrocinque 1991, p. 78, n. amuletic virtues of amber in Rome.
247, notes the supranormal aspects of figured amber, drawing
attention to the relationship of the subject and the animating, 14. K. Benzel, in Beyond Babylon 2008, p. 25, with reference to pp.
electrical properties of amber. The amuletic, magical, or 350–52 in the same catalogue. Benzel cites J. Spacy, “Emblems
apotropaic properties of pre-Roman amber objects are noted in Rituals in the Old Babylonian Period,” in Ritual and Sacrifice in
by S. Bianco, A. Mastrocinque, A. Russo, and M. Tagliente in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the International Conference
Magie d’ambra 2005, passim; Haynes 2000, pp. 45, 100 ; A. Organized by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 17–20 April 1991,
Russo in Treasures 1998, p. 22 ; Bottini 1993, p. 65; Negroni Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 55, ed. J. Quaegebeur (Leuven,
Catacchio 1989, p. 659 (and elsewhere); Fuscagni 1982, p. 110; 1993), pp. 411–20; Z. Bahrani, “The Babylonian Visual Image,”
Hölbl 1979, vol. 1, pp. 229ff., who (as quoted by Waarsenburg in The Babylonian World, ed. G. Leick (New York and London,
1995) sees “all amulets [as having] had a similar, not exactly 2003), pp. 155–70; and Z. Bahrani, The Graven Image:
defined magic power; possibly they served against natural Representation in Babylonia and Assyria (Philadelphia, 2003), p.
dangers such as animal bites, or against supranatural dangers 127. See also H. Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12: A Commentary, trans.
such as the evil eye”; La Genière 1961; Richter 1940, pp. 86, 88; T. H. Trapp (1991; repr., Minneapolis, 2002).
andRE, vol. 3, part 1, esp. cols. 301–3, s.v. “Bernstein” (by
Blümner). For the Mycenaean period, see Bouzek 1993, p, 141, 15. Amber itself, and most of the subjects of figured amber, have
“who rightly insists first on the quasimagical properties of fertility aspects. Modern Westerners tend to discuss the fertility
amber (not just the prestige),” as A. Sherratt notes in “Electric and fecundity beliefs and rites of earlier peoples in the context
Gold: Reopening the Amber Route,” Archaeology 69 (1995): of an increase of humans, hunt animals, edible botanics,
200–203, his review of Beck and Bouzek 1993. Compare, agricultural products, and domesticated crops, which limits our
however, the more cautious opinion of Hughes-Brock 1985, p. understanding of fertility imagery, both its making and its use.
259: “Most amber is in ordinary bead form; since it is That fertility magic was used to control reproduction (via, e.g.,
consistently found alongside standard beads of other birth spacing) as well as spur procreation was first brought to
materials, we cannot prove that the Mycenaeans thought of it my attention by R. White (public lecture 1999). See White 2003
as having any special amuletic value.” (in n. 2, above), p. 58, where he cites G. H. Luquet, L’art néo-
calédonien: Documents recueillis par Marius Archambault (Paris,
10. Eichholz 1962 is the edition used throughout this text. 1926), and P. Ucko and A. Rosenfeld, Paleolithic Cave Art
11. J. Evans, Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, (London, 1967). Luquet was among the first to raise doubts
Particularly in England (Oxford, 1922), p. 13. about the idea that Paleolithic peoples were motivated to
increase human fecundity through magical acts. Ucko and
12. The subjects and forms of many pre-Roman figured ambers Rosenfeld were among the first to write that hunters and
have precedents thousands of years older. The earliest gatherers are generally more interested in limiting population
surviving animal and human subjects in amber from northern growth than in increasing it. Compare the discussion by J.
Europe are dated to the eighth millennium; see, for example, Assante, “From Whores to Hierodules,” in Ancient Art and Its
M. Iršenas, “Stone Age Figurines from the Baltic Area,” in Historiography, ed. A. A. Donohue and M. D. Fullerton
Proceedings of the International Interdisciplinary Conference: (Cambridge, 2003), p. 26, where she contrasts “Yahweh’s
Baltic Amber in the Natural Sciences, Archaeology and Applied Art, command to be fruitful and multiply, and the Bible’s emphasis
ed. A. Butrimas (Vilnius, 2001), pp. 77–86; M. Ots, “Stone Age on progeny in general,” with the Mesopotamian “gods of
Amber Finds in Estonia,” in Beck et al. 2003, pp. 96–107; M. prebiblical flood myths who did not destroy mankind because
Irinas, “Elk Figurines in the Stone Age Art of the Baltic Area,” in they sinned but because they overpopulated and made too
Prehistoric Art in the Baltic Region, ed. A. Butrimas (Vilnius, much noise.” Assante cites A. Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian
2000), pp. 93–105; and I. Loze, “Prehistoric Amber Ornaments Concept of Overpopulation and Its Solution as Reflected in the
in the Baltic Region,” in Baltica 2000, pp. 18–19. An amber duck Mythology,” Orientalia, n.s., 41 (1972): 160–77.
found in a Danish Paleolithic context of 6800–4000 B.C. is the 16. D. Frankfurter, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1995.04.12 (review of
earliest example of a pendant type popular in Greece and Italy Kotansky 1994).
in the seventh century B.C. and first known in the eighth. (See
Amber Magic? 11

17. The literature on gifts and gift giving in the ancient world is 18. Thomassen 1999 (n. 8, above), p. 65.
extensive. Although previous ownership of excavated objects is 19. CompareFaraone 1992, p. 37: “There is a tendency for all
ordinarily difficult to establish, two Etruscan finds and one protective images, regardless of their ‘original’ purpose or the
Etrusco-Campanian find might be seen as exempla of specific crisis that led to their manufacture, to assume a wider
presentation, parting, and exchange articulated around and wider role in the protection of a place, until they achieve a
banquets. Were these items exchanged among guests/friends? status as some vague ‘all-purpose’ phylactery against any and
Were they components of a dowry or bride wealth, ransom or all forms of evil.”
prizes, or funerary tributes? Haynes 2000, p. 69, cites the silver
vessels deposited circa 660 B.C. with an aristocratic lady in the 20. Seen. 152.
Regolini-Galassi Tomb at Cerveteri, inscribed with a male name
in the genitive, and suggests that these luxury objects were the 21. The scenario of multiple ritual specialists recorded by the
property of her husband. The seventh-century gold fibula, with tenth-century A.D. compiler Ibn al-Nadim, who pronounced
its inscription in granulation, from Casteluccio-La Foce (Siena), Egypt “the Babylon of the magicians,” might provide a later
in the Louvre (Bj 816), is a gift-ornament that recalls the fibulae model for pragmatic ritual expertise at all levels and the range
of the peplos offered to Penelope (Odyssey 18.292–95). For the of activities of itinerant artisans and healers in pre-Roman Italy.
Louvre pin, see Cristofani, in Cristofani and Martelli 1983, no. He records, “A person who has seen this state of affairs has
103; and Haynes 2000, p. 6809, fig. 47. The inscription on an told me that there still remain men and women magicians and
Etrusco-Campanian bronzelebesfound in Tomb 106 at Braida that all of the exorcists and magicians assert that they have
di Vaglio, which belonged to a woman of about sixty (the tomb seals, charms of paper … and other things used for their arts”:
also included two amber figured pendants, a satyr’s head and Ibn al-Nadim, Kitāb al-Fihrist, trans. Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of
a Cypriote-type Herakles), is another important example; for al-Nadim: A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture (New York,
the inscription, see M. Torelli with L. Agostiniani, in Bottini and 1970), p. 726 (quoted in D. Frankfurter, “Ritual Expertise in
Setari 2003, p. 63, and appendix I, pp. 113–17. These Roman Egypt and the Problem of the Category ‘Magician,’” in
inscriptions are further evidence of networked elites taking Envisioning Magic: A Princeton Seminar and Symposium, ed. P.
advantage of their literacy. Schäfer and H. G. Kippenberg [Princeton, 1997], p. 30).

What Is Amber?
Figure 8 Sources of amber in the ancient world. Map by David Fuller.
It is important to say that amber is much studied but still It is clear that the amber is not derived from the
not fully understood. The problems begin with the names modern species of Pinus, but there are mixed signals
by which the material is known: amber, Baltic amber, from suggestions of either an araucarian Agathis-like
fossil resin, succinite, and resinite. Although all these or a pinaceous Pseudolarix-like resin producing
terms have been used to describe the material discussed tree.… Although the evidence appears to lean more
in this catalogue, they have confused as much as they toward a pinaceous source, an extinct ancestral tree
have clarified. It is generally accepted that amber is is probably the only solution.23
derived from resin-bearing trees that once clustered in
dense, now extinct forests.22 Despite decades of study, Geologically, amber has been documented throughout the
there is no definite conclusion about the botanical source world (figure 8), with most deposits found in Tertiary-
of the vast deposits of Baltic amber, as Jean H. period sediments dating to the Eocene, a few to the
Langenheim recently summarized in her compendium on Oligocene and Miocene, and fewer still to later in the
plant resins: Tertiary. Amber is formed from resin exuded from tree
bark (figure 9), although it is also produced in the
heartwood. Resin protects trees by blocking gaps in the

bark. Once resin covers a gash or break caused by
chewing insects, it hardens and forms a seal. Resin’s
antiseptic properties protect the tree from disease, and its
stickiness can gum up the jaws of gnawing and burrowing
insects.24 In the primordial “amber forest,” resin oozed
down trunks and branches and formed into blobs, sheets,
and stalactites, sometimes dripping onto the forest floor.
On some trees, exuded resin flowed over previous flows,
creating layers. The sticky substance collected detritus
and soil and sometimes entrapped flying and crawling
creatures (figure 10). Eventually, after the trees fell, the
resin-coated logs were carried by rivers and tides to deltas
in coastal regions, where they were buried over time in
sedimentary deposits. Most amber did not originate in the
place where it was found; often, it was deposited and
found at a distance from where the resin-producing trees Figure 10 Damselfly in Dominican amber, L: 4.6 cm (14⁄ in.). Private
grew. Most known accumulations of amber are collection. Photo: D. Grimaldi / American Museum of Natural History.
redepositions, the result of geological activity.25
Chemically, the resin that became amber originally
contained liquids (volatiles) such as oils, acids, and
alcohols, including aromatic compounds (terpenes) that
produce amber’s distinctive resinous smell.26 Over time,
the liquids dissipated and evaporated from the resin,
which began to harden as the organic molecules joined to
form much larger ones called polymers. Under the right
conditions, the hardened resin continued to polymerize
and lose volatiles, eventually forming amber, an inert
solid that, when completely polymerized, has no
volatiles.27 Most important, the resins that became amber
were buried in virtually oxygen-free sediments.
How long does it take for buried resin to become amber?
The amberization process is a continuum extending from
freshly hardened resins to rocklike ones, and, as David
Grimaldi points out, “No single feature identifies at what
age along that continuum the substance becomes
amber.”28Langenheim explains: “With increasing age, the
maturity of any given resin will increase, but the rate at
which it occurs depends on the prevailing geologic
conditions as well as the composition of the resin.…
Changes appear to be a response primarily to geothermal
stress since chemical change in the resin accelerates at
higher temperatures.”29
While some experts maintain that only material that is
several million years old or older is sufficiently cross-
Figure 9 Amber formed on trees. In Tractatus De lapidus, Ortus sanitatis linked and polymerized to be classified as amber, others
(Mainz: Jacob Meydenbach, June 23, 1491), sequence 776. Folio: 30.2 x 20.6 cm opt for a date as recent as forty thousand years before the
(117⁄ x 81⁄ in.). Handcolored woodcut. Courtesy of the Boston Medical 30
8 8 present. Much depends on the soil conditions of the
Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. resin’s burial. In its final form, amber is much more stable
than the original substance. Amber is organic, like
petrified wood or dinosaur bones, but, unlike those
substances, it retains its chemical composition over time,

and that is why some experts resist calling it a fossil resin NOTES
(a nevertheless useful term).31 Amber can also preserve
plant matter (figure 11), bacteria, fungi, worms, snails, 22. Recent sources consulted include E. Trevisani, “Che cosa è
insects, spiders, and (more rarely) small vertebrates. l’ambra,” in Magie d’ambra 2005, pp. 14–17; E. Ragazzi, L’ambra,
Some pieces of amber contain water droplets and farmaco solare: Gli usi nella medicina del passato (Padua, 2005);
bubbles, products of the chemical breakdown of organic Langenheim 2003;Weitshaft and Wichard 2002; Pontin and Celi
matter. It is not entirely understood how resins preserve 2000; Poinar and Poinar 1999; Ross 1998; Bernstein 1996;
Grimaldi 1996; Å. Dahlström and L. Brost, The Amber Book
organic matter, but presumably the chemical features of (Tucson, AZ, 1996); Anderson and Crelling 1995; B. Kosmowska-
amber that preserve it over millennia also preserve flora Ceranowicz and T. Konart, Tajemnice bursztynu (Secrets of
and fauna inside it.32 It must be that amber’s “amazing Amber)(Warsaw, 1989); Beck and Bouzek 1993; and J. Barfod, F.
life-like fidelity of preservation … occurs through rapid Jacobs, and S. Ritzkowski, Bernstein: Schätze in Niedersachsen
and thorough fixation and inert dehydration as well as (Seelze, 1989). The late C. W. Beck’s lifetime of work on amber
other natural embalming properties of the resin that are analysis is critical to any study of the material.
still not understood.”33 The highly complex process that
results in amber formation gave rise to a wealth of 23. Langenheim 2003, p. 169.
speculation about its nature and origins. Whence came a 24. Ross 1998, p. 2.
substance that carried within it the flora and fauna of 25. Nicholson and Shaw 2000, p. 451, with reference to Beck and
another place and time, one with traces of the earth and Shennan 1991, pp. 16–17.
sea, one that seemed even to hold the light of the sun?
26. Ross 1998, p. 3: “The polymers are cyclic hydrocarbons called
terpenes.… Amber generally consists of around 79% carbon,
10% hydrogen, and 11% oxygen, with a trace of sulphur.”
27. Ross 1998, p. 3.
28. Grimaldi 1996, p. 16.
29. Langenheim 2003, pp. 144–45.
30. Langenheim 2003, p. 146, following Anderson and Crelling
31. Ross 1998, p. 3, in describing the amberization process, points
to the critical element of the kinds of sediments in which the
resin was deposited: “but what is not so clear is the effect of
water and sediment chemistry on the resin.” In the ancient
world, amber does not seem to have been considered a fossil
like other records of preserved life—petrified wood, skeletal
material, and creatures in limestone. See A. Mayor, The First
Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times
(Princeton, 2000).
32. Ross 1998, p. 12.
33. Langenheim 2003, p. 150.
Figure 11 Cone in Baltic amber, L: 15.2 cm (6 in.). Private collection. Photo: D.
Grimaldi / American Museum of Natural History.
What Is Amber? 15

Where Is Amber Found?
Deposits of amber occur throughout both the Old and the
New Worlds, and many varieties are recognized. Of the
many kinds of amber found in the Old World, the most
plentiful today, as in antiquity, is Baltic amber (figure 12),
or succinite (so called because it has a high concentration
of succinic acid). This early Tertiary (Upper Eocene–Lower
Oligocene) amber comes mainly from around the shores
of the Baltic Sea, from today’s Lithuania, Latvia, Russia
(Kaliningrad), Poland, southern Sweden, northern
Germany, and Denmark. The richest deposits are on and
around the Samland peninsula, a large, fan-shaped area
that corresponds to the delta region of a river that once
drained an ancient landmass that geologists call
Fennoscandia. This ancient continent now lies beneath
the Baltic Sea and the surrounding land. Although this
area has the largest concentration of amber in the world,
it is a secondary deposition. Amazingly, the fossil resin
“was apparently eroded from marine sediments near sea
level, carried ashore during storms, and subsequently
carried by water and glaciers to secondary deposits across Figure 12 Baltic amber, L: 2.2 cm (7⁄8 in.). Private collection. Photograph ©
much of northern and eastern Europe” over a period of Lee B. Ewing.
approximately twenty million years.34 In antiquity, most
amber from the Baltic shore was harvested from shallow Other kinds of amber used by ancient Mediterranean
waters and beaches where it had washed up (once again, peoples have been identified with sources in today’s
Sicily,36 Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.37 In addition to
millennia later), especially during autumn storms that
agitated the seabeds. It was only in the early modern northern European sources, ancient accounts mention
amber from Liguria, Scythia,38 Syria, India, Ethiopia, and
period that amber began to be mined. With the
introduction of industrial techniques, huge amounts have Numidia. However, of the varieties used in antiquity and
been extracted since the nineteenth century. It is known today, only succinite, or Baltic amber, is found in
estimated that up to a million pounds of amber a year was the large, relatively sturdy, jewelry-grade pieces such as
dug from the blue earth layer of the Samland peninsula in were used for the sizable objects of antiquity, like the pre-
the first decades of the twentieth century.35 Roman pendants of this catalogue, or for the complex
carvings, vessels, and containers of Roman date. Small
pieces of amber and the wastage of larger compositions
could have been used for tiny carvings and other
purposes. Non-jewelry-grade amber would also have been
employed in inlay, incense and perfume, pharmaceuticals,
and varnish, as is still the case in the modern period.
Burmite (found in Burma, now Myanmar) and some
amber from China, types also found in large, high-grade

pieces, have long histories of artistic and other uses in Anthropological Association 1 (1907): 3. On amber from
Asia.39 Myanmar, seeLangenheim 2003, p. 279: “Amber was collected
from shallow mines in the Nagtoimow Hills in northern Burma
NOTES and the major portion was sent to trade centers such as
Mandalay and Mogaung … and then brought by traders to
34. Langenheim 2003, p. 164. Yunnan province in China where it was used by Chinese
craftsmen from as early as the first Han dynasty (206 B.C. to
35. For the modern mining of Baltic amber, see the overview in A.D. 8).” Langenheim draws from H. L. Chibber, The Mineral
Rice 2006, chap. 3. Resources of Burma (London, 1934). See also D. A. Grimaldi, M.
36. On Sicilian amber, see Trevisani in Magie d’ambra 2005, p. 16; S. Engel, and P. C. Nascimbene, “Fossiliferous Cretaceous
Schwarzenberg 2002;Grimaldi 1996, p. 42; C. W. Beck and H. Amber from Myanmar (Burma): Its Rediscovery, Biotic
Harnett, “Sicilian Amber,” in Beck and Bouzek 1993, pp. 36–47; Diversity, and Paleontological Significance,” Novitates 3361
Strong 1966, pp. 1–2, 4; and Buffum 1900. Pliny and the sources (March 26, 2002): 1–7; V. V. Zherikhin and A. J. Ross, “A Review
he consulted, including Theophrastus, discuss amber from of the History, Geology, and Age of Burmese Amber
Liguria. Ligurian deposits may indeed have been known in (Burmite),” Geology Bulletin 56, no. 1 (2000): 1–3; V. V. Zherikhin
antiquity. Larger deposits may have been exhausted in and A. J. Ross, “The History, Geology, Age and Fauna (Mainly
antiquity. The ancient boundaries of Liguria include areas Insects) of Burmese Amber, Myanmar,” in Bulletin of the
where non-jewelry-grade amber is known, as Trevisani maps. If Natural History Museum, ed. A. J. Ross (London, 2000); Ross
it was dug up rather than originating in an oceanic or riverine 1998, p. 15; Bernstein 1996; Grimaldi 1996, pp. 40–42, 194–208;
source, it may not have had the same value. Moreover, the and S. S. Savkevich and T. N. Sokolova, “Amber-like Fossil
proximity of the material to its consumption point might have Resins of Asia and the Problems of Their Identification in
undermined its value. See n. 110 for more on amber’s value. Archaeological Contexts,” in Beck and Bouzek 1993, pp. 48–50.
In the annals of the Han and later dynasties, amber is
37. In addition to the sources listed in n. 36, above, see J. M. Todd, mentioned repeatedly as one of the notable products of
“The Continuity of Amber Artifacts in Ancient Palestine: From Roman Syria; see F. Hirth, China and the Roman Orient:
the Bronze Age to the Byzantine,” in Beck and Bouzek 1993, pp. Researches into Their Ancient and Mediaeval Relations as
236–46, and J. M. Todd, “Baltic Amber in the Ancient Near East: Represented in Old Chinese Records (Shanghai and Hong Kong,
A Preliminary Investigation,” Journal of Baltic Studies 16, no. 3 1885), pp. 35–96.
(1985): 292–302. On Lebanese amber, see G. O. Poinar, Jr., and Pliny (Natural History 37.11) cites authors who attest to amber
R. Milki, Lebanese Amber: The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized from Syria and India as well as to other sources east and south
Resin (Corvallis, OR, 2001), p. 15, who describe a few fist-sized of Italy. Poinar and Milki, 2001 (n. 37, above), p. 77, suggest
pieces of “quite durable” Lebanese amber found in modern that many “nineteenth and twentieth century reports of amber
times, although generally Lebanese amber is collected in small, finds in western Syria probably referred to localities within the
highly fractured pieces less than a centimeter in diameter. See confines of present-day Lebanon, since the latter had been a
also Grimaldi 1996, pp. 35–36. republic within the borders of Syria for a number of years.” For
38. On Scythian amber, see E. H. G. Minns, Greeks and Scythians: A amber from the ancient Near East, see M. Heltzer, “On the
Survey of Ancient History and Archaeology on the North Coast of Origin of the Near Eastern Archaeological Amber,” in
the Euxine from the Danube to the Caucasus (1913; repr., New Languages and Cultures in Contact, Orientalia Lovaniensia
York, 1971), pp. 7, 440, with reference to Pliny, Natural History Analecta 96, ed. K. van Lerberghe and G. Voet (Leuven, 1999),
33.161, 37.33, 37.40, 37.64, 37.65, and 37.119. pp. 169–76; S. M. Chiodi, “L’ambra nei testi mesopotamici,”
Protostoria e storia del ‘Venetorum Angulus’: Atti del XX Convegno
39. The geological source of Ming- and Ching-dynasty amber di studi etruschi ed italici, Portogruaro, Quarto d’Altino, Este, Adria,
carvings is not assured. The amber might have come from 16–19 ottobre 1996 (Pisa and Rome, 1999); and J. Oppert,
Myanmar (Burma) or possibly from European, “Syrian,” or “L’Ambre jaune chez les Assyriens,” Recueil de travaux relatifs à
Chinese sources. “China does have some large natural deposits la philologie et à l’archéologie à égyptiennes et assyriennes 21
of amber in Fushun, but these appear not to have been (1880): 331ff.
exploited” (Grimaldi 1996, p. 194). See also B. Laufer,
“Historical Jottings on Amber in Asia,” Memoirs of the American
Where Is Amber Found? 17

The Properties of Amber
Amber is a light material, with a specific gravity ranging
from 1.04 to 1.10, only slightly heavier than that of water
(1.00). Amber may be transparent or cloudy, depending on
the presence and number of air bubbles (figure 13). It
frequently contains large numbers of microscopic air
bubbles, allowing it to float and to be easily carried by
rivers or the sea. White opaque Baltic amber may contain
as many as 900,000 minuscule air bubbles per square
millimeter and floats in fresh water. Clear Baltic amber
sinks in fresh water but is buoyant in saltwater. Baltic
amber has some distinguishing characteristics rarely
found in other types of amber: it commonly contains tiny
hairs that probably came from the male flowers of oak
trees, and tiny pyrite crystals often fill cracks and
inclusions. Another feature found in Baltic amber is the
white coating partly surrounding some insect inclusions,
formed from liquids that escaped from the decaying
Figure 13 Extinct termite, Mastotermes electrodominicus, in Dominican
amber, L: 4.6 cm (14⁄5 in.). Photo: D. Grimaldi / American Museum of Natural
Amber’s hardness varies from 2 to 3 on the Mohs scale
(talc is 1 and diamond 10). This relative softness means
that amber is easily worked. It has a melting-point range
of 200 to 380°C, but it tends to burn rather than melt.
Amber is amorphous in structure and, if broken, can
produce a conchoidal, or shell-like, fracture. It is a poor
conductor and thus feels warm to the touch in the cold,
and cool in the heat. When friction is applied, amber
becomes negatively charged and attracts lightweight

particles such as pieces of straw, fluff, or dried leaves. Its clear yellow to clear orange or red to opaque yellows,
ability to produce static electricity has fascinated oranges, reds, and tans. Inclusions are common.
observers from the earliest times. Amber’s magnetic
property gave rise to the word electricity: amber (Greek,
elektron) was used in the earliest experiments on
electricity.41 Amber’s natural properties inspired myth
and legend and dictated its usage.
In antiquity, before the development of colorless clear
glass that relies on a complex technique perfected in the
Hellenistic period, the known clear materials were
natural ones: water and some other liquids; ice; boiled
honey and some oils; rock crystal; some precious stones;
and amber.42Transparent amber is a natural magnifier,
and, when formed into a regularly curved surface and
given a high polish, it can act as a lens.43 A clear piece of
Figure 14 Two typical pieces of Baltic amber. Pale yellow amber was
amber with a convex surface can concentrate the sun’s preferred by the ancient Greeks and Etruscans. Opaque orange amber was
rays. One ancient source suggests that such polished especially fashionable in Imperial Rome. L (orange amber): 9 cm (31⁄2 in.). L
ambers were used as burning lenses. (yellow amber): 5 cm (2 in.). Private collection. Photograph © Lee B. Ewing.
Once amber is cleaned of its outer layers and exposed to
air, its appearance—its color, degree of transparency, and
surface texture—eventually will change. As a result of the
action of oxygen upon the organic material, amber will
darken: a clear piece will become yellow; a honey-colored
piece will become red, orange-red, or red-brown, and the
surface progressively will become more opaque (figure
14).44 Oxidation commences quite quickly and starts at
the surface, which is why some amber may appear
opaque or dark on its surface and translucent at breaks or
when subjected to transmitted light. However, the
progress of oxidation is variable and depends on the time
of exposure and other factors, such as the amount and
duration of exposure to light. In archaeologically Figure 15 Female Head Pendants, from Tomb 740 B, Valle Pega, Spina, a
recovered amber, the state of the material is dependent tomb dating to the end of the 5th century B.C. Amber, H: 4.8 cm (17⁄8 in.), W:
upon burial conditions, and the degree of oxidation can 2.8 cm (11⁄8 in.), D: 1.2 cm (1⁄2 in.) and H: 4.5 cm (13⁄4 in.), W: 2.8 cm (11⁄8 in.), D:
vary widely, as the Getty collection reveals. The 1.4 cm (1⁄2 in.). Ferrara, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 44877 and 44878.
breakdown of the cortex causes cracking, fissuring, Ferrara, Museo Archeologico Nazionale / IKONA.
flaking, chipping, and, eventually, fractures. Only a very
few ancient pieces retain something of their original
appearance, in each case because of the oxygen-free
environment in which it was buried. For instance, two
fifth-century B.C. female head pendants that were
excavated at waterlogged Spina are remarkable for their
clear, pale yellow color (figure 15).45 A large group of
seventh-century B.C. amber-embellished objects from the
cemeteries of Podere Lippi and Moroni-Semprini in
Verucchio (Romagna) were preserved along with other
perishable objects by the stable anaerobic conditions of
the Verucchio tombs, which had been sealed with a
mixture of water and clay (figure 16).46 Various colors Figure 16 Earrings, from Tomb 23, Podere Lippi, Verucchio. First half of the
and degrees of transparency are in evidence, from pale, 7th century B.C. Amber and gold, Diam. (amber, max): 6 cm (23⁄8 in.).
Verucchio, Museo Civico Archeologico, 8410-850. Verucchio, Museo Civico
Archeologico / IKONA.
Properties of Amber 19

Many pre-Roman figured ambers exploit the material’s like the principal astral bodies, or to capture the shimmer
transparency, offering the possibility of reading through of light on water.51
the composition: the back is visible from the front and
vice versa, albeit blurrily. This is a remarkable artistic
conception, iconographically powerful and magical. Two
extraordinary examples are the Getty Lion (see figure 54)
and the British Museum Satyr and Maenad (figure 17).47
From its top, the underside of the lion can be discerned.
In the multigroup composition of the London amber, the
large snake on the reverse appears to join in reveling with
the figures on the front.
Figure 18 Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx pendant, Etruscan, 550–525
B.C. Amber, H: 3.2 cm (11⁄4 in.), W: 2.6 cm (1 in.), D (face): 1.2 cm (2⁄5 in.), D
(back): 0.5 cm (1⁄5 in.), D (joined): 1.7 cm (7⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
Museum, 76.AO.85.1 and 76.AO.86. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 10.
40. Ross 1998, p. 11.
41. For the basic properties of amber, see Ross 1998, p. 4. The
Figure 17 Satyr and Maenad pendant, Etruscan or Etrusco-Campanian, late wordelectricity was coined by W. Gilbert, a physician at the
6th century B.C. Amber, H: 17.3 cm (64⁄5 in.), W: 9.5 cm (33⁄4 in.), D: 4.5 cm (13⁄4 court of Queen Elizabeth I, to describe this property in his 1600
in.). London, British Museum, 1865,0103.46. © The Trustees of the British bookOn the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies and That Great Magnet the
Museum. Earth.
A number of seventh-century Greek, Etruscan, and The early Greek philosopher Thales of Miletos is credited by
Campanian objects include amber set into precious metal Diogenes Laertius as the first to recognize amber’s
mounts or backed with silver or gold foil.48 Some are magnetism: “Arguing from the magnet and from amber, he
internally lit by foil (or possibly tin) tubes. Amber’s glow, attributed a soul or life even to inanimate objects” (Diogenes
Laertius 1.24, vol. 1, ed. and trans. R. D. Hicks, Loeb Classical
its brilliance and shine, would be immeasurably Library 184 [London, 1993]). E. R. Caley and J. C. Richards,
enhanced in this way.49 Simply shaped amber pieces set Theophrastus on Stones (Columbus, 1956), p. 117, argue that
into gold and silver are mirrorlike, emanating radiance this claim rests on shaky ground; that Thales was the first to
and banishing darkness.50 Amber faces once mounted on mention the property can be inferred only indirectly from
polished metal, the Getty Heads of a Female Divinity or Diogenes Laertius’s statement: “Aristotle and Hippias say that,
Sphinx(figures 18 and 45) might even seem to issue light, judging by the behaviour of the lodestone and amber, he also
attributed souls to lifeless things.” Caley and Richards consider

the possibility “that it was Hippias who said that Thales techniques necessary to make a clear magnifying or burning
understood the attractive property of amber, but there is no lens from amber apparently were available by the first century
way of confirming such an inference because the works of A.D. The carving and polishing tools and technology were age-
Hippias are not extant.” Plato (Timaeus 80c) alludes to amber’s old, and as for the clarification process, Pliny relates a
magnetism but denies that it is a real power of attraction. technique for “dressing” amber by boiling it in the fat of a
Aristotle does not mention amber in the relevant section of On suckling pig, a necessary step in making imitation transparent
the Soul (De Anima 1.2.405A). Thus, following Caley and gemstones from amber, which Pliny also describes. A section
Richards, Theophrastus is the earliest extant account. If Thales of an entry (Hualê) in the Byzantine Suda may not refer to a
did describe amber’s static electricity, he may have done so glass lens, but rather to an amber one: “[A glass] is a round-
based on his observation of wool production, which used shaped device of amber glass, contrived for the following
amber implements: distaff, spindle, and whorls. I owe this purpose: when they have soaked it in oil and heated it in the
observation to Schwarzenberg 2002, who calls attention not sun they introduce a wick and kindle [fire]. So the old man is
only to the famous wool of Miletos, but also to the number of saying, in conversation with Socrates: if I were to start a fire
extant seventh-century spinning tools. Pliny notes that Syrian with the amber and introduce fire to the tablet of the letter, I
women used amber whorls in weaving and that amber picks could make the letters of the lawsuit disappear.” See “Ὑάλη,”
up the “fringes of garments,” and also comments on amber’s trans. David Whitehead, March 19, 2006, Suda On Line,
electrostatic property. But, unlike Plato, he thinks its magnetic (accessed November 27,
property is like that of iron. Plutarch (Platonic Questions 7.7) 2009).
explains that “the hot exhalation released by rubbing amber Processed (boiled, molded, and then ground) amber lenses are
acts in the same ways as the emanations from the magnet. described by the end of the seventeenth century. In 1691, C.
That is, it displaces air, forming a vacuum in front of the Porshin of Königsberg invented an amber burning glass, which
attracted object and driving air to the rear of it”: De Lapidibus, was said to be better than the glass kind; he also used amber
ed. and trans. D. E. Eichholz (Oxford, 1965), p. 200, n.b. to make spectacles. See O. Faber, L. B. Frandsen, and M. Ploug,
42. Clear colorless glass (with antimony used as the decolorizing Amber(Copenhagen, 2000), p. 101. For illustrations of amber
agent) is documented in the eighth century B.C. in western lenses of the early modern period, see Bernstein 1996.
Asia and again in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in Greece. 44. SeeRoss 1998, pp. 18–19; and Strong 1966, p. 14 (with
In Egypt, the use of manganese as a decolorizing agent reference to M. Bauer, Precious Stones [London, 1904], p. 537).
became common in the first century B.C.; see E. M. Stern and
B. Schlick-Nolte, Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 B.C.–A.D. 45. Ferrara, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 44877–78, from Tomb
50: Ernesto Wolf Collection (Ostfildern, Germany, 1994), p. 20. 740 B at Spina: C. C. Cassai, “Ornamenti femminile nelle tombe
43. For an excellent overview of lenses and their ancient di Spina,” in Due donne 1993, pp. 42–47; Spina: Storia di una città
employment, seePlantzos 1999, pp. 39–41, 110; and Plantzos tra greci e etruschi, exh. cat. (Ferrara, 1993); and Negroni
1997, pp. 451–64. According to Plantzos 1999, p. 41, “The Catacchio 1989, fig. 470.
discovery of crystals that could have served as magnifying 46. For splendid photographs of the Verucchio material, see
lenses has been reported from Bronze Age sites, and although Verucchio 1994.
no similar objects can be dated to the Hellenistic period, some
exist from Roman contexts.” He also points out that 47. Strong 1966, pp. 61–62, pl. XV.
“developments in optics already in the Classical period suggest 48. SeePlantzos 1999, p. 41, on the importance of color to ancient
the possibility of magnifying lenses.” Various ancient authors gemologists; he remarks that the “contrast of the translucent
describe the magnification of objects: Aristotle (Posterior stone against the golden background of the ring was thought
Analytics 1.31) and Theophrastus (On Fire 73) observe “that to be a merit of the jewel.” “A gold tube lining the perforation
convex pieces of glass can concentrate the sunrays, and light of a transparent or translucent material such as amber or rock
fire … and an earlier reference in Aristophanes (Clouds 766–75) crystal has a marked effect on the brightness and thus
indicates how well observed [this] was.” “For a lens to be able appearance of the bead and is, in effect, a form of foiling”: J.
to contract light, a piece of glass with [a] regularly curved Ogden, “The Jewelry of Dark Age Greece: Construction and
surface and a minimum diameter of around four centimeters Cultural Connections,” in The Art of the Greek Goldsmith, ed. D.
was needed. Such a lens will have a short focus (between six Williams (London, 1998), pp. 16–17, also nn. 19–21 (in reference
and nine millimeters) and will therefore be quite useless as a to objects from Lefkandi, the Tomb 2 jewelry from Tekke, the
general eye aid, but quite appropriate for a magnifying glass” Elgin group, and an eighth-century tomb from Salamis).
(ibid.). Although no ancient literary source mentions amber’s
natural magnifying property, it is difficult to imagine that it 49. Agalmais a Greek word used to describe the quality of
went unnoticed. Many bulla-shaped amber pendants (of as brilliance; it is perhaps related etymologically to aglaos
early as seventh-century date) have regularly curved surfaces (shining). See Stewart 1997, p. 65. On agalma and agalmata,
and are the right size to use as magnifiers, especially if the seen. 6.
resin were clear. (On amber bullae, see n. 152.) The various
Properties of Amber 21

50. The three gold pendants inlaid with amber from the Regolini- A. Kozloff, “Mirror, Mirror,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of
Galassi Tomb are superb examples of this mirrorlike quality Art 71, no. 8 (1984): 271–76. For mirrors in the history of art, see
(Vatican, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco 691, from the Sorbo Source 4, nos. 2–3 (1985); L. O. K. Congdon, Caryatid Mirrors of
Necropolis, Cerveteri): Cristofani and Martelli 1983, p. 262, no. Ancient Greece (Mainz, 1981); G. F. Hartlaub, Zauber des Spiegels:
31; and L. Pareti, La tomba Regolini-Galassi del Museo gregoriano Geschichte und Bedeutung des Spiegels in der Kunst (Munich,
etrusco e la civiltà dell’Italia centrale nel secolo VII a.c. (Vatican 1951); and H. Schwarz, “The Mirror in Art,” Art Quarterly 13
City, 1947). The ivory handle of an Orientalizing ceremonial axe (1952): 96–118. G. Robins’s comments have relevance beyond
was inlaid with amber rectangles, circles, and triangles Egypt (Robins in Kampen 1996, p. 32): “Mirrors, therefore, were
mounted on tinfoil, making them appear like tiny mirrors not simply items in which one could see one’s reflection, but
(Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 70787): Bartoloni et were overlaid with symbolism relating to fertility and also
al. 2000, p. 238, no. 268, where M. C. Bettini calls attention to health, and were surely believed to protect the user in this life.
the technique and notes parallels from Casale Marittimo and However, like the fertility figurine, they usually had a funerary
Verucchio. function, too. Many mirrors have been found in burials, and it
How an amber “mirror,” however tiny, worked for the living or can be deduced that their positive symbolism would also have
for the dead is worth reflection. That all documented mirrors been regarded as helping the deceased to achieve rebirth into
from Etruria, and most from the rest of the circum- the afterlife.” The mirror was a type of object closely equated
Mediterranean, come from graves (many with evidence of use with the disk of the sun as well as with that of the moon, but its
wear) is critical to their interpretation. J. Lerner, “Horizontal- distinctive Egyptian form is most like that of the visible sun. See
Handled Mirrors: East and West,” Metropolitan Museum Journal n. 161 on the connection of mirrors and the sun and the
31 (1996): n. 3, compares the ancient disk mirror-fibula to the possibility of drawing down the power of the sun.
large amber-decorated fibulae found in Etruscan tombs (with 51. Winter 1994, p. 123. Here and in later studies, I. J. Winter
reference to the “Morgan Amber” in New York [see figure 24]; describes “the quality of intense light, or radiance, emanating
she acknowledges J. Mertens for the observation). On from a particular work” as “one of the most positive attributes
reflection and mirror symbolism, see G. Robins, “Dress, in descriptions of what we would call Mesopotamian ‘art.’” She
Undress, and the Representation of Fertility and Potency in underlines that it is “the combination of light-plus-sheen
New Kingdom Egyptian Art,” in Kampen 1996, pp. 32–33; A. yielding a kind of lustrousness” that was particularly positive,
Stewart, “Reflections,” in Kampen 1996, pp. 136–54; J. Neils, auspicious, and sacral, not only in Mesopotamia, but also in
“Reflections of Immortality: The Myth of Jason on Etruscan other cultures. This is borne out by many of the forms and
Mirrors,” in De Puma and Small 1994, pp. 190–95; Pinch 1994; subjects of amber and amber-enhanced objects of ancient
G. Pinch, Votive Offerings to Hathor (Oxford, 1994), pp. 235–38; Greece and Italy.

Ancient Names for Amber
The words used for amber in antiquity often suggest not Brilliance in amber, ice, rock crystal, or any stone was
only the qualities for which it was valued, but also possible only because of its transparency. The ancients
theories of its origin and the uses to which it was put. believed that transparency was possible because light was
Today, although amber is still widely sought out for let through a material: thus transparent materials had
jewelry, magic, and medicine, its floral and faunal performative powers.57 The brilliance of amber,
inclusions may be its greatest attraction (as reflected in enhanced by the rich connotations of its names, ensured
the title of the 1996 exhibition and book Amber: Window it a place in ancient literature alongside other rare,
to the Past [Grimaldi 1996]). There is scarce textual prized, and luminous materials—sight-arresting materials
evidence before Roman times to indicate an ancient such as gold, silver, and ivory, whose magnificence often
fascination with the creature and plant remains interred was associated with something beyond the merely
within amber; however, its use in burials may be human, with the heroic or divine.58 This association is
evidence enough. evident from the first extant occurrences of elektron, in
Homer’sOdyssey.59When Telemachus visits Menelaus’s
The standard Greek word for amber was elektron.52 The
palace in Book 4, he is awestruck: “Mark the flashing of
derivation of this word is uncertain, although scholars bronze throughout the echoing halls, and the flashing of
have suggested that it might have connections with helko, gold, of amber, of silver, and of ivory. Of such sort,
meaning “to draw or attract,” or with aleko, meaning “to methinks, is the court of Olympian Zeus within, such
ward off evil.”53 The word is certainly associated with 60
54 untold wealth is here; amazement holds me as I look.”
elektor, used in the Iliad to mean “the beaming sun,”
and is most likely derived from an Indo-European verb It is the flashing of the jewels, more so than the jewels
with the root meanings “brilliant” or “to shine.” This themselves, that puts Telemachus in mind of Zeus; the
quality of beaming, or reflecting the sun, is also suggested word he uses is steroph—the flash of a lightning bolt.
by the Germanic word for amber, glaes or glese, recorded Telemachus’s association of the brightness, the shine, the
in some ancient Latin sources as glaesum, the same word brilliance of Menelaus’s palace with divinity seems almost
used for glass in this period.55 The Indo-Germanic root for instinctive.
this word, ghel, means “lustrous, shimmering, or bright”
and gives us words such as glisten, glitter, glow, and Elektron occurs two other times in the Odyssey: once in
yellow in English. The current German word for amber, Book 15, when the swineherd Eumaeus, telling the story
going back to thirteenth-century Middle Low German, is of his kidnapping to Odysseus, remembers the cunning
similarly evocative: Bernstein means “burning stone.”56 Phoenician mariner who turned up at his ancestral home
with an eye-catching golden necklace strung with amber
When Pliny the Elder or one of his contemporaries pieces.61 In addition, in Book 18, when the suitors vie with
admired a valuable piece of amber, the first thing to strike one another in the extravagance of their gifts to Penelope,
their eyes would have been the suggestion of fire (imagine Eurymachus’s contribution is “a richly crafted necklace of
igneam) or the material’s gentle glow (mollis fulgor). The gold adorned with sun-bright amber” (figure 19).62
amber’s color was certainly evocative—of wine, honey, Another early occurrence of elektron is in the Pseudo-
wax, embers, or fire—but was of secondary importance to Hesiodic Shield of Herakles. In this passage, as in Homer’s
its shine. This glow had been the defining characteristic of description of Menelaus’s palace, amber takes its place in
amber for centuries. a list of rare and precious materials, to dazzling effect:
“He took his glittering shield in his hands, nor had anyone
ever broken it or damaged it with a blow; it was a marvel

to see. The whole orb glowed with enamel, white ivory, Theophrastus’s late-fourth-century B.C. lapidary, where he
and amber, and it shone with gleaming gold.”63 notes similarities between lyngourion and elektron but
does not consider them the same material.65 He seems to
have had direct knowledge of some amber, which was
dug up in Liguria and which he apparently considered a
nonorganic substance. Theophrastus’s lyngourion is as
hard as amber, which he includes among stones
possessing a power of attraction, and possesses the same
powers of magnetism, but, according to him, it has a
different origin: it is the hardened urine of wild lynxes,
which “is discovered only when experienced searchers
dig it up” (figure 20).66 This origin story is doubtless the
result of a fanciful attempt to explain the etymology of the
word (lyngourion = lynx urine), a story that would have
been additionally convincing because of the substance’s
Figure 19 Necklace with a pendant scarab, Italic or Etruscan and Greek,
550–400 B.C. Amber, gold, and carnelian. L: 39.5 cm (159⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J.
Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.77.1. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
In each of these passages referring to the use of amber—
the ornamentation of a seemingly Olympian palace,
necklaces intended for elite women, and the shield of a
hero—amber is inextricably bound up with the light of
the sun, and it is associated with gods, heroes, and a social
elite. The reflection of sunlight, in the halls of a king or on
the armor of a hero, was a powerful reminder of the
heavens and the heavenly; brilliance and luster were
primary qualities to be looked for in a precious material
such as gold, ivory, silver, or amber. The brilliance of the
amber and other materials in Herakles’ shield, combined
with the perfect craftsmanship that it represented, called
attention to its poikilia, the adornment and
embellishment all fine works should display, and made it
athauma idesthai, a “marvel to behold”—what Raymond
Prier has defined as “an intermediation between the
polarities of men and gods, visually linguistic symbols of
Figure 20 Lynx urine hardens into a stone. In Bestiarius GKS 1633 4º, 6r,
Although the most common, elektron was not the only English, 15th century. Parchment, H: 21 cm (81⁄4 in.), W: 13.5 cm (53⁄10 in.).
Greek name for amber. It is likely that the substance Courtesy of The Royal Library of Denmark.
referred to as lyngourion (there are other variants of the
spelling—liggourion, for example) was a form of amber. It was probably another attempt at etymology that
Its derivation and its relationship to amber (elektron) persuaded Strabo that excessive quantities of amber
were much discussed in antiquity and continue to be could be found in Liguria.67 Strabo makes no distinction
debated today. The earliest evidence for lyngourion is in betweenlyngourionandelektron, using the terms

interchangeably. Pliny the Elder is as unimpressed with and reviewed in Hughes-Brock 1993 and Fuscagni 1982. See
Strabo’s talk of Liguria as he is with the lynx-urine story. also C. L. Connor, The Color of Ivory: Polychromy on Byzantine
Pliny lists a variety of sources containing variations on Ivories (Princeton, 1998), p. 106, nn. 9–10; and H. G. Liddell, R.
one or both of these themes, but his final word on Scott, and H. Stuart-Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed.
lyngourion is that “the whole story is false, and no (Oxford, 1968), s.v. “elektron” (in Greek), p. 768.
gemstone bearing this name has been known in our Gold and silver alloys have been known as long as the
time.” Although Pliny may have been justified in his individual metals. Naturally occurring alloys likely were used
skepticism (Liguria was no more a producer of amber alongside human-made ones. The electrum alloy is much
than the lynx was of gemstones), lyngourion appears to be harder than either gold or silver. Pliny (Natural History 33.23.80)
a term applied to highly transparent varieties of amber, says, “All gold contains silver in various proportions.…
whileelektron was used more generally. Gemstones of Whenever the proportion is one-fifth, the ore is called
lyngourion are first attested in third-century inventories electrum.” J. Ogden, “Metals,” in Nicholson and Shaw 2000, pp.
of the Asklepieion on the south slope of the Acropolis and 162–64, discusses the makeup of gold alloys in Egypt over time
in the shrines of Artemis and Eileithyia (goddesses and the range of color in surviving objects made from gold-
associated with childbirth, light, and the moon) at Delos.68 silver alloys. Traditionally, an alloy with more than 75 percent
gold present is described as gold. If it is a gold-silver alloy with
Several other terms for amber occur in Pliny the Elder’s less than 75 percent gold, it is electrum, and, according to Stos-
treatise: he cites Philemon as referring to a white, waxen Gale and Gale’s more recent nomenclature (Z. Stos-Gale and N.
form of amber from Scythia as electrum, and a tawny H. Gale, “Sources of Galena, Lead and Silver in Predynastic
variety (from another part of Scythia) as sualiternicum. Egypt,” Revue d’Archéométrie 3, suppl. [1981]: 285–96), “gold-
Pliny also attributes to his contemporary Xenocrates of silver alloys with 5–50 percent gold should be termed aurian
Aphrodisias the claim that sucinum and thium are the silver (those with less than 5 percent gold are simply termed
Italian words for amber, and sacrium the Scythian word. silver with low gold).” They go on to state: “The traditional
Nicias, Pliny tells us, says that the Egyptians called amber division between electrum and gold at 75 percent gold level
falls most inconveniently at just about the median composition
sacal (perhaps meaning simply “rock”), and that the for much Egyptian gold-work. Also the variable copper
Syrian word was harpax(because of its magnetic presence will have a major effect on colour” (ibid.). Compare
qualities; the Greek harpax means “a thief” or “one who Evely 2000, p. 401: “Electrum is a light-coloured alloy, though
snatches”).69 Pliny also singles out Callistratus as the first the precise percentage of silver required to constitute it varies
to distinguish chryselectrum, or “gold amber.”70 according to authorities: as low as 8–10% or over 20% or even
Dioscorides, in his A.D. first-century Materia Medica, over 40%.… The commonest natural impurity of any degree is
describes two types of amber: elektron chrysophoron silver: anything up to 50% being called gold, thereafter the
(golden amber) and elektron pteruyophoron (“because it alloy is seen as basically a silver. It is largely a matter of
draws feathers to it”); and he uses the word aigeiros, semantics how such mixtures are termed, there being no hard
which means “poplar,” as a synonym for amber.71 The and fast definition.… Pure gold probably never occurs
poplar is associated not only with Herakles (the hero naturally.… It is rare to find 98–99% purity.” See also J. F. Healy,
brought back poplar branches from the underworld), but Mining and Metallurgy in the Greek and Roman World (London,
also with the tale of Phaethon—the most prevalent myth 1978), pp. 201ff.
about the origin of amber (see “Ancient Literary Sources Neb hedj, or “white gold,” was long known in Egypt; its dual
on the Origins of Amber,” below). Some authors, such as nature “meant that it was used sometimes with the
Pliny, use more than one term for the material, depending significance of gold and at other times as if it were identical
on the context. with silver,” which early on was associated with the moon
(Wilkinson 1994, p. 84). For discussion of early electrum usage
NOTES in Mesopotamia, see P. R. S. Moorey, “The Archaeological
Evidence for Metallurgy and Related Technologies in
52. The wordelektron was also used in antiquity to describe the Mesopotamia, ca. 5500–2100,” Iraq 44, pt. 1 (Spring 1982):
alloy of silver and gold (modern electrum). Both the fossil resin 13–38; and P. R. S. Moorey, Materials and Manufacture in Ancient
and the alloy are found in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, but the Mesopotamia: The Evidence of Archaeology and Art, BAR
earliest surviving source to discuss both materials is International Series 237 (Oxford, 1985).
Herodotus. Independently, Hughes-Brock 1993, p. 224, For other sources on amber’s ancient names, see
postulated that elektron was originally used for the resin and Schwarzenberg 2002; J. Puhvel, “On Terms for Amber,” in
then transferred to the metal because the two materials Studia Celtica et Indogermanica: Festschrift für Wolfgang Meid
shared certain optical properties. Much has been written on zum 70. Geburtstag, eds. P. Anreiter and E. Jerem (Budapest,
the relationship of resin and metal; these references are noted 1999), pp. 347–50; G. M. Catarsi, “Ambra: Mito e realtà,” Padusa
Ancient Names for Amber 25

31 (1997): 167–81; Hughes-Brock 1985, esp. nn. 28–33; G. printing, with bibl. added [Princeton, 1999]). Compare also the
Bonfante, “The Word for Amber in Baltic, Latin, Germanic, and biblical Ezekiel’s vision, in which the metaphor for brightness is
Greek,” Journal of Baltic Studies 16, no. 3 (Fall 1985): 316–19; M. amber: “Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of
E. Huld, “Greek Amber,” in From the Realm of the Ancestors: An fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and
Anthology in Honor of Marija Gimbutas, ed. J. Marler from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness,
(Manchester, CT, 1997), pp. 135–39; A. Grilli, “Eridano, Elettridi e as the colour of amber” (Ezekiel 8:2). Brilliant amber is
via dell’ambra,” in Studi e ricerche sulla problematica dell’ambra employed metaphorically by the second-century A.D. satirist
I (Rome, 1975), pp. 279–91; A. Grilli, “La documentazione sulla Lucian of Samosata, alluding to a desirable one’s appearance:
provenienza dell’ambra in Plinio,” in Acme (Annali della Facolta “Her entire body devoid of the least hair … has more brilliance
di lettere e filosofia dell’Universita degli Studi di Milano) 36, no. 1 than amber or glass from Sidon.” See Different Desires: A
(1983): 5–17; and works by J. M. Riddle, including “Pomum Dialogue Comparing Male and Female Love Attributed to Lucian of
ambrae:Amber and Ambergris in Plague Remedies,” in Quid Samosata, trans. A. Kallimachos (© 2000), Diotima: Materials for
Pro Quo: Studies in the History of Drugs (Hampshire, UK, 1992), the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World, http://
pp. 3–17, 111–12, and “Amber in Ancient Pharmacy: The (accessed
Transmission of Information about a Single Drug,” in October 10, 2009).
Dioscorides on Pharmacy and Medicine (Austin, TX, 1985). F. Barry, “Painting in Stone: The Symbolic Identity of Coloured
53. Huld 1997 (n. 52, above), p. 135. See n. 69 for other ancient and Marbles from Antiquity until the Age of Enlightenment,” Ph.D.
modern names based on amber’s magnetic properties. diss. (Columbia University, 2005), analyzes the history of the
54. Iliad 6.513, 19.398. appreciation of luster and brilliance in marble and other
stones. As noted in n. 51, I. J. Winter (in Winter 1994 and Winter
55. Tacitus, Germania 45. 1999) has written extensively on the subject of shine, light, and
brilliance as positive attributes of physical matter in
56. Another old German word for amber is the Oberdeutsch Mesopotamia. She underlines (Winter 1994, p. 123) the
Agtstein (from aieten, “to burn”). See Blüemner, RE, vol. 3, part importance of light and “light bearing,” and notes that the
1, s.v. “Bernstein”; and J. Barfod, “Von der Heilkraft des quality of emanated light is of the highest value: “In all cases, it
Bernsteins,” in Barfod et al. 1989, pp. 84–87. is apparently the combination of light-plus-sheen yielding a
57. E. Schwarzenberg, Crystal (private publication, 2006), p. 36: kind of lustrousness that is seen as particularly positive and
“Even after Aristotle had taught Greece to conceive of auspicious, so that persons and things that are holy, ritually
diaphaneity as light in potential, and of light as the presence of pure, joyous or beautiful are generally described in terms of
fire in the transparent [Aristotle, De Anima 2.7], diaphanous light.” In Sumerian, the word for “pure” carries the physical
bodies were not thought of as passive, as just allowing light’s manifestation of “shine.” B. André-Salvini, “L’idéologie des
passage, but as contributing actively to its propagation.” pierres en Mésopotamie,” in Caubet 1999, illuminates how in
Egypt, brightness was immediately associated with the
58. In early Greece, as earlier in Egypt and the Near East, gods and brightness of the sun, and thus with life. Wilkinson 1992, n. 2,
some heroic figures are described with adjectives translated as sums up: “The shining appearance which associated precious
“bright,” “golden,” “shining,” “luminous,” and “glistening.” E. metals with the celestial bodies was a quality which may well
Parisinou, Light of the Gods: The Role of Light in Archaic and have been seen as symbolic in other areas such as the high
Classical Greek Cult (London, 2000); and W. D. Furley, Studies in polish given to some stone statues and the varnish given to
the Use of Fire in Ancient Greek Religion (New York, 1981) provide wooden objects.”
useful discussions of the iconography of light and fire and their Tjehnet, an Egyptian word meaning “dazzling”—that which is
divine connections. Although neither work discusses amber, brilliant or scintillating, such as the light of the sun, moon, and
many references are apt. “In the epics of Homer, the gods are stars, glistening with a light symbolic of life, birth, and
described as bright, shining, luminous”: Lapatin 2001, p. 55, immortality—was employed as an epithet of brilliance and
who cites A. A. Donohue, Xoana and the Origins of Greek bestowed on many gods, including Hathor, Thoth, and Horus,
Sculpture (Atlanta, 1988); J.-P. Vernant, “Mortals and Immortals: whose light-filled appearances were likened to celestial light
The Bodies of the Divine,” in Mortals and Immortals: Collected (extracted from F. D. Friedman and R. S. Bianchi in Friedman
Essays, ed. F. Zeitlin (Princeton, 1991), pp. 27–49; and R. L. 1998, pp. 15, 28–29). Tjehnet applies to precious metals and
Gordon, “The Real and the Imaginary: Production and Religion faïence or, more correctly, glazed composition. It was not a
in the Graeco-Roman World,” Art History 2 (1979): 5–34. cheap substitute material for precious and semiprecious
Divinities shine with an otherworldly radiance, and declare stones but was valued in itself for amulets of the living as well
their presence with brilliant light and the blaze of flame and as the dead. The light-filled material could promote the
fire; see also Steiner 2001, p. 96–101. Demeter, in divine deceased’s rebirth and help to impart life. Hathor is named in
epiphany, floods the halls “with radiance like lightning”: Late Period and Ptolemaic texts as Tjehnet, the Scintillating
Homeric Hymn to Ceres 276–80 (H. Foley, ed., The Homeric Hymn One. In Italy, from the Bronze Age onward, faïence beads and
to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays, 3rd pendants are often joined with amber in necklaces and other

kinds of adornment for (ultimately) funerary objects. Faïence is first recorded in the inventory of 269. A connection of
may have had a similar meaning in both Italy and Egypt, and lyngourion (whether amber or not) with Aesclepius, Artemis,
the interest in it may have arisen from its Egyptian origin and and Eileithyia may be owed to its sanative properties. As noted
its authenticity, as well as from the transformed nature of the in the text, Artemis and Eileithyia are both associated with
material and its color. Strings of glistening materials—amber, childbirth, the protection of the young, and the moon.
glass, faïence, and gemstones such as carnelian—all shared Aesclepius’s connection to childbirth and healing is established
the divine qualities associated with luster; they were all by his own birth. According to Pindar (Pythian 3), he was
manifestations of brilliance and were divine. rescued from his dead mother’s womb while she was being
A number of miniature kouros amulets of glazed composition, cremated on her funeral pyre.
found at Rhodes and now in the Louvre, are very close in form The stone’s bright color may have been another reason for its
to the amber kouros in the British Museum (BM 41: Strong association with Artemis. On Eileithyia, see LIMC 3 (1986), s.v.
1966, pp. 15, 65–66, no. 41, pl. XIX), and to a number of ivory “Eileithyia” (R. Olmos), pp. 126–32; and S. Pingiatoglou,
kouroi (discussed in n. 248); in each case, the material may Eileithyia (Würzberg, 1981). In ancient lapidaries, lyngourion is
have been the determining divine attribute. one of the three magic stones said to protect both infants and
59. Onelektronin the Odyssey, see A. Heubeck, S. West, and J. B. pregnant women; this suggested to S. I. Johnston (Johnston
Hainsworth, A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1995, p. 366, n. 12) that the same type of demon was believed
1988), p. 197. to harm both. For the lapidaries, see R. Halleux and J. Schamp,
Les lapidaires grecs: Lapidaire orphique, kérygmes, lapidaires
60. Odyssey 4.71–75. Others question whether this passage refers d’Orphée, Socrate et Denys, lapidaire nautique, Damigéron-Evax
to the ancient resin or to the metal. (Paris, 1985); and L. Baisier, The Lapidaire Chrétien: Its
Composition, Its Influence, Its Sources (Washington, DC, 1936), p.
61. Odyssey 15.455–62. 90.
62. Odyssey 18.294–96. 69. Schwarzenberg 2002, p. 56, and Riddle 1965, passim, discuss
63. The Shield of Herakles 2.141. Did Phidias’s Athena also include additional names for amber that derive from its
amber embellishment?Lapatin 2001, p. 4, n. 11, refers to an electromagnetic properties. The Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and
epigram ascribed to the mid-fourth-century South Italian demotic Greek names for amber are variants of (or sources
tyrant Mamerkos (Mamerkos ad Plutarch, Timoleon 31 for) kāhrubā, or “straw attractor.” See also extensive
[Anthologia Graeca, Appendix, Epigrammata Dedicatoria 84, line commentary by the tenth-century Al-Beruni, The Book Most
1]), in which the complex compound adjective Comprehensive in Knowledge on Precious Stones, trans. H. M.
chryselephantelektrous (Greek for “of gold, ivory, and electron”) Said (Islamabad, 1989), pp. 181–83: “Its name [referring to
is used to describe Athena. amber]kāhrubātestifies to its characteristics, as it attracts
straw towards itself and at times even the soil that is found in
64. Prier 1989. For other pertinent discussions of the marvelous, them. But this can happen only if it is rubbed and warmed.… It
see F. I. Zeitlin, “The Artful Eye: Vision, Ecphrasis and Spectacle is called alqatrūn and adhmītūs in Roman [i.e., Greek]. It is
in Euripidean Theatre,” in Art and Text in Ancient Greek Culture, known asdaqnāandhayānūfrāin Syriac.” Al-Beruni, in the
ed. S. Goldhill and R. Osborne (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 138–96; introduction to the section on p. 15, quotes Abū Nasr al-‘Utbī:
andWinter 2000. “God has conferred upon everything a specific attribute and
characteristic [and uses three examples, the third being] …
65. Theophrastus, De Lapidibus 5.28–29. amber draws straws.”
66. Theophrastus is not the only expositor of this story. Pliny 70. Pliny (Natural History 37.12 and 43) also discusses chrysoelectri,
dismisses a number of variations, including a belief held by or “golden amber,” in his section on true gemstones: “Their
Sudines and Metrodorus that amber comes from a “lynx” tree color passes into that of amber, but only in morning light.
in Liguria. On this, see Schwarzenberg 2002, p. 48–49. Those from Pontus are betrayed by their light weight. Some of
67. Strabo, Geography 4.6.2–3. these stones are hard and reddish, while some are soft and full
of flaws.” Eichholz, in his commentary (Eichholz 1962, p. 268, n.
68. Plantzos 1999, pp. 15–17. In the Asklepieion inventory, a a), clarifies: “Perhaps mostly hessonite, but like the Tibarene
lyggourion [sic] on a chain brought by Satyra is noted for the stone, the less heavy Pontic stones were probably citrine.”
year 276/5. In the inventory of the Artemision at Delos, a 71. For more on Dioscorides’ discussion of amber, see Riddle 1965
lyngourion set in gold (a ring) is first listed for the years 278/69. and Riddle’s later publications on the subject (in n. 52, above).
At the Delian shrine of Eileithyia, a lyngourion set in a gold ring
Ancient Names for Amber 27

Color and Other Optical Characteristics: Ancient Perception and
We may imagine that when Zeus revealed his true form to referred to as being red.77 And since Homer, amber and
Cadmus’s daughter Semele at her rash request, his gold had been paired, and both were symbols of the sun.
blinding brilliance was enough to reduce her to ashes
even if he had left his thunderbolts behind. The name
Zeushas associations of luminosity (it is derived from a
word that means “to shine”), as do many of the common
epithets for Greek deities: Phoebus Apollo means “radiant
Apollo,” and the goddess Athena is often described in
Homer asglaukopis, which can be translated as “with
gleaming eyes.” Apollo appears to his worshippers at
Delphi in a blaze of flame and brilliant light in the
HomericHymn to Apollo. Similarly, the great heroes of
ancient Greece often are depicted with a bright glow
about them—like Achilles in the Iliad, “shining in all his
armor like the sun.”72
In Quintus Smyrnaeus’s fourth-century A.D. Fall of Troy,
the mourners at Ajax’s funeral lay “gleaming gold” and
“lucent amber-drops” around his body.73 This connection
between the radiance of precious jewels and the
brilliance of heroes and gods was established in Greece as
early as Homer. Given the strong associations among the
dazzling, the divine, and the heroic, the choice of amber Figure 21 Hove tumulus cup, Wessex culture, Bronze Age. Amber, D: 8.9 cm
for a piece of jewelry or a work of art indicated a divine (31⁄2 in.). Brighton & Hove, Royal Pavilion & Museums.
or heroic subject. For example, Pausanias mentions in his
Description of Greece the amber statue of the emperor The various images that a gemstone’s color conjured up
Augustus.74 The image must have been a “marvel to could sometimes, as in the case of elektron, determine its
behold.” name. As we noted, etymologically the word is probably
When amber was considered in terms of its hue (instead connected with elektor, “the beaming sun,” the root
of its brilliance), the images it evoked were no less meaning being “brilliant.” Pliny the Elder, for instance,
striking. The most sought-after pieces ranged from yellow talks about a variety of jasper that was called boria
to red—colors that were associated with fire and the (meaning “northern”) “because it is like the sky on an
75 autumn morning.”78And when Pliny discusses the
precious metal gold (figure 21). The fiery and glowing different colors of amber, his terminology is almost
colors were important to life, marriage, and death and invariably metaphorical. “The pale kind,” he writes, “has
were linked with divine forces. Yellow and red were the finest scent, but, like the waxy kind, it has no value.
redolent of fire (and consequently the sun) and of light The tawny is more valuable and still more so if it is
itself, and were symbolic of life and regeneration.76 In the
Roman writings of Martial and Juvenal, gold was often transparent, but the color must not be too fiery; not a fiery
glare, but a mere suggestion of it, that is what we admire

in amber. The most highly approved specimens are the … of the Eridanus, is very rare and precious to men for many
‘Falernian,’ so called because they recall the color of the reasons.” What better material for the divine princeps?
wine; they are transparent and glow gently, so as to have, 75. For the Roman preference for a reddish cast in yellow, see
moreover, the agreeably mellow tint of honey that has Gage 1993, p. 272, n. 74. On the affinity of red and gold in
been reduced by boiling.”79
Egypt, see Wilkinson 1994, pp. 106–7. For the Classical world,
The metaphorical resonance of the colors associated with seeGage 1993, p. 26. The flammeum, the most characteristic
amber, like the divine and heroic associations of its element of the Roman bridal costume, and the veil of the
brilliance, would doubtless have played an instrumental Flaminica Dialis were deep yellow (luteum), the same color as
role in the kinds of subjects carved in amber and in its lightning, according to Pliny (Natural History 21.22). See Sebesta
and Bonfante 1994, esp. chaps. by L. La Follette, “The Costume
use. In ancient gemstones, a correspondence between of the Roman Bride” (pp. 54–64), and by J. L. Sebesta,
color and subject was desired. According to an ancient “Symbolism in the Costume of the Roman Woman” (pp. 46–53),
epigram, the Nereid Galene was cut into an Indian beryl and “Tunica Ralla, Tunica Spissa: The Colors and Textiles of
because the stone’s blue color was appropriate for this Roman Costume” (pp. 65–76). Some amber is similar in color to
personification of the calm sea.80 egg yolks (said to be the color of the flammeum). As noted in
“Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets” below, amber is attested as
Amber’s fragrance—it is the only “stone” that is both a gift for Roman brides.
shining and fragrant—is enhanced through rubbing.81
Amber is thus a perfect material for a divine image, For the Egyptians, pure gold, its pigment cognate, yellow, and
especially when we recall that “statues were regularly the color red were the colors of the sun; gold was symbolic of
polished with perfumed oils, perhaps matching the that which was eternal and imperishable. The flesh and bones
emanation of fragrance that forms so regular a part of of the gods were held to be of gold, and thus that was the
divine ephiphanies.”82 Not only the fragrance, but also the natural material for their images (Wilkinson 1994, pp. 106–9,
great age of the material, its mysterious origins, its 116). E. A. Waarska, in The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of
Ancient Egypt, exh. cat., ed. E. Hornung and B. Bryan
transmuted nature, and its electromagnetic, optical, and (Washington, DC, 2002), p. 105, no. 20, says that gold
other properties, as well as its divine and heroic epithets, represented purity, and bedecking a mummy with such a
would have evoked a variety of ideas in its beholders— material was thought to ensure a successful afterlife for its
radiant Apollo, the fiery sun, Olympian honey, Falernian owner.
wine. 76. Gage 1993, p. 26, with bibl.
NOTES 77. J. André, Étude sur les termes de couleur dans la langue latine
(Paris, 1949), p. 155, discusses the many instances of gold
72. Iliad 19.398 (R. Lattimore, trans., The Iliad of Homer [Chicago, referred to as red in Rome (as cited in D. Janes, Gold and God in
1961]). It is a common tendency in Greek poetry to emphasize Late Antiquity [Cambridge, 1998]). For further discussion of the
qualities such as brightness or sheen rather than hue, as C. poetic and symbolic vocabulary for the different colors of gold,
Irwin, Colour-Terms in Greek Poetry (Toronto, 1974), was among see P. R. S. Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and
the first to emphasize. See also Steiner 2001, pp. 97–101; Gage Techniques: The Archaeological Evidence (Oxford, 1994), p. 218.
1993, pp. 11–27; and many of the conference papers in L. 78. Plantzos 1999, p. 36: “The shape in which a stone was going to
Cleland, K. Stears, and G. Davies, Colour in the Ancient be cut was also sometimes determined by its colour.”
Mediterranean World, BAR International Series 1267 (Oxford,
2004). See C. W. Shelmerdine, “Shining and Fragrant Cloth in 79. Falernian wine, a product of Campania, was among the most
Homeric Epic,” in Carter and Morris 1995, pp. 99–107, for a prized in ancient Rome and, as Pliny writes, the second-best
discussion of the highly desirable qualities of shininess and wine produced in Italy (Pliny, Natural History 14.8.62). On
fragrance in Aegean elite textiles and the larger implications of Falernian wine and its golden, red, and dark red colors, see, for
her argument. example, P. McGovern, S. Fleming, and S. Katz, eds., The Origins
73. Quintus Smyrnaeus, The Fall of Troy 5.623–25, trans. A. S. Way, and Ancient History of Wine (London, 1996); and T. Unwin, Wine
Loeb Classical Library 19 (London, 1913). and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine
Trade (London, 1991). See also The Wine of Dionysus: Banquets of
74. Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.12.7–8, trans. W. H. S. Jones Gods and Men in Basilicata, exh. cat. (Rome, 2000). While wine is
and H. A. Ormerod, Loeb Classical Library 188 (Cambridge, MA, associated with Dionysos (and the Egyptian Bes), honey is
1966): “Of the statues set up in the round buildings, the amber associated with the Olympians Zeus and Artemis.
one represents Augustus, the Roman emperor.… This amber of 80. SeePlantzos 1999, pp. 36, 89. For the use of garnets, hematite,
which the statue of Augustus is made, when found in the sands and other red stones for martial subjects, see n. 223.
Color and Optical Characteristics 29

81. On being both fragrant and shining, see Shelmerdine (n. 72, 82. Steiner 2001, p. 101, with reference to N. J. Richardson, ed. The
above). On amber as an attractor, see Al-Beruni (n. 69, above); Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Oxford, 1974), p. 252.
on amber-fragrant kisses, see Martial (n. 114, below).

Ancient Literary Sources on the Origins of Amber
Where did amber come from? Attempts to answer this amber. This is probably due in part to the preponderance
question, from the early Greek poets to Late Antique of amber found washed up onshore, and the idea may
authors, were made in a wide variety of disciplines— have been fortified by a belief, prevalent in early
philosophy, poetry, history, natural science, and even northern solar cults, that the sun (another commonly
pharmacology. But the most important, and the most recurring theme in amber-origin theories) passes through
varied, answers came from perspectives that were the waters of the earth on its nocturnal path. And then as
scientific (amber comes from tree sap or lake mud or the now, sea-origin amber is often encrusted with shells
sea), geographical (amber comes from the Northern (figure 22).
Ocean, Liguria, or Ethiopia), or mythological (it comes
from the tears of Phaethon or of Meleager’s sisters).
However diverse the various origin stories, they explain
amber either as being related to the sun or the planets, or
as being “of water” or “of earth.” These different beliefs
about amber’s origin appear to have affected the very
ways it was used.
Pliny’s chapters on amber in his encyclopedic Natural
History are the most extensive surviving ancient source.
Compiling his work at a time when amber was beginning
to flood into Rome, he provides a survey of the stories
then in circulation about the formation of amber, its
geographical and mythical origins, and the way it was
classified and used. The depth and complexity of the
information available to Pliny is striking. Evidently there
was a varied and lively debate about what amber was and
where it came from by the time he was writing, right
down to the question of whether it was a vegetable,
mineral, or faunal product. Throughout Book 37, Pliny
comments critically on his source material, contrasting its
validity with current evidence. He passes over accounts
that range from the theory that amber was moisture from
the sun’s rays to the hypothesis that it was produced by
heated lake mud before offering his own scientific
conclusion: amber is formed from the sap of a species of
pine, and, hardened by either frost, heat, or the sea, it “is Figure 22 Baltic amber encrusted with barnacles. L: 8.6 cm (33⁄ in.). Photo:
washed up on the shores of the mainland, being swept 8
D. Grimaldi / American Museum of Natural History.
along so easily that it seems to hover in the water without
settling on the sea bed.” But where, geographically, did amber come from? Pliny’s
In many of these accounts (including Pliny’s own), the sea sources do not agree. Italy, Scythia, Numidia, Ethiopia,
and rivers play an important role in the manufacture of Syria, and “the lands beyond India” are among the

suggestions. Pliny himself prefers those accounts that Fall of Troy. At the lavish funerals of Achilles and Ajax, the
place amber’s origins in northern Europe: “It is well mourners heaped drops of amber on the bodies. For
established,” he writes, “that amber is a product of islands Achilles,
in the Northern Ocean.” Herodotus is less sure: “I do not
believe that there is a river called by foreigners Eridanus Wailing captive women brought uncounted fabrics
issuing into the northern sea, whence our amber is said to From storage chests and threw them upon the pyre
come, nor have I any knowledge of Tin-islands.… This Heaping gold and amber with them.
only we know, that our tin and amber come from the For Ajax,
most distant parts.”83
Lucent amber-drops they laid thereon
The Eridanus River to which Herodotus refers was Tears, say they, which the Daughters of the Sun,
originally a mythical river that came to be associated with The Lord of Omens, shed for Phaethon slain,
the Po and sometimes with the Rhône, among others. In When by Eridanus’ flood they mourned for him.
the ancient sources, the Eridanus migrates about the map. These for undying honour to his son,
Pliny’s comment on his sources’ confusion about its The God made amber, precious in men’s eyes.
location is typically pointed: “Such statements only make Even this the Argives on the broad-based pyre
it easier to pardon their ignorance of amber when their Cast freely, honouring the mighty dead.87
ignorance of geography is so great.” The most likely
explanation of this confusion is that the Eridanus at some By Quintus’s time, the tale of Phaethon88 had long been
point became connected in myth to memories of an early the preeminent myth associated with amber.89 The name
land–riverine amber route running from the Baltic to Phaethon, meaning “the shining one” or “the radiant one,”
northern Italy. derives from the Greek verb phaethô, “to shine.” The
Phaethon story, which provides a classic example of
Herodotus himself affirms the existence of an exchange hubris followed by nemesis, was first recorded by Hesiod,
route running from the far north all the way to the and dramatized in Euripides’ mid-fifth-century Phaethon,
Aegean. In his discussion of the Hyperboreans (a but it might be best known today from Ovid’s version in
legendary race from the far north who worshipped the Metamorphoses.90
Apollo), he mentions “offerings wrapt in wheat straw”
that they bring to Scythia and that are passed from nation According to Ovid, Phaethon was the son of Clymene and
to nation until they reach Delos (Apollo’s birthplace).84 the sun-god Helios. As an adolescent, he doubted his
You cannot reach Hyberborea by either land or sea, says parentage and voyaged to the East to question his father.
Pindar (Pythian 10.29); most stories of travel to and from There the god welcomed his son and promised as proof of
this region involve flight. There is something his paternity to grant any boon Phaethon might ask. The
otherworldly as well as northerly about the youth rashly demanded permission to drive the sun
Hyperboreans’ land.85 Scholars are undecided as to chariot through the sky for one day. So unsuccessful and
whether the offerings Herodotus mentions were actually dangerous was the young charioteer that Zeus was forced
amber, but it is likely that amber was transported on such to kill Phaethon with a thunderbolt to save the world
a route. from destruction. The result was a disastrous cosmic fire.
The youth’s flaming body fell into the legendary Eridanus
Furthermore, Apollonius of Rhodes (whose answer to the River. His sisters, called the Heliades (daughters of
question “Where does amber come from?” is a Helios), stood on the riverbanks weeping ceaselessly for
mythological one) provides a link between amber and the their brother until finally they were changed into poplars
cult of Apollo in his Argonautica. He refers to a Celtic (figure 23). Thereafter the tears of the Heliades fell as
myth that drops of amber were tears shed by Apollo for drops of precious amber onto the sandy banks, to be
the death of his son Asclepius when he visited the washed into the river and eventually borne off on the
Hyperboreans.86That amber should come to be
associated with Apollo is not surprising, given its waters to one day “adorn young wives in Rome.”
connections with the sun, but it is significant that the Phaethon’s friend Cygnus, the king of Liguria, was so
connection should occur specifically in the context of the distressed that he left his people to mourn among the
mourning of Asclepius. Amber’s role in mourning, poplars and was eventually transformed himself, into a
evidenced by its funerary use, is constantly emphasized in swan.
mythology. There is an explicit connection between this
mythology and the funerary use of amber in Quintus’s

Sophocles that links amber to Meleager, the famous hero
of the Calydonian boar hunt.92 According to one version
of the myth, Meleager’s sisters, who were changed into
birds (meleagrides, perhaps guinea fowl) by Artemis when
he died, migrated yearly from Greece to the lands beyond
India and wept tears of amber for their brother. Artemis’s
role is a critical one in this story, considering the number
of amber carvings that might be associated with her.
While one Late Antique author places the Meleagrides on
the island of Leros, opposite Miletos, Strabo sets the
transformed birds at the mouth of the Po or south of
Istria—locations of great interest, considering the number
of seventh-century ambers in the form of birds excavated
from sanctuaries and graves in both Greece and Italy.
Another amber-origin story, recounted by Pseudo-
Aristotle in On Marvellous Things Heard, offers an
intriguing hint of connections among amber, sun myths,
and metalworking, and of the presence of figured amber
and Greek artists at the mouth of the Po.93 Ever present in
these accounts is the sadness of a youth’s early death, and
this version involves Icarus, who was burned by flying too
close to the sun. According to Pseudo-Aristotle, Icarus’s
father, the master craftsman Daidalos, visited the
Elektrides (“amber islands”), which were formed by the
silting-up of the Eridanus River, in the gulf of the Adriatic.
There he came upon the hot, fetid lake where Phaethon
Figure 23 Fall of Phaethon, engraving by Thomas de Leu after a painting by fell, and where the black poplars on its banks oozed
Antoine Caron. FromLes images ou tableaux de platte peinture des deux amber that the natives collected for trade with the Greeks.
Philostrates sophistes grecs, et Les statues de Callistrate (Paris, 1615), p. 90. During his stay on these islands, Daidalos erected two
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art Library, A. W. Mellon New Century statues, one of tin and one of bronze, in the likenesses of
Fund. himself and of his lost son.
Like the Celtic myth about Apollo mourning Asclepius, There are recurring themes in all these myths: the death
Phaethon’s tale is one of a young life tragically cut short. of divine or heroic youths, the mourning of the young, the
When Diodorus Siculus tells the Phaethon story in his sun (which was responsible for Icarus’s death as well as
Library of History, he ends by pointing out that amber “is Phaethon’s), and the sea. Many Greek and early Roman
commonly used in connection with the mourning stories about amber place its origin in the far north, and it
attending the death of the young.”91 But as well as is likely that the earliest myths incorporated knowledge of
reminding us of amber’s role in mourning, the poplars the northern solar cults and the medicinal and magical
dropping tears into the river are evidence that there were properties of amber.
theories connecting amber to tree resin as early as the
fifth century (which marks the first extant occurrence of Not only was amber connected to the sun, it also came to
the Phaethon myth). The link between resin drops and be immortalized in the stars. It was characteristic of all
tears is a natural one; myrrh, for instance, is explained in precious stones in antiquity to have a planetary or
myth as the tears of Myrrha, who was changed into a tree celestial association, and by the third century B.C. at least,
for her crimes—indeed, the Greek word for tear, dakruon, the Eridanus was thought to have been transformed into a
can also mean “sap” or “gum.” constellation, the eponymic Eridanus, or River. Late
Antique sources recount how Phaethon became the
A broader trend in mythology (in many cultures besides constellation Auriga, the Heliades became the Hyades,
the Greco-Roman) connects precious stones generally to and the Ligurian king became the Swan.94 In Late
tears, and mythological accounts of amber’s origin do not Antiquity, Claudian described the river god Eridanus in a
always involve trees. Pliny refers to a (now lost) play by manner no doubt long imagined: “On his dripping
Ancient Literary Sources, Origins 33

forehead gleamed the golden horns that cast their the reclining couple and the ceremonial banquet had
brilliance along the banks … and amber dripped from his spread earlier from the Ancient Near East to Greece and
hair.”95 Why, as Frederick Ahl asks, is the Swan a friend of Etruria. Significant Archaic Etruscan sculpted and painted
the sun’s child? The answer to this question explains in depictions are extant. If this is a funerary object and the
part why amber was important in ancient Italy, and why subjects divine, rich mythological implications are
the long-necked birds are represented early and often in possible. If the subjects are mortal, the pin could have
the “solar” material. The swan was a cult bird in northern functioned in some manner as a “substitution” for the
Europe during the height of Celtic power, in the Urnfield deceased.
and Hallstatt phases of European prehistory. “The
evidence strongly suggests that this bird was especially
associated with the solar cults that were widespread in
Europe, and that can be traced from the Bronze Age, into
the Iron Age.”96
The constellation of Eridanus “wets the clear southern
skin in its tortuous course and with starry stream flows
beneath Orion’s dread sword”: so writes Claudian in his
panegyric of A.D. 404. Here, too, amber’s place in Greek
myths suggests that it was viewed as an ancient material,
something belonging to a great age of the distant past. But
it also had a practical life outside myth—by Pliny’s time,
amber was very common in Rome, and a great number of
amber objects were used as jewelry, incense,
pharmaceuticals, and furnishings for the dead.
Nonetheless, amber’s mythological significance would
have had a powerful effect on the way the material was
seen and employed in everyday life.
Of course, as soon as one begins to delve deeper into the
relationship between the myths and the reality of amber, Figure 24 Bow of a Fibula (Safety Pin) with Reclining Figures, Attendant, and
Bird, Etruscan, ca. 500 B.C. Amber, L: 14 cm (51⁄2 in.). New York, Metropolitan
it becomes difficult to distinguish which is which. Myths Museum of Art, 17.190.2067. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917. © The
about amber’s role in the mourning of the dead and the Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY.
actual funerary use of amber, for instance, both have a
direct correlation to the fact that amber can sometimes As Jean-René Jannot writes about the Etruscan-depicted
act as a tomb itself. dead:
The connection among amber, tombs, and funerary Was [a wall painting, an effigy sarcophagus]
customs is brought out in a unique Etruscan amber, the considered the physical envelope for that which does
bow of a fibula, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the not die, the hinthial [soul, or shade]? None of these
so-called Morgan Amber, possibly the most beautiful of all monuments were made to be seen.… Was the
surviving pre-Roman carved amber objects (figure 24).97 deceased, through his material image, believed to be
The bow is carved into a complex grouping: a draped and living in the funerary chamber, which has become a
shod female wearing a pointed hat holds the base of a house, or in the trench where offerings of food were
small vase in her right hand and touches it with her left. A set out for him?98
young, beardless man, with flowing hair, long garment,
and bare feet, supports himself on his left arm. Nestled Certainly, inclusions in amber—life visibly preserved for
between them is a long-necked bird, presumably a swan. eternity—would not have been ignored when preparing
At the foot of the couch is an attendant. The amber amber for funerary purposes.
apparently depicts a ceremonial banquet, but is the The insects and flora in amber, which Aristotle and later
couple mortal or divine? Are the figures Aphrodite and Pliny and Tacitus point to as proof of amber’s origin as
Adonis (Etruscan: Turan and Atunis) and the bird the earth-born, as tree resin,99 are apt metaphors for
goddess’s swan? Or is this an elite couple? If so, is the entombment and for the ultimate functions of the funeral
swan a symbol or a part of the event? The iconography of ritual: to honor the deceased with precious gifts and to

make permanent the memory of their lives. Three of Ajax (The Fall of Troy 5.625–30), the translation is by A. S. Way
Martial’s epigrams are devoted to this correlation: (see n. 73, above).
Shut in Phaethon’s drop, a bee both hides and shines, 88. This Phaethon is not the only Phaethon of Greek myth; see, for
so that she seems imprisoned in her own nectar. She example, J. Diggle, Euripides’ Phaethon (Cambridge, 1970).
has a worthy reward for all her sufferings. One might 89. Pliny, Natural History 37.11.
believe that she herself willed so to die.
90. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.750–2.380. See the extensive discussion
As an ant was wandering in Phaethonic shade, a drop of Euripides’ Hippolytus and Phaethon in Diggle 1970 (n. 88,
of amber enfolded the tiny creature. So that she was above).
despised but lately, while life remained, and now has 91. Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.23–24.
been made precious by her death.
92. The story may have had particular relevance in Italy (especially
While a viper crawled along the weeping branches of in Etruria), a land famous for its fierce boars.
the Heliads, a drop of amber flowed onto the creature
in its path. As it marveled to find itself stuck fast in 93. On Marvellous Things Heard 81–82. A. Spekke, The Ancient Amber
the viscous fluid, it stiffened, bound of a sudden by Routes and the Geographical Discovery of the Eastern Baltic
congealed ice. Be not proud, Cleopatra, of your royal (Chicago, 1957), appears to have been the first to draw
sepulchre, if a viper lies in a nobler tomb.100 attention to this story in relation to amber. See also Grilli 1975
(in n. 52, above); Hughes-Brock 1985; and Mastrocinque 1991,
It is very unlikely that a swift, small snake could be pp. 32–34.
entombed in such a fashion, but it is also only fair to 94. SeeMastrocinque 1991, pp. 16–22; Dopp 1997; and Geerlings
allow Martial a degree of poetic license, given Cleopatra’s 1996for further discussion of the planetary and celestial
traditional association with the asp. A more intriguing aspects of Phaethon.
possibility remains, however: that Martial was describing
something he had actually seen or heard about—an early 95. Claudian, vol. 2, “Panegyric on the Sixth Consulship of the
instance of amber forgery.101 Emperor Honorius,” trans. M. Platnauer, Loeb Classical Library
136 (Cambridge, MA, 1922). Four amber pendants from Italy,
NOTES each in the form of a bull-bodied man, may represent this river
83. Herodotus, Histories 3.115. 96. A. Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition
84. Ibid. 4.32–36. See J. Bouzek, “Xoana,” Oxford Journal of (London, 1967), p. 234, quoted in Ahl 1982 (n. 84, above), p. 390.
Archaeology 19, no. 1 (2000): 111; J. Bouzek, Greece, Anatolia and 97. Metropolitan Museum of Art 17.190.2067, Gift of J. Pierpont
Europe: Cultural Interrelations during the Early Iron Age Morgan, 1917: Art of the Classical World 2007, pp. 284–85, 471,
(Jonsered, Sweden, 1997), pp. 35–38; Mastrocinque 1991, pp. no. 326; Richter 1940, p. 31, figs. 97–98; Kredel 1923–24; and
41–45, with reference to J. Tréheux, “La réalité historique des Albizzatti 1919. Richter cites two other ambers with similar
offrandes hyperboréennes de Délos,” in Studies Presented to D. subjects, a fragmentary work in the Metropolitan Museum
M. Robinson (St. Louis, 1953), pp. 758–59; and F. M. Ahl, “Amber, (23.160.96) and an example once in the Stroganoff Collection
Avallon, and Apollo’s Singing Swan,” American Journal of (Pollak and Muñoz 1912, vol. 1, p. 78, pl. XLVII.1).
Philology 103 (1982): 373–411. Hughes-Brock 1985, p. 260, 98. Jannot 2005, p. 58.
points to C. W. Beck, G. C. Southard, and A. A. Adams, “Analysis
and Provenience of Minoan and Mycenaean Amber, II. Tiryns,” 99. Aristotle, Meteorology 4.10; Pliny specifies ants, gnats, and
Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 9 (1968): 5–19, and the lizards, the first two signifying similar-appearing and excellent
connection of the “Tiryns” type of gold and amber beads to the specimens of amber; Tacitus, Germania 45.
offerings. See also Fuscagni 1982, pp. 110–11. Callimachus
(Hymn4.283–84) differs in this, believing that the offerings are 100. Martial, Epigrams 4.32, 4.59, 6.15, in vol. 2, ed. and trans. D. R. S.
wheat. On this, see C. T. Seltman, “The Offerings of the Bailey, Loeb Classical Library 95 (London and Cambridge, MA,
Hyperboreans,”Classical Quarterly 22 (1928): 155–59. 1993). See P. A. Watson, “Martial’s Snake in Amber: Ekphrasis
or Poetic Fantasy?,” Latomus 61 (2001): 938–43. Was this snake
85. Ahl 1982 (n. 84, above), p. 378. in amber a forgery?
86. Apollonius, Argonautica 4.611–18. 101. SeeRoss 1998, pp. 6–9 (“fake amber”); Grimaldi 1996, pp.
87. For the passage about the funeral of Achilles (The Fall of Troy 133–41 (“processed amber, imitations, and forgeries”); D.
3.683–85), see Quintus of Smyrna, The Trojan Epic: Posthomerica, Grimaldi, A. Shedrinsky, A. Ross, and N. S. Baer, “Forgeries of
trans. and ed. A. James (Baltimore, 2006). For the funeral of Fossils in ‘Amber’: History, Identification, and Case Studies,”
Ancient Literary Sources, Origins 35

Curator 37 (1994): 251–74; and A. M. Shedrinsky, D. A. Grimaldi,
J. J. Boon, and N. S. Baer, “Application of Pyrolysis Gas
Chromatography and Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography/Mass
Spectrometry to the Unmasking of Amber Forgeries,” Journal of
Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 25 (1993): 77–95.

Amber and Forgery
If a piece of amber could be guaranteed to have been extant ancient example of such an amber object, it is a
acquired from an exotic location, such as the distant compelling explanation for certain larger works referred
north, the mythical Eridanus, or the Elektrides islands, or to in ancient sources, such as the large drinking vessels
if it embodied one of its more mystical properties— mentioned by Juvenal and Apuleius,104 or the statue of
natural luster, powerful magnetism, or particularly Augustus at Olympia described by Pausanias (see “Color
impressive inclusions—it would likely have had greater and Other Optical Characteristics,” above). What we do
worth as a magical or medicinal item, as well as being have as examples of amalgamated amber pieces are
more valuable as an ornament. Practically speaking, such segmented amber fibulae and a few carvings with added
a piece would have fetched a much higher price than an patches of amber, held together with glue or by adhesion
unprovenanced or poorer-grade one. Then, as now, the with oil and heat. fibulae sections were joined with reeds,
impetus for forgery or false provenance would have been sometimes covered in metal foil. Today, two pieces of
commensurate with price. Roger Moorey, addressing the amber may be united by coating their surfaces with
issue of forgery in relation to blue-colored stones in the linseed oil, heating them, and then pressing them together
ancient Near East, writes that “the desire for rare while still hot.
coloured stones was so great that it stimulated the
development of artificial gemstones, made first, before Probably there was no need to conceal that such pieces
about 2000 B.C., of glazed dull stones or of faïence and were joined or amalgamated, as their craftsmanship was
increasingly thereafter of glass.”102 It is likely that various just as impressive as their size. That they were composed
tree resins (particularly copal, a hard resin much younger of pieces rather than carved from one large chunk of
than amber) might have been taken for amber—at least at amber would have been generally known, since
the time of purchase—either through deliberate deception amalgamation techniques were common in Rome for
or because of a genuine misunderstanding. other media, such as large ivory statues, wood marquetry,
and glass. The greatest example of joined amber plaques
Of course, because some materials used to imitate amber is the famous Amber Room from Tsarskoje Selo, Russia,
also possessed, to some degree, the qualities for which now reconstructed. “Compressed” or “mosaic” amber (as
amber was prized, they may have been valued in their it is called today) is often darker and less lustrous than
own right, and it is therefore usually impossible to natural amber. Given the immense importance attached
distinguish cases of successful deception from resins that to amber’s natural sheen, artificial coloring applied to a
were never intended as impostors. Tutankhamen’s tomb, high-value object might have been deceptive in much the
for instance, was found to contain various nonamber same way as an inclusion forgery like Martial’s snake.
resin objects.103 Were they forgeries intended to be seen Pliny was aware that good examples of pieces displaying
as amber or another high-value resin, or were these amber’s unique qualities, such as inclusions or brilliance,
materials equally valued for their own sake? were valued according to the secret knowledge they
Evidence of other amber-related forgeries in antiquity seemed to encompass as natural wonders, and he implies
can be found in Pliny, who discusses the use of amber as much in his discussion of artificial coloring of amber.
itself to approximate transparent gemstones, notably Admittedly, we can only speculate about the exact nature
amethyst. Pliny also describes a technique for softening and extent of amber forgery in and before Pliny’s time,
amber, a necessary step in clarifying it, and one but it was an early part of a continuing interest in making
preliminary to amalgamating small pieces of amber into amberlike materials for scientific, manufacturing, and
larger ones, as is still done today. Although there is no aesthetic (as well as more dubious) ends.105 In the early

modern period, this interest is documented by no less a and other resins. The interest today in amber forgery—in
figure than Leonardo da Vinci, who describes one recipe fake jewelry and fake specimens—is such that many
for making fake amber from egg whites hardened by modern publications and websites are available to help
heating.106 identify and distinguish amber, copal, and the wide range
of manufactured-amber imitations.
In China, the high value placed on amber has resulted in
counterfeiting since at least about A.D. 500, the date of NOTES
Tao Hongjing’s book of materia medica. There he warns
against false amber and recommends “using the 102. P. R. S. Moorey, “Blue Stones in the Ancient Near East:
electrostatic ability of amber to attract straw as a means Turquoise and Lapis Lazuli,” in Caubet 1999, pp. 175–88.
of distinguishing amber from imitations.”107
103. For amber in Tutankhamen’s tomb, see S. Hood, “Amber in
More recently, significant modern forgeries of ancient Egypt,” in Beck and Bouzek 1993, pp. 230–35. Sherratt 1995 (in
amber objects have come to light. These include an n. 9, above) p. 203, confirms (and refines) Hood’s stylistic
“Assyrian” amber statuette of King Ashurnasirpal in attribution: he compares the necklace of the late Tumulus
Boston108 and the Apollo of Fiumicino (Paris, private culture of central Europe (Reinecke Br C) to a necklace from
collection), made in the early twentieth century, probably Barrow 2, Grave 13, at Schwarza, Thuringia. D. Warburton
by the same carver responsible for the Getty statuette (pers. comm., 2001) pointed out the significance of the
Seated Divinity (figure 25).109 feminine necklace in the young king’s tomb. Gaslain 2005, pp.
58–60, discusses material associated with amber in Egypt,
Mesopotamia, and the ancient Near East, and brings together
a critical bibliography. A. Niwinski, “Amber in Ancient Egypt,” in
Investigations into Amber: Proceedings of the International
Interdisciplinary Symposium, Baltic Amber and Other Fossil Resins,
997 Urbs Gyddanyzc–1997 Gdansk, 2–6 September 1997,́ ed. B.
Kosmowska-Ceranowicz and H. Paner (Gdańsk, 1999), pp.
115–19, discusses Egyptian terms for resins and cautions
against identifying objects as amber without scientific analysis.
M. Cultraro, “L’ambre nel mondo mediterraneo: L’Egeo e le
aree di contatto,” in Ambre 2007, pp. 56–59, also cautions
against the identification of amberlike resinous materials
without scientific corroboration. For additional views on the
existence and use of amber in Egypt, see Serpico 2000; A. Lucas
and J. R. Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries
(London, 1962); and E. Daumas, “Quelques notes sur l’ambre
jaune dans l’ancien Égypte,” Chronique d’Égypte 46 (1971): 60.
104. Juvenal (Satires 5.38) describes an encrusted amber cup, and
Apuleius (Golden Ass 2.2.12, 19) speaks of large cups. Strong
1966, p. 34, refers to a fragmentary Roman amber vessel in
Rouen: see Catalogue du Musée de Rouen (Rouen, 1875), p. 99.
Although the large vessels could have been carved from
exceptionally large chunks of amber, they instead may have
been composed of mosaic amber. Pliny (Natural History 37.11)
mentions a huge piece weighing thirteen pounds. A piece
weighing twenty-seven pounds washed up on the shores of
northern Jutland (Grimaldi 1996, p. 50).
105. For discussion of amber imitations, see, for example,
Langenheim 2003; and M. Ganzelewski, “Bernstein–Ersatzstoffe
Figure 25 Seated Divinity statuette, modern. Amber, H: 28 cm (11 in.), W (of und Imitationen,” in Bernstein 1996, pp. 475–82.
base): 13.5 cm (53⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 82.AO.51. Gift of
Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 57. 106. Codex Forster 3, fol. 33v. E. Ragazzi, “Historical Amber/How to
Make Amber,”
Today, an amber counterfeit such as the Seated Divinity is (accessed July 9, 2011), discusses Leonardo’s recipe. Ragazzi
made with a mixture of modern materials including cites L. Reti, “Le arti chimiche di Leonardo da Vinci,” La chimica
synthetic resin and plastics, as well as compressed amber e l’industria 34 (1952): 721–43, and compares the recipe to an

earlier one (of circa 1424–56) in a British Museum manuscript. 108. O. Muscarella, The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near
He also refers to B. S. Tosatti, Manoscritto Veneziano: Un Eastern Cultures (Groningen, 2000); and A. T. Olmstead, “Amber
manuale di pittura e altre arti—miniatura, incisione, vetri, vetrate Statuette of Ashur-nasir-apal, King of Assyria (885–860 B.C.),”
e ceramiche—di medicina, farmacopea e alchimia del Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) 36 (1938): 78–83.
Quattrocento (Milan, 1991). 109. For the Paris statuette, see references for the Getty statuette
107. Tao Hongjing, Collection of Commentaries on the Divine Seated Divinity (82.AO.51, cat. no. 57).
Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica (reference from
Langenheim 2003, p. 279).
Amber and Forgery 39

The Ancient Transport of Amber
There is evidence for the movement of amber as early as back an extraordinary amount of the precious material,
the Paleolithic era. Rough pieces have been found in which was used to extravagantly decorate the arena. Like
ancient dwelling caves in Britain and northern Europe at the rare animals that were sometimes displayed at such
some distance from amber sources.110 Early on, amber events, amber nourished the idea of exotica from afar—
likely was transported to the Mediterranean via a chain of visible affirmation of Rome’s domination of the world.113
exchange—there was no defined long-distance amber
trade until the mid-second millennium B.C., when it NOTES
probably was acquired in both raw and more finished
forms.111 It is likely that amber traveled overland to the 110. Unworked pieces have been found in dwelling caves in Europe
Mediterranean via the long route between north and at the Grotte d’Aurensan in the Hautes-Pyrénées, at Judenes in
south Europe, along the Oder, the Elbe, the Vistula, the Austria, at Kostelik and Zitmy in Moravia, at Cioclovina in
Rhine, the Dniester, and other main European rivers. Romania, and at Gough’s cave near Cheddar, Somerset,
England, all of which are far from natural sources of fossil
It also traveled eastward. For a long period it, like tin, was resin. An upsurge in the quantity of amber in the
carried by sea through the Gates of Hercules; Phoenicians archaeological record is observed in the Early Neolithic. White
were likely the main transporters. The Adriatic appears to 1992, p. 549, has shown that there is a source-to-distance
have been the main destination for amber intended for gradient for Aurignacian personal ornaments and that they are
the markets of the Italian peninsula.112 Once at the frequently manufactured from exotic materials. Shennan 1993,
Adriatic, amber must have been moved by water along pp. 62–66, discusses amber’s value in light of its acquisition by
the Italian coast, finding its way inland along river valleys political-religious elites living far from amber sources. Citing
and mountain passes. It was likely traded from farther Helms 1988, Shennan summarizes:
west and welcomed along with the Aegean and eastern The spatially distant material, because of its strangeness, has
Mediterranean goods that were transported to the central great power, and experience of it can increase the power and
and western Mediterranean. The existence of raw and prestige of those who acquire that experience.… The ultimate
worked amber from sites around the Mediterranean and goal of those seeking such goods (shields or shell or stones
farther afield—on the Iberian peninsula, in Mesopotamia, or holy incense [or amber]) may well be directed towards
in Anatolia, at Ugarit on the Syrian coast, and in Egypt— obtaining (maintaining) access to material manifestations of
from the Bronze Age onward attests to its widespread the power and potency that imbues their cosmos, thereby
value and transmission. Trade in amber was likely a continuing their close association and inclusion with the
series of short-range transactions from the sources dynamics of the universe of which they are an integral part.…
Many exchanged items have inherent magical or religious
onward, with a few outstanding exceptions. We should significance as “power-charged” treasures acquired from
imagine seekers traveling to the northern amber deposits extraordinary realms outside their own heartland.
to obtain the precious material and learn its secrets. The
“knowledge” that accompanies a highly prized substance 111. Not all students of the material agree that it was traded in both
was as important as the thing itself. finished and unfinished forms.
There is no literary evidence for direct trade between 112. In Pliny’s day, he relates (Natural History 37.11) that amber was
Italy and the north until the first century A.D. Pliny the previously “conveyed by the Germans mainly into Pannonia.
Elder writes of a Roman knight, commissioned to procure From there it was first brought into prominence by the Veneti,
known to the Greeks as the Enetoi, who are close neighbors of
amber for a gladiatorial display presented by Nero, who the Pannonians and live around the Adriatic.”
traversed both the trade route and the coasts, bringing

113. J. Kolendo, A la recherche de l’ambre baltique: L’expédition d’un
chevalier romain sous Néron (Warsaw, 1981).
Ancient Transport of Amber 41

Literary Sources on the Use of Amber
The archaeological record hints at a variety of uses of
amber throughout the ages that are sometimes
complemented by the surviving literature, but often are
not. Certainly those uses that were by nature magical or
tied up with mystery religions are unlikely to have been
referred to other than obliquely in any mainstream
literature, although they were extensive and widely
acknowledged from very early on, through the Classical
era and well into the Middle Ages. In addition, as helpful
as the archaeological record is in elucidating the use of
amber in mourning and burial contexts, it is less so when
it comes to the everyday employment of amber as
documented in the literature. Its use among the very
wealthy ranged from girls’ playthings to decorative items
such as the amber-encrusted goblet that Juvenal mentions
in a satire to sculpture such as the imposing statue of
Augustus that Pausanias describes to items for magical Figure 26 Female Head in Profile pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, H:
and religious purposes—amulets, incense, fumigators, 5.7 cm (21⁄4 in.), W: 5.6 cm (21⁄5 in.), D: 3 cm (11⁄5 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
and burnt offerings (which by definition do not leave any Museum, 77.AO.81.4. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 14.
physical trace). Martial writes of the pleasant odor amber
gives off when it is handled by girls, of “amber nuggets Pliny (as usual) has a long list of possible uses: amber is
polished by hand,” and compares kisses to “well-worn carved into figurines (figure 27),116 fashioned into truffle-
amber.”114 In a letter to Marcus Aurelius, Fronto speaks cutting knives,117 made into artificial gems,118 and in
scathingly of those writers (Seneca and Lucan) who “rub Syria used for spindle whorls. He also describes amber
up one and the same thought oftener than girls their drinking cups, arms, and decorations of the arena (uses
perfumed amber.”115These analogies provide some that would have been appreciated by men as well as by
explanation for the wear on many pre-Roman amber women), although he prefaces these examples with
beads; magical use explains it further (figure 26). denunciatory comments at the beginning of Book 37: “The
next place among luxuries [after myrrhine and rock
crystal], although as yet fancied only by women, is held by
amber. All three enjoy the same prestige as precious
stones … but not even luxury has yet succeeded in
inventing a justification for using amber.”

and spices. One of the oldest Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri,
opened in the nineteenth century, was found to include
“bits of amber and other oriental gums placed around the
corpse,” as George Dennis recounts. A morsel carried off
and later ignited by the excavator “caused so powerful an
odour as to be insupportable.”126
“Incense ‘offerings’ were a normal part of sacrificial
rituals and the use of incense was often called for in
magical rituals.”127 In China, a nineteenth-century
traveler records, chippings and amber dust left over from
cutting figured pieces were used for varnish or incense.
“The burning of the odiferous amber is the highest mark
of respect possible to pay a stranger or distinguished
guest, and the more they burn the more marked is their
expression of esteem.”128
Figure 27 Lion with Bird pendant, Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H: 4.2 cm
(13⁄5 in.), W: 6 cm (23⁄8 in.), D: 1.5 cm (3⁄5 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
Museum, 77.AO.81.2. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 5. In ancient medical practice, incense, resins, wood
shavings, and other odoriferous materials (usually plants)
Amber is also often burned; as Tacitus says: “If you make or aromatics were used as a form of fumigation, either
an experiment of burning amber by the application of alone or in compounds. It is also likely that amber incense
fire, it kindles, like a torch, emitting a fragrant flame, and was used in divination: omens were read in the plumes
in a little time, taking the tenacious nature of pitch or and short curls of smoke formed by burning amber
119 (figure 28).129
resin.” Pliny observes that “amber chippings steeped in
oil burn brighter and longer than the pith of flax.”120 This
suggests that amber may have had a practical use as
interior lighting. Pliny also cites evidence that the
northern Guiones used amber instead of wood as fuel and
refers to what must have been a very common use of
amber as incense, suggesting that in India, “amber was, to
its inhabitants, found to be more agreeable even than
Such burning may seem a rather wasteful use of a
precious material, but it was essential for offerings, for
communication between the human and the divine, and
even for feeding the gods, as in Egypt.122 As Joan Todd has
pointed out, “From the earliest recorded times burnt
offerings and specifically incense are considered the most
sacred gifts of all. The burning of amber would not have
been considered a destructive act, but rather an elevated
use of the material.”123
Amber burned as incense was of great consequence in
rituals involving solar deities before and during the
Classical era, since both amber and incense were
symbolic of the sun in the ancient world.124 Incense,
which emitted a fragrant smoke when scattered on
lighted coals (in either a stationary or a movable burner
or censer), was a regular element in Babylonian religious
ceremonies.125 The thousands of incense burners found
in sanctuaries and graves throughout Greece and Etruria
attest to the great importance of burning fragrant gums
Literary Sources, Use 43

114. Martial, Epigrams 5.37.11. Martial compares the kisses of
Diadumenus to “well-worn amber” in 3.65 and those of
another (an unnamed youth) to “amber thaw’d in a virgin’s
hand” in 11.8. Juvenal, Satires 6.573, makes fun of a woman
who clutches “a well-worn calendar in her hands as if it were a
ball of clammy amber.” Translations by Faris Malik:
115. Fronto, “On Speeches,” in Correspondence, vol. 1, trans. C. R.
Haines, Loeb Classical Library 112 (Cambridge, MA, 1919).
116. “Its rating among luxuries is so high that a human figurine,
however small, is more expensive than a number of human
beings, alive and in good health.” Here, in Natural History 37.12,
Pliny may refer to simple carvings such as the actors in the
British Museum (Strong 1966, nos. 109–13), but it is more likely
that he cites Roman masterworks such as the Dionysos group
from Esch, the Netherlands: see, for example, A. Zadoks-
Josephus Jitta, “Dionysos in Amber,” Bulletin antieke beschaving
37 (1962): 61–66. Or might Pliny be referring to household
Penates of amber, as documented in the House of a Priest at
117. Pliny, Natural History 22.47.99. Strong 1966, p. 12, declares such
a use “an idiotic affectation,” but it may reflect the high regard
in which amber was held.
118. Pliny, Natural History 37.12, states that “amber plays an
important part also in the making of artificial transparent
gems, particularly artificial amethysts, although … it can be
dyed any color.”
Piece of burning Baltic amber, producing its distinctive flame color 119. Tacitus, Germania 45.
Figure 28
and characteristic smoke. Length of amber before burning: 3 cm (11⁄8 in.). 120. However, Philemon is cited by Pliny (Natural History 37.11) as
Private collection. Photograph © Lee B. Ewing. saying that amber does not yield a flame. Strong 1966, p. 24,
Amber incense may have been ground into a powder and citing A. Bonarelli, “Le ambre nelle tombe picene,” Rendiconti
mixed with other aromatics, or nitrates, to keep it dell’Istituto Marchigiano di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti 3 (1927), and
burning. In Rome, as Karen Polinger Foster shows, Marconi 1933, col. 409, says that “it is recorded that before any
“incense was shaped into cones, balls, discs, pyramids, regular excavations took place at Belmonte Piceno, the
obelisks, granules, and pellets” as it had been in Egypt and villagers used amber found in ancient tombs as fuel on their
the Near East.130 But the Romans apparently did not fires.” Strong adds (but without references), “The same
follow the Egyptian practice of using figurative incense practice is recorded in the Perugia district.”
blocks in forms such as birds or recumbent calves, which 121. Barfod 1996, p. 453. Amber’s combustibility (and its
clearly suggests a religious element to the burning of corresponding application of being burnt) is suggested by at
incense.131 A few pieces of unworked amber found in least two of its ancient names: sualiternicum and thium. Thium
Etruscan graves might be construed as evidence of amber is derived from the old Italic thyem, or thyon. Ritters, cited by F.
used for fumigation or as unburnt incense.132 And it may Eckstein and J. H. Waszink, was the first to connect thium with
be that the very same amber objects considered then and incense. Still today, amber is an important ingredient of
now as ornament and amulet (for example, birds or incense in India and many other places in the world and is
recumbent calves) might also have been valued for their advertised globally, as a Web search can demonstrate.
potential as light energy or incense. On the ancient use of resins in incense, see Langenheim 2003,
chap. 8. A. L. D’Agata, “Incense and Perfumes in the Late
Bronze Age Aegean,” in Avanzini 1997, p. 85, notes that the
ultimate origin of the Greek term for incense “can be traced

back to the Mycenaean tuwo (pl. tuwea), which in the Late amber wasnotused as incense (or an ingredient thereof), in
Bronze Age seems to have been used as a general term for fumigation, and/or in sacrifice.
aromatics, and cannot be in any way connected with 122. Black and Green 1992, p. 109.
frankincense.” D’Agata presents evidence that “other resins
were known in the Aegean [during] the Mycenaean period, and 123. J. M. Todd, “Baltic Amber in the Ancient Near East: A
probably also in Minoan Crete.” Nearly a ton of terebinth resin Preliminary Investigation,” Journal of Baltic Studies 16 (1985):
and a large group of worked Baltic amber beads were among 292.
the cargo of the late-fourteenth-century shipwreck at Uluburun
off the Lycian coast (Turkey). See C. Pulak, “Who Were the 124. Shennan 1993(inn. 110, above), p. 66; Bouzek 1993, p. 141. As
Mycenaeans Aboard the Uluburun Ship?,” in Emporia: Aegeans Shennan summarizes: “Amber is a prehistoric exemplar of
in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean: Proceedings of the 10th Mary Helms’ [Helms 1988] ‘political religious exotic
International Aegean Conference, Italian School of Archaeology, experience.’ Northern amber thus mirrored southern myrrh as
Athens, 14–18 April 2004 (Aegaeum 25 [2005]), ed. R. Laffineur a mystic import to the Mediterranean (and was, on occasion,
and E. Greco, pp. 295–312; and C. Pulak, “The Cargo of the Ulu used in the same way).” Archaeological and linguistic evidence
Burun Ship and the Evidence for Trade with the Aegean and shows that the use of amber as a “gemstone” occurred in
Beyond,” in Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity, 1500–450 B.C.: Greece and Etruria at the same time in the eighth and seventh
Proceedings of an International Symposium Held at the Italian centuries, alongside other “well-documented Near Eastern
Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University, practices such as incense-burning, purificatory rituals,
November 16–18, 2000, ed. L. Bonfante and V. Karageorghis hepatoscopy, and the use of foundation deposits in temples”:
(Nicosia, 2001), pp. 22–25, 37–39. The Murex opercula found on Faraone 1992, pp. 26–27. See also W. Burkert, “Itinerant
the Uluburun ship is today an ingredient of incense in many Diviners and Magicians: A Neglected Element in Cultural
parts of the Arab world; see G. F. Bass, “Prolegomena to a Contact,” in The Greek Renaissance of the Eighth Century B.C.:
Study of Maritime Traffic in Raw Materials to the Aegean Tradition and Innovation, ed. R. Hägg, Acta Instituti Anthenensis
during the Fourteenth and Thirteenth Centuries B.C.,” in Regni Susiae 30 (1983): 115–19; and W. Burkert, “‘A Seer, or a
TEXNH: Craftsmen, Craftswomen, and Craftsmanship in the Aegean Healer’: Magic and Medicine from East to West,” in Burkert
Bronze Age; Proceedings of the 6th International Aegean 1992, pp. 41–87.
Conference, Philadelphia, Temple University, 18–21 April 1996 125. Black and Green 1992, p. 109.
(Aegaeum16 [1997]), ed. R. Laffineur and P. Betancourt, p. 163
(with reference to C. Pulak, “1994 Excavation at Uluburun: The 126. For amber and other resins surrounding the corpse in the
Final Campaign,” Institute of Nautical Archaeology Quarterly 21, Grotta della Sedia, Banditaccia Necropolis, Cerveteri, see G.
no. 4 [1994]: 11.) Dennis, The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, vol. 2 (London,
On incense in the Greek world, see W. W. Mueller, RE suppl. 15 1848), p. 59, n. 4, with reference to P. E. Visconti and A. Torlonia,
(1978), s.v. “Weihrauch,” pp. 702ff. A. Testa, Candelabri e Antichi monumenti sepolcrali scoperto nel ducato di Ceri, negli
thymiateria in Vaticano (Rome, 1989); and L. Ambrosini, scavi eseguiti d’ordine di Sua Eccellenza il signor D. Alessandro
Thymiateria etruschi in bronzo: Di età tardo classica, alto e medio Torlonia signore del Luogo dichiarati dal cav. P. E. Visconti (Rome,
ellenistica (Rome, 2002), concentrate on frankincense and 1836), pp. 29–32.
myrrh as incense ingredients. C. Zaccagnino, Il thymiaterion nel 127. Black and Green 1992, p. 109. Burning and offering incense as
mondo greco: Analisi delle fonti, tipologia, impieghi (Rome, 1998); a means of communication between the earthly and divine
and C. Zaccagnino, “L’incenso e gli incensieri nel mondo spheres is first attested in the Pyramid Texts of the third
greco,” in Avanzini 1997, pp. 100–20, offer a fuller discussion of millennium and remained a central cult act in Egyptian temples
incense, but no mention is made of amber. However, other erected by Greek and Roman rulers. In Mesopotamia, as B.
ancient authors do describe additional substances burned as Böck, “‘When You Perform the Ritual of “Rubbing”’: On
incense, as Mueller says. See Aristotle (Meteorology 4.10), Medicine and Magic in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Journal of Near
where he lists in one breath “amber, myrrh, frankincense, and Eastern Studies 62, no. 1 (2003): 10, describes, “the burning of
all the substances called ‘tears,’” and Theophrastus, On Odours incense plays an important role in magical and latreutic cult
12–13, where he differentiates among myrrh, frankincense, and because of its association with purity and impurity. Fumigation
“anything that is burnt as incense.” G. Banti, “Names of is part of the veneration of gods and, accordingly, the burning
Aromata in Semitic and Cushitic Languages,” in Avanzini 1997, of sweet-smelling fumigants accompanies sacrifice, prayers, as
p. 169, underlines the difficulty in “singling out the gum resins well as intercessions.”
of frankincense and myrrh with respect to other aromata …
particularly in the most ancient literary sources and in the 128. E. A. Smith, “Concerning Amber,” American Naturalist 14, no. 3
reports by the earliest European travellers.” Burnt amber has a (March 1880): 106.
delicious odor. From all of the evidence in the ancient sources, 129. This practice is documented in Old Babylonian times; see Black
archaeological evidence, and the widespread use of amber in and Green 1992, p. 109. See K. Polinger Foster, “Dionysos and
incense throughout the world today, it is hard to believe that Vesuvius in the Villa of the Mysteries,” AntK 44 (2001): 43, n. 39
Literary Sources, Use 45

(with extensive discussion of smoke omens and divination). 130. Foster 2001 (in n. 129, above), pp. 44.
The Maya have used resin as incense throughout their history, 131. On the interpretation of the function of amber in funerary
from 600 B.C. onward. The act of burning copal, accompanied contexts (are these grave offerings, ornaments, incense, or a
by the “language for rendering holy,” brings about interactions combination thereof?), compare the discussion of some
with deities and ancestors and initiates a series of figured ambers from the New World: the amber figurines in
transformative processes that characterize Mayan religious the graves of certain northern Costa Rican peoples living there
and cosmological beliefs. Copal pom is believed to be an circa A.D. 700–1400 have been interpreted as grave offerings.
effective medicine for many ailments, and its incense is Langenheim 2003, p. 282, cites C. S. Balser, “Notes on Resin in
considered “food for the gods,” since they cannot eat as Aboriginal Central America,” in Akten des 34. Internationale
mortals do, but instead imbibe the products of human ritual, Amerikanisten-Kongresses (Vienna, 1960), pp. 374–80, who
primarily the smoke of incense—paralleling belief about “suggested that these figurines could have been intended for
incense in Egypt, Greece, and Rome (summarized from burning as incense after death.”
Langenheim 2003, pp. 29–67. Langenheim cites various
sources, including K. J. Triplett, “The Ethnobotany of Plant 132. Unworked lumps have been found in several Etruscan tombs
Resins in the Maya Cultural Region of Southern Mexico and (see n. 126, above).
Central America,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Texas, Austin, 1999).

Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets
Because of its beauty, saturated color, and translucency, The act of writing on or figuring a material—providing it
amber was seen in antiquity not only as an ornament, but with a face or a form—gave it new significance and
also as a supernatural and curative substance. To be power.138 One might write on a gemstone or amulet “to
overly concerned with the distinction among the roles of create the impression of mysterious power by virtue of
amber (sacral, ornamental, magical, medicinal) is perhaps the writing itself.”139 Now, in addition to the associations
to miss the more subtle relationships among them. Pliny the material itself carries with it, the figured object has
makes no such mistake: “Even today,” he writes, “the become a metonym for a past event, or a desired outcome,
peasant women of Transpadane Gaul wear pieces of or perhaps for the attributes of a deity (see the ram’s-head
amber as necklaces, chiefly as adornment, but also figures 29 and 39). Such an object derives new
because of its medicinal properties. Amber, indeed, is significance when it is attached to a person—tied around
supposed to be a prophylactic against tonsillitis and other the neck, perhaps, or fastened to the arm or a girdle.
affections of the pharynx, for the water near the Alps has Unsurprisingly, the Greek terms for amulet, periamma
properties that harm the human throat in various andperiapta, come from a verb that means “to tie on,”
ways.”133 “Amber is found to have some use in and an amulet worn by a human can be defined, quite
pharmacy,” Pliny goes on to say, “although it is not for this simply, as a powerful object attached to a person.140
reason that women like it. It is of benefit to babies when it Ancient amulets range widely in type, from natural
is attached to them as an amulet.”134 In this passage, we objects141 to simple carved pendants to figured objects to
find one of the two surviving ancient literary references lamellae, objects inscribed with magical symbols or
to an amulet of amber, a use (the archaeological evidence incantations to ward off evil. The material from which the
tells us) that was pervasive from as early as the mid- amulet was made was critical. T. G. H. James suggests,
second millennium B.C. Caesarius of Arles gives us the “Although certain materials, semiprecious stones in
other: he warns his readers against wearing “diabolical” particular, were invested with magical properties in
amulets made of certain herbs, or of amber, around the ancient Egypt, it seems that these properties were usually
neck.135 only activated when the stone in question was used for
the manufacture of amuletic figures of specific kinds.”142
What did these amulets look like? The ones that Pliny
refers to may have been perforated and polished raw
lumps, or perhaps they were bulla-shaped or crescent-
shaped.136 It is possible that they were made into special
shapes, including figural subjects, as had been traditional
for amber amulets in northern Europe and around the
Mediterranean (and beyond) for millennia. Might one of
Pliny’s amulets be similar to the Roman Head of Medusa
(see figure 1)? Or might they have been like one of
numerous surviving small carvings in amber—bird and
animal figures, or corn ears and fruit—given as New
Year’s presents in Imperial Rome? Several of these New
Year’s gifts bear inscriptions referring to this occasion,
evidence that amber’s magical properties were still

Figure 29 Ram’s Headpendant, Italic, 500–400 B.C. Amber, L: 3.6 cm (12⁄5 in.), Figure 30 Addorsed Lions’ Heads with Boar in Relief plaque, Etruscan,
W: 1.9 cm (3⁄4 in.), D: 1.5 cm (3⁄5 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 500–480 B.C. Amber, H: 3.6 cm (12⁄5 in.), W: 8.2 cm (31⁄5 in.), D: 1.2 cm (1⁄2 in.).
77.AO.81.15. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 45. Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.83. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See
cat. no. 38.
Almost any jewelry object could have had some
apotropaic function—and, as Geraldine Pinch remarks in The impact of the Aegean, the Near East, and Egypt
her book on Egyptian magic, it is hardly an exaggeration (where women and children wore the majority of
to say that most Egyptian jewelry had amuletic value. amulets) on native Italian customs during the first
How conscious wearers were of their ornaments’ millennium B.C., a period of contact and acculturation, is
symbolism is a more difficult question to answer.143 evidenced by the amulets’ subjects. New images, spells,
amulets, deities, and aspects of deities replaced, perfected,
The same is evidently true for amber objects of or married with the old. Although only a portion of the
adornment. In life, amulets were worn as charms to bring extant figured ambers can be associated with religious
good luck, health, protection, or love, to avert danger, or cults, the use of amulets was certainly bound up with
to cure disease. Figured or inscribed amulets often would secret knowledge of sources of power—the province of
have had a sympathetic function;144 a figure of a boar, skilled practitioners such as magicians, priests, “wise
such as the Getty plaque Addorsed Lions’ Heads with Boar women,” healers, and midwives.147 Practitioners of magic
in Relief (figure 30), might have brought luck in a hunt, might exert an influence on all levels of society.
safeguarded the wearer from the boar he was hunting, or Theophrastus maintains that Pericles, on his sickbed, was
even channeled the powers of Herakles or Meleager. induced by the women of his household to wear an
Situations of potential crisis, such as a hunt, a dangerous amulet—entirely against his better judgment. The story,
journey, or childbirth, warranted temporary amulets.145 whether apocryphal or not, is further evidence for
More permanent amulets, in the form of jewelry, could widespread use of amulets among the elite, as well as the
have provided protection during childhood, throughout lower classes.148 It is also interesting for its indications
an individual’s life, and during the fraught voyage to the about the role of women in promoting such use.149
afterworld, the dangerous realm of spirits and demons.
Indeed, amber and amber amulets were important Amulets were especially valuable to women for
elements in the mourning ritual as permanent tears and controlling or increasing fertility, protecting the unborn,
as grave gifts.146 helping to ensure safe childbirth, and safeguarding their
children. Protective gynecological amulets must have
been among the earliest of all amulets. Such items in Italy
and the Greek world were age-old, the lore passing from
generation to generation, no doubt affected by contact
with new populations, practitioners, and magical
One seventh-century B.C. plain pendant in the Getty
collection (figure 31) is inscribed with two images, on one
side a fish and on the other something resembling the
Egyptian symbol of a papyrus clump, or a pool with lotus
flowers. This piece is one of forty-three beads from the

same parure, its original findspot now unknown. Who an Argonaut wears strings of bullae on his arms, while a
scratched the signs? How were they understood? Was the companion ties on yet another (figure 32).154 On a
mere presence of Egyptian, or Egyptianlike, writing sarcophagus from the Tomb of the Triclinium at
enough to make the amber more efficacious? Tarquinia, a reclining woman wearing a necklace of
bullae, holding a thyrsus and kantharos and keeping a
fawn by her side, is clearly a devotee or maybe a priestess
of Dionysos/Pacha/Fufluns. On Etruscan mirrors, Aplu,
Fufluns, Tinia, Epiur and Maris, young Hercle, Thetis and
Alcumene, Athena, and Turan wear bullae.155 Votive
images of women, girls, and boys, and effigies of deceased
men, women, and babies, are often shown with a bulla or
bullae.156 A mid-fourth-century B.C. mirror in New York
Figure 31 Pendant inscribed with two Egyptianizing hieroglyphs, 7th shows Peleus wearing an armlet with bulla-shaped
century B.C. Amber, H: 3.8 cm (11⁄2 in.), W: 2.2 cm (7⁄8 in.), D: 0.8 cm (3⁄10 in.). pendants on her left arm and Calaina (Galene), a Nereid,
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 82.AO.161.285. holding a circlet with similar pendants in her left hand
(figure 33).157
The serious dangers of disease for young children and the
considerable risks for women in childbirth and early
motherhood gave rise to a belief that the dead were
jealous of new life, and the need for magical protection of
women and children was a compelling one.150 For a
pregnant woman, amber’s property of encapsulating
living things may have made it an especially powerful
similia similibus amulet, a “pregnant stone.”151 Resin also
heals damage and wounds in trees; could it extend such
properties to people wearing it?
The bulla, a lens-or bubble-shaped container, is perhaps
the best known of all ancient amulet types. Known in
Rome asEtruscum aurum, it combined two magical
functions: it enclosed amuletic substances, and it Figure 32 Red-figure crater attributed to the Argonaut Group (detail),
symbolized the sun in material, in form, and in its Etruscan, early 4th century B.C. Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale,
powers.152 The shape derives from age-old disk amulets of 4026. Photo: Nicolo Orsi Battaglini / IKONA.
the sun. The bulla was given to high-born boys. The
ancient sources relate that the king Tarquinius Priscus
was the first to present his son with a gold amulet after
the son had killed an enemy in battle, and from that time
onward the sons of cavalrymen wore amulets. Ancient
sculpture shows that Etruscan boys wore the bulla, and
Roman writers recount that it was worn by magistrates,
triumphant generals, and even domestic animals. It
should be noted that bullae were made not only of gold,
but also of other bright metals such as bronze, as is
evidenced by bronze bullae of various forms found in
Latin and Etruscan graves dating as early as the eighth
century B.C.
In fourth-century pre-Roman art, the single bulla and
strings of bullae, not only lens-shaped but also pouch-
shaped pendants, were worn by elite personages, some
recognizable divinities and heroes. Dionysos wears a
single bulla on the Praenestine “Cista Napoleon” in the
Louvre.153 On an Etruscan red-figure krater in Florence,
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets 49

Figure 33 Mirror with Peleus, Thetis, and Galene, Etruscan, Late Classical, ca.
350 B.C. Bronze, Diam.: 16.2 cm (63⁄8 in.). New York, The Metropolitan Figure 34 Necklace, Italic or Etruscan, 550–475 B.C. Amber and gold, L
Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1909, 09.221.16. © The Metropolitan Museum of (approx.): 39.5 cm (159⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.77.5.
Art / Art Resource, NY. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
As early as the eighth century B.C., the bulla was imitated If amber was fiery and glowing, its most prized
in amber for pendants on necklaces, but it is important to characteristics, then this alone might have ensured it a
note that documented finds of amber bullae come almost special protective and sanctifying role.159 Amber could
exclusively from elite female burials (figure 34).158 Strings also symbolize constancy. Amber necklaces were gifts for
of amber bullae excavated in Latium and the Basilicata brides, mortal and immortal, as the ancient sources tell
date to the early seventh century. Bullae of amber were us.
special translations of the form: they were sun-shaped
and sun-colored, shining like the sun, and instead of Another sympathetic function of amber amulets might
containing amuletic substances inside a metal envelope, have been their ability to focus the powers of a particular
the material itself was a curative (remedia) that could deity and astrological force. Amber’s magnetic properties
enclose inclusions. gave it a special role in attraction (and displacement), and
because of its already potent associations with the sun,
amber may have been thought able to draw, attract, and
fix the sun’s influence.160 Ancient beliefs in the ability of
stones to draw down the power of the planets and stars,
and especially the rays of the sun, were widespread and
are described first in Egyptian texts and later in Hermetic
writings on talismans. We might extrapolate from such
sources how amber might have worked in this regard.
One Hermetic papyrus describes how “the magician
draws down to earth the spiritual powers of the star,
planets, and fixes them in talismans prepared of the
proper substances and engraved with or shaped into the
proper symbolic forms.”161 In early modern Europe,
amber, gold, and rubies—all solar materials—were
believed, like the sun, to have the property of generating
the vital spirit of the microcosmos.
It is not difficult to see how a shiny amber amulet could
have been thought to contain sunlight or to allow light to

pass through it in some active sense. In Greece and Italy,
songs, healing words, spoken prayers, and incantations
accompanied such amulets. Roy Kotansky traces the use
of written incantations and symbols with amulets back to
the rituals of Egypt and the Near East and notes that these
“may have been transmitted to Ancient Greece and Italy
by traditional folk means, traders, or itinerant medicine
men or women.”162
There is a relative paucity of information in Greek and
Latin literature about amulets and their use, as noted
above, and much of the archaeological evidence awaits
study. However, what does exist is enlightening, as recent
scholarship shows. Some well-known examples indicate
how pervasive was the use of “tied-on” substances:
Pericles, sick with the plague, was prodded into wearing
an amulet around his neck. Socrates in Plato’s Republic
lists amulets and incantations as among the techniques
used to heal the sick.163 More is known about Egyptian
and Near Eastern amulets, from both written sources and
archaeological evidence. Such information may be useful
in coming to conclusions about early Greek and Italian
use of amulets, but despite the similarities, it would be a
mistake to assume that all such usage had Oriental
prototypes. Much less is documented about northern
European practice, and yet many subjects of the figured
amber pendants found in Italy have Baltic precedents that
are thousands of years older: standing human figures Figure 35 Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos), Etruscan, 600-550 B.C.
(figure 35), faces, and detached heads, bears, and hoofed Amber, H: 13 cm (51⁄8 in.), W: 4.5 cm (13⁄4 in.), D: 1.8 cm (7⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J.
animals.164 Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.84. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 1.
From the point of view of amber amulet usage in Italy,
seven large ambers, four of which are figured—two
female heads and two satyrs—found in Tomb 48 at
Ripacandida are of great interest.165 Angelo Bottini has
suggested that the objects were not part of a necklace but
may have been put inside a pouch or strung together to
form a chaplet or a sort of rosary.166 A chaplet, or circlet,
with bulla-shaped pendants held by the figure of Calaina
(Galene) on a fourth-century Etruscan mirror (see figure
33) is an unusual ornament in Classical art. In Assyrian
and Neo-Assyrian art, a goddess carries a similar chaplet,
or string of beads, as an attribute.167 Amuletic pouches,
containing all sorts of materials and objects, remained
popular throughout Italy until the modern era. At the end
of the nineteenth century, Giuseppe Bellucci collected and
studied hundreds of such protective bags, or sacchettini,
many of great age.168
Using terms such as necklace, armlet, collar, pectoral, or
girdle for worked amber objects minimizes their ties to
older amuletic traditions. There is a long history of such
strings of amulets (some are seals) throughout Europe, in
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets 51

the Mediterranean littoral, and in the Near East. Such The features of one of the frontal female faces is nearly
groupings are documented as early as the Early Dynastic worn off, and three of the rams’ heads, as well as the
period (third millennium B.C.) at Ur.169 Mesopotamian pendant in the form of a dormant feline, show evidence of
texts specifically refer to figured amulets in the context of use wear. This is in contrast to the comparatively fresh
protection and healing, amulets that were to be either surface of other ambers from the tomb, including the
carried and worn by the living or placed on various parts recumbent sphinx (which is also at least a generation
of the deceased’s body. Strings of amulets are documented older than the burial).
as hanging in houses in the ancient Near East. In Greek,
Cypriot, and Etruscan art, babies and children (and some The woman’s Tomb 48 at Melfi-Pisciolo included at least
Greek young women) are depicted wearing amulets tied five figured pendants, but only one female head in profile
onto a long cord worn diagonally across the body. This shows considerable surface wear. It contrasts with the
tradition may well be the ancestor of the Roman male subject, a crisply detailed winged nude youth in a
crepundia. As Demetrius Waarsenburg argues, the Phrygian hat with a shield at his side and sword in his
hand.172 A large pendant of Eos carrying off a youth,
crepundia (charms strung together and used as rattles for
children) can be connected to these assemblages of perhaps Kephalos, from a burial of circa 350 B.C. at
amulets, implying that they originally had a more Tricarico–Serra del Cedro, is an extreme example of face-
170 rubbing: the youth’s face is nearly lost.173 Female heads
profound significance.
from a documented find at Valle Pega (Spina) and rams’
Although nearly all figured amber pendants excavated in heads from excavated tombs at Bologna show well the
Italy were found in funerary contexts, many of them had contrast between the better-preserved tops of heads and
“lives” and an owner or owners (not necessarily the the more abraded faces.174 A number of the Getty female
deceased) before they became part of the mourning ritual. and rams’ heads illustrate similar patterns of wear. Many
Interments could contain both old and new pieces. Some other carved amber objects from burials throughout Italy
may have been heirlooms, already venerable and (and Serbia) bear signs of wear: pulling troughs at the
powerful, made so by provenance, status, or accrued suspension hole, as in a head of a satyr from Palestrina
potency. (figure 36), handled or rubbed surfaces, and repairs, such
Some beads and pendants show signs of use—of handling, as the drilling of replacement perforations or securing
broken pieces in mounts.175
of pulling on the suspension perforations, of rubbing. Was
the rubbing done to enliven the electromagnetic
properties of the amber? To release its fragrance? For the
tactile sensation? To activate amber’s divine associations?
For medicinal and magical purposes? To enact the magic
of the amulet’s imagery?
The blurred features of some figured ambers must be due
to handling in the course of amuletic use. Several
examples from controlled excavations seem to confirm
this. A female head from a grave at Latronico retains
sharp groovings in the hair and crisp delineations in the
diadem, but has smoothed facial features (its tiny chips
are likely from modern times). It has a standard
perforation through the top of the pendant but also a
secondary perforation through the temple area, front to
back, which has been elongated by gravity and pull, very
like the holes on heirloom Tibetan or African amber
beads. The Herakles and satyrs’ heads from a woman’s
grave, Tomb 106 at Braida di Vaglio, which may be at least
a generation older than the burial, are salient examples of
nonuniform use wear. The face of the Herakles pendant is
especially worn.171 Some figured ambers from another of
the Braida di Vaglio tombs, Tomb 102, that of a little girl,
are clearly worn on the prominent surfaces of the face.

Classical illustrations of people (and divinities) wearing
figured elements and amulets around their necks and
limbs are valuable evidence for figured pendant usage
outside the grave context.
Figure 36 Dancing Figure or Head of Satyr, Etruscan or Italic, early 5th
century B.C. Amber, legacy dimension: 7.5 x 4.7 cm (215⁄16 x 17⁄8 in.). Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Miss C. Wissmann, 02.253. Photograph © 2011,
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The sometimes disfiguring large drilled holes in the faces Figure 37 Winged Female Head in Profile, Etruscan, 525-480 B.C. Amber, H:
7.9 cm (31⁄8 in.), W: 4.9 cm (19⁄10 in.), D: 2.5 cm (1 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
deserve special comment. Why and when were they Museum, 76.AO.85.2. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 15.
bored? Raw amber pieces are sometimes found with large
round holes in their center, the result of resin forming Paintings or sculptures of figures wearing a string with a
around a branch or twig (now disintegrated). If a piece of single amulet or a group of them (as opposed to necklaces
amber was purposely perforated before it was made into designed with repeating elements) are uncommon in
an object, the act might have occurred anywhere between Archaic and Classical art from Italy, but the depictions
the Baltic and Italy, and at any time, for it is likely that that do survive depict bullae-wearing men, women, and
amber moved south in both worked and unworked form children, horses, and even ravens. Human figures of both
from earliest times. On a practical level, the holes may sexes wear them around the neck and on the upper arms.
have been drilled into the amber to better protect it when The single ornaments include gorgon masks and the
it was suspended from a pin, or, once the piece was cored, heads of animals, such as fawns, lions, and rams. A
it would have been suitable for wearing on a pin. The number of terracottas of seated goddesses from Greek
smoothed prominent surfaces of the Getty pendant sanctuaries in Magna Graecia, for example, wear strings
Winged Female Head in Profile (figure 37), the multiple of figured elements, among them bulls’ heads.177 On
through-bores, the abrasion troughs in the suspension Greek vases, on Cypriot terracotta sculptures of temple
perforations at the top, and the central hole all indicate boys, and on Laconian bronze images of partly clothed
that this pendant must have been used over a period of young women are seen cross-torso carriers bearing
time before it was finally interred in a grave.176 How and various kinds of amulets: crescents, boar tusks, circlets,
by whom amber pendants were used during life is a and other shapes. Women wearing a single lotus-blossom
subject for speculation. Pliny’s account is one useful pendant are represented in terracottas, bronzes, and
source of information, and the few surviving Archaic and
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets 53

plastic vases of the late sixth and fifth centuries.
Pomegranates and simple flowers are also not unusual.
All amulet wearers depicted on Etruscan fourth-century
mirrors are elite subjects, and most are identified as
divinities and heroes. Two examples are important for
amber pendants, especially because of the material’s
association with Apollo/Aplu and Dionysos/Fufluns. On
many fourth-century Etruscan mirrors, Aplu wears
pendants around his neck or on his upper arm. On a mid-
fourth-century Etruscan bronze mirror in Naples, the
infant Dionysos/Fufluns is already adorned with a ribbon
of amulets during his birth from Tinia’s thigh. Fufluns as a
youth, now with a necklace of amulets but otherwise
unadorned, is kissed by his mother, Semele, on another in
Figure 39 Ram’s Headpendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, L: 3.6 cm (12⁄5
in.), W: 2 cm (4⁄5 in.), D: 1.8 cm (7⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum,
Key illustrations of animal pendants in use are painted in 76.AO.82. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 39.
the Tarquinian Tomb of Hunting and Fishing (circa 510
B.C.) (figure 38).179 On the back wall of the main chamber,
the male banqueter wears a necklace of three (possibly
amber) rams’ heads almost identical to the Getty amber
rams’ heads (figure 39). In the first room of the tomb
(figure 40), simple carriers with ram’s- and lion’s-head
pendants, similar to those in the Getty (figure 41), hang
from branches. This room of the tomb may depict the
grove of Apollo or a Dionysian setting.
Figure 40 Figured amulet necklaces in the antechamber of the Tomb of
Hunting and Fishing, Tarquinia, Etruscan, ca. 510 B.C. Fresco. Details from
nineteenth-century watercolor painting by G. Mariani. From Steingräber
2006, p. 96.
Figure 38 Reclining Couple with an Attendant, back wall of the Tomb of
Hunting and Fishing, Tarquinia, Etruscan, ca. 510 B.C. Fresco. By permission
of La Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Etruria Meridionale, Roma /

the Mediterranean. See A. Zadoks-Josephus Jitta and A. M.
Gerhartl-Witteveen, Roman Bronze Lunulae from the Netherlands
(Leiden, 1977); and H. Wrede, “Lunulae in Halsschmuck,” in
Wandlungen: Studien zur antiken und neueren Kunst, Ernst
Homann-Wedeking gewidmet(Munich, 1975), pp. 243–54. A
lunula could be a single pendant on a carrier or one of many
pendants in an ornament. The necklaces of the Archaic Sicilian
terracotta Athana Lindia type wear complex pectorals, and the
lunulae can have either upturned or downturned ends: M.
Albertocchi, Athana Lindia: Le statuette siceliote con pettorali di
età arcaica e classica, Rivista di Archeologia, suppl. 28 (Rome,
137. Strong 1966, p.12.
138. Kotansky 1991, p. 113: “The use of unengraved materials as
amulets continues unabated into the Roman period side by
Figure 41 Lion’s Head pendant, Etruscan, 550–500 B.C. Amber, H: 2.8 cm (11⁄10 side with talismans and phylacteries that carried texts.…
in.), W: 2.2 cm (9⁄10 in.), D: 3.8 cm (11⁄2 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, Magical texts (often containing just symbols or very short
76.AO.80. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 33. spells) … often [are] inscribed on small, semiprecious stones
that are then set into rings and necklaces or otherwise simply
NOTES carried in an individual’s clothing.” Kotansky provides an
excellent list of sources for gemstones and magic, but singles
133. Pliny, Natural History 37.11. Negroni Catacchio 1989, p. 659, out Philipp 1986 (n. 7, above).
linking a modern custom with this report by Pliny, notes that in
many regions of Italy in relatively recent times, it was popular 139. Bonner 1954, p. 151, in reference to A. Bertholet, “Die Macht
to present amber necklaces to young women as their first der Schrift in Glauben und Aberglauben,” Abhandlungen der
precious object and as a portafortuna. Negroni Catacchio also Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin 1948, no. 1
cites an eloquent passage in Ovid’s retelling of the Phaethon (Berlin, 1949).
story. See The Metamorphoses of Ovid, a verse translation by A. 140. Kotansky 1991, p. 107: “Simple uninscribed amulets are
Mandelbaum (New York, San Diego, and London, 1993), p. 51, difficult, if not impossible, to identify; even when they carry
lines 365–66: “The stream’s clear waters bear that amber off, some tell-tale symbol or design they remain silent about their
and it will then adorn young wives in Rome.” The gift of amber specific purpose or the source of their efficacy. Those,
necklaces to immortal brides is also described in Nonnus, however, that are inscribed with texts (no matter how brief)
Dionysiaca 38.99, 40.400. In nineteenth-century Poland, provide information about the ancient medical and religious
following folk tradition, brides wore amber necklaces, usually contexts of their use.”
of three strings, during their wedding, necklaces that may have
been passed down from generation to generation. At least one The tradition of tying on amulets and using knots in magic is
of the beads would have had an inclusion, as I. Łapcik notes in attested in Egypt and the ancient Near East as early as the third
“The Gold of the Baltic Sea: Amber in Art and Culture,” in millennium. A. Livingstone, “The Magic of Time,” in
Languages and Cultures of the Baltic Region: Collection of Papers, Mesopotamian Magic: Textual, Historical and Interpretive
International Conference of Young Scholars, vol. 2, ed. Y. Perspectives, ed. T. Abusch and K. van der Toorn (Groningen,
Khramov and T. Khramova (Riga, 2007): 1999), pp. 131–37, calls for further ancient Near Eastern–area
conf2007(accessed November 24, 2009). studies of “stones, their individual characters, and the tying on
134. Compare, for example, this Egyptian text: “The infant is of amulets.” The action of tying was one part of the magic, the
protected by the gods, the child’s name, the milk he sucks, the substance another, and the spell or charm said over the amulet
clothes he wears, the age in which he lives, the amulets made still another. Thus, the magical rite included the actions that
for him and placed around his neck.” F. Lexa, La magie dans accompanied the words, while the objects or ingredients used
l’Égypte antique, de l’Ancien Empire jusqu’à l’époque copte, vol. 2 in the rite were equally important; see Pinch 1994, p. 76. The
(Paris, 1925), pp. 32–33. stone’s role actively implemented the communication between
suppliant and superior; see Winter 1999, p. 51. In a similar vein,
135. Caesarius, Sermons 13.5, 14.4. See also Dickie 2001, pp. 304–5. Gordon 2002 (in n. 7, above), p. 83, confirms: “The spells in the
Dickie suggests that the amber amulet “may well have had magical papyri generally contain two elements, the preparation
writing on it, or a magical symbol.” of materia magica and an accompanying incantation, whose
function is either to activate the inherent properties of the
136. For a selection, see Strong 1966, nos. 119–23 (including ring material, or to invoke a named divinity and his or her
pendants). Crescent-shaped pendants have a long history in metamorphs. Although the balance between these elements is
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets 55

variable, we may call this the tacit or implicit model of good and Courtauld Institute 16 (1953): 193–238; and Pinch 1994. See
practice, a model whose appropriateness was learned by also Johnston 1995; and J. J. Aubert, “Threatened Wombs:
practitioners in the course of their training.” J. Borghouts, Aspects of Ancient Uterine Magic,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine
Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (Leiden, 1978), p. ix, emphasizes Studies 30, no. 3 (1989): 421–49. Added to the ancient evidence,
that “spells are the verbalized core matter of the rite.” overviews such as J. Musacchio, The Art and Ritual of Childbirth
141. Many objects excavated from Italian tombs (of as early as the in Renaissance Italy (New Haven, 1999), and systematic analyses
eighth century B.C.) are generally considered amulets. These such as G. Bellucci, Catalogue descriptif d’une collection
d’amulettes italiennes, envoyée à l’Exposition universelle de Paris,
include flints, fossilized shark teeth, shells of various species, 1889(Perugia, 1889; repr., 1980), and G. Bellucci, Il feticismo
bears’ claws and teeth, boars’ tusks, faïence figures of Bes, and primitivo in Italia, e le sue forme di adattamento, 2nd ed.
“Phoenician” glass masks. Many are commonly described as (Perugia, 1919), show the long duration of charms and amulets
jewelry or by an equivalent word, but rarely as amulets. in Italy. Many uterine amulets are for quieting the womb, while
142. T. G. H. James, “Ancient Egyptian Seals,” in Collon 1997, p. 39. others are to still or retain a “wandering womb.”
See also Ritner 1993; Andrews 1994, esp. pp. 100–106; and 151. Magical stones that protect pregnant women are listed in most
Wilkinson 1994, pp. 82–95. ancient lapidaries. See n. 68.
143. Pinch 1994, p. 105. 152. Juvenal (Satires 5.163–65) calls the bulla the Etruscum aurum,
144. The wordsympatheticis used in the sense of “sympathetic and some Roman writers (Pliny, Natural History 33.4; Festus, De
magic.” As is written in one surviving Egyptian medical significatione verborum 26.25; Plutarch, Vita Romulus 25) refer to
papyrus, “still in some circumstances magic is needed to the bulla as a specifically Etruscan ornament. The importance
attract the sun’s influence”: J. F. Borghouts, “The Magical Text of the bulla for high-born Etruscan boys is evidenced by the
of Papyrus Leiden I 348,” Oudheidkundige Mededelingen uit’s third-century B.C. bronze statuettes Putto Carrara and Putto
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden 51 (1971): 165–67. Graziani in the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco in the Vatican:
Cagianelli and Sannibale 1999, pp. 110–34, with nos. 2–3.
145. Pinch 1994, p. 105.
P. G. Warden, “Bullae, Roman Custom, and Italic Tradition,”
146. Golden tears of amber might have been thought to be Opuscula Romana14, no. 6 (1983): 69–75, outlines the amuletic
everlasting tears of mourning. For the ancients familiar with custom of the bulla, drawing attention to one from
the Phaethon or Meleager myth, the tears may have called up Campovalano that contains three small stones and to
the weeping of the Heliades or the Meleagrides. Amber objects elaborate figured bullae displaying, for example, apotropaic
are found on the body, unassociated in the tomb, on top of devices, Bes, or the gorgoneion. J. Sebesta, “The Costume of
cremated ashes, and, in rare cases, outside the container the Roman Woman,” inSebesta and Bonfante 1994, p. 47,
within the grave complex. H. Horsnaes, The Cultural notes the apotropaic nature of both the bulla and the band of
Development in North-western Lucania, c. 600–273 B.C. (Rome, the toga praetexta. Macrobius (1.6.8–14), discussing a bulla
2002), p. 85, reminds us that “personal ‘gifts’ and ritual objects worn by a triumphant general, says it enclosed curatives
may have had plural functions (indeed, one object would often (remedia) that were believed to be strong against invidia.
belong to more than one of these categories): the practical Invidia is one of the words used to describe the dangers
function in the rituals taking place during the burial, the amulets were intended to prevent or act against. See M. Dickie,
display of wealth/status for the community attending the “The Fathers of the Church and the Evil Eye,” in Byzantine
burial, or the needs of the deceased in his/her afterlife.” Magic, ed. H. Maguire (Washington, DC, 1995), pp. 9–27 (with
147. Dickie 2001. essential bibl.), where he shows that the term evil eye as such
was hardly used in Classical antiquity and the Christian world:
148. Kotansky 1991; Dickie 2001, p. 93, nn. 54–56. The terms most often used are, by Greek speakers, φθόνος
149. Dickie 2001, p. 93. and βασκανία, and by speakers of Latin, invidia and
fascinatio or fascinus. What men feared under these
150. See V. Dasen, ed., Naissance et petite enfance dans l’Antiquité: headings was not a single object with a secure and fixed
Actes du colloque de Fribourg, 28 novembre–1er décembre 2001, identity but a complex of objects with shifting identities, and
Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 203 (Fribourg, 1994), provides a identities that coalesce.… The more or less constant factor in
bibliography of the critical texts and secondary literature on this constellation of fears was envy: men were afraid lest
amulets and spells of protection (against dangers of their good fortune would draw envy on their heads. The
unspecified origin) for the pregnant woman, the fetus, mighty feared it would come from their fellow men, demons,
parturition, and the newborn. See also V. Dasen, “Amulettes the gods, fortune, the fates, and a malign supernatural
d’enfants dans le monde grec et romain,” Latomus 62 (2003): power they called simply φθόνος or invidia. (p. 12)
275–89. Bonner 1950 was my introduction to the subject of
amulets in connection with women, birth, and children, See also J. Russell, “The Archaeological Context of Magic in the
followed by A. A. Barb, “Diva Matrix,” Journal of the Warburg Early Byzantine World,” in Maguire 1995 (see above), pp. 37–38.

The same word (invidia) was used in nineteenth-century Italy pp. 20, 41, n. 37; A. Stout, “Jewelry as a Symbol of Status,” in
for the same purposes, as revealed in Bellucci 1889 and Bellucci Sebesta and Bonfante 1994, pp. 76–77; H. R. Goette, “Die
1919 (in n. 150, above). Bulla,” Bonner Jahrbücher 186 (1986): 133–64; F. Roncalli in
Archaeological evidence for Roman domestic animals with Santuari d’Etruria, ed. G. Colonna (Milan, 1985), pp. 37–38; H.
bullae is to be found in the bronze bullae-ornamented horse Gabelmann, “Römische Kinder in Toga Praetexta,” Jdi 100
tack buried at Populonia: Warden 1983 (see above), p. 70, with (1985): 497–541; M. Torelli, La storia degli Etruschi (Rome and
reference to A. Minto, Populonia (Florence, 1943), pp. 185–86, Bari, 1984), pp. 23–25; Cristofani and Martelli 1983, p. 11; and A.
pl. 49.5. R. D. De Puma called my attention to the many bulla- Andrén, “Oreficerie e plastica etrusche,” Opuscula
wearing animals in Etruscan art, including the terracotta Archaeologica 5 (1948): 94–99.
horses from the Temple of the Queen’s Altar, Tarquinia, and The largest and most “canonically” apotropaic of all amber
the ravens on Etruscan mirrors. Exempla of human bulla pendants may be that excavated from a woman’s tomb (Tomb
wearers are on the stone sarcophagus from the Tomb of the 94) at Belmonte Piceno: Rocco 1999, p. 62, nn. 161, 343, 473, fig.
Sarcophagi, Banditaccia Cemetery, Cerveteri (Museo 27; Negroni Catacchio 1989, pp. 679–80, pl. 9a; Marconi 1933,
Gregoriano Etrusco). Round bullae are worn by the deceased cols. 421–23, pls. 29.4–5; and I. Dall’Osso, Guida illustrata del
male on the lid and by a woman and both horses on the box Museo Nazionale di Ancona (Ancona, 1915), pp. 42, 65ff., fig. 127.
front: B. Nogara, Guide du Musée de sculpture du Vatican I: The large, lens-shaped amber has a relief gorgoneion in its
Musée et Galeries Pontificaux (Vatican City, 1933), p. 412; and R. center and seven feline and human heads carved around its
Herbig, Die jüngeretruskischen Steinssarkophage: Die antiken edge. The drilled holes on its periphery could have been used
Sarkophagenreliefs (Berlin, 1952), p. 46, no. 83, pls. 1–2. to attach additional small pendants.
A. Coen, “Bulle auree dal Piceno nel Museo Archeologico An Egyptian text describes how a solar amulet such as a bulla
Nazionale delle Marche,” Prospettiva 89–90 (1998): 94, has best or an amber (or both) might work: “The hand and seal of the
articulated the difference between the wearing of multiple sun god are the mother’s protection. Each morning and
bullae by various personages and the wearing of the single evening, she recites the magic spells over an amulet that she
bulla by boys. The bulla was offered up to the Lares on the day hangs around her child’s neck. She prays to the rising sun. She
of Liberalia at puberty, thus connecting the boy to Liber and implores him to take away the dead who would like to steal her
the sphere of Dionysian activity. Coen hypothesizes that the child. She does not give her child to the thief from the kingdom
gold bullae buried with high-status individuals, women of the dead”: Borghouts 1978 (in n. 140, above).
particularly, connote a particular status and were worn in view 153. G. Bordenache Battaglia with A. Emiliozzi, Le ciste prenestine, I:
of the “religious salvation” and heroization of the subjects Corpus, vol. 1 (Rome, 1979), pp. 181–82, n. 59.
represented on the bullae. Coen notes that bullae are
frequently found in graves with coronae aureae, perhaps also 154. Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 4026. Could his bullae
Dionysian. Figured gold bullae (dating to as early as the sixth be of amber, considering the Argonauts’ destination of the
century B.C., but mainly of the fourth) usually are worn in northern lands, the ancient association between this voyage
multiples; they include obvious Dionysian subjects as well as and amber, and amber’s safeguarding and buoyant
age-old aversion devices, the gorgoneion being a notable properties?
example. If the bulla-wearing Dionysos on the Praenestine
“Cista Napoleon” is also Liber, the image may be a link to the 155. For examples of bulla wearers (including demons) on Etruscan
tradition of boys dedicating their bullae to Liber at puberty. See mirrors, see ES 2, pl. 166; ES 3, pl. 257; ES 4, p. 30, pl. 298; and
n. 156, below. ES5, p. 60. See also LIMC 3 (1986), s.v. “Fufluns” (M. Cristofani),
p. 532, n. 11; L. B. van der Meer, Interpretatio etrusca: Greek
A subject still deserving closer study is the relationship Myths on Etruscan Mirrors (Amsterdam, 1995), pp. 93–95, figs.
between the large figured amber pendants (found mainly 38, 42, 56, 60, 122, 125; LIMC 1 (1981), s.v. “Amatutunia” (G.
along the Adriatic and in the Basilicata) and the pictorial gold Colonna), p. 586, n. 1; and LIMC 1 (1984), s.v. “Ares/Laran” (E.
bullae and pectorals of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Simon), p. 502, n. 19. Two other named bulla-shaped pendant
(found mainly in Etruria, Latium, and Picenum). Both are made wearers are Peleus (armband) and Calaina (holding a circlet),
from materials with solar connotations and figured with who are depicted on Metropolitan Museum of Art 09.221.16,
apotropaic, heroic, and divine subjects, especially ones Rogers Fund, 1909: G. Bonfante, “Note on the Margin of a
associated with rebirth and most particularly with Dionysos. Recent Book: Calaina,” Etruscan Studies 6 (1999): 8–9; and
In addition to the bibliography above, see Bonfante 2003, pp. Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum 3, no. 14.
143–44, n. 95; Dickie 2001; Haynes 2000, p. 282; Cagianelli and 156. The extraordinary series of fourth-century B.C. terracotta
Sannibale 1999, pp. 117–18, 133; R. E. A. Palmer, “Locket Gold, votive figures from Lavinio are richly ornamented with figural
Lizard Green,” in Etruscan Italy: Etruscan Influences on the bullae of various forms: Enea del Lazio: Archeologia e mito, exh.
Civilizations of Italy from Antiquity to the Modern Era, ed. J. F. Hall cat. (Rome, 1981). An extraordinary sarcophagus-lid figure with
(Provo, UT, 1996), pp. 117–27; Waarsenburg 1995, p. 409, nn.
1050–52; S. Stone, “The Toga,” in Sebesta and Bonfante 1994,
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets 57

similar bullae (circa 400–350 B.C.) was found at Cerveteri: satyr heads) from Tomb 48, Ripacandida: Bottini 1987, pp. 9–12,
Cristofani and Martelli 1983, pl. VIII. figs. 13–15, pl. III.
157. The jewelry represented on the New York mirror (see n. 155, 166. Bottini 1993 p. 65; and Bottini 1987, p. 10, n. 39.
above) is compared by R. Nicholls to that on a mirror with 167. Seen. 155, above, for the Etruscan mirror with Calaina (Galene)
Amphiaraos in the Fitzwilliam Museum: Corpus Speculorum in New York. A “so-called ‘chaplet’ or string of beads is carried
Etruscorum Great Britain, no. 2.8. Nicholls also discusses the as an attribute by a goddess who appears on the palace
significance of the armlet in Etruscan art. sculpture of King Assurnasirpal II of Assyria, and on Neo-
158. Bulla-shaped amber pendants (the commonest form of Assyrian seals, the goddess carrying the chaplet is sometimes
pendant) are documented in the seventh-century Foundation Ishtar (Inana)”: Black and Green 1992, pp. 51–52.
Deposit at Ephesus and in women’s graves in Etruria and 168. Seen. 150, above.
southern Italy from the eighth century onward. Unfortunately,
many of the known bulla-shaped amber pendants are without 169. Goff 1963 (in n. 7, above), pp. 162–211. For the Sumerian
secure provenance. The largest amber bulla known to me material, see, for example, the beads and amulet group from
comes from Belmonte Piceno Tomb 94, a grave typed as the tomb of Queen Puabi, discussed by H. Pittman in Treasures
female by I. Dall’Osso (cited by Rocco 1999, p. 107, n. 473). The from the Royal Tombs of Ur, exh. cat., ed. R. L. Zettler and L.
bulla was found in a woman’s tomb with iron armor and arms, Horne (Philadelphia, 1998), pp. 95–96, no. 33 (with critical
parts of a cart, bronze torques, bracelets, fibulae of various comparanda).
kinds (including ones with amber segments and one with
bronze bullae pendants), and other amber objects. Rocco 1999, 170. For a recent discussion of crepundia and Roman amber, see M.
p. 86, no. 143, discusses an ivory cylinder from the same tomb. Lista, “L’ambra dei Romani in Plinio: Dal moralismo alla
devotio,” in Ambre 2007, pp. 254–59. Waarsenburg 1995, pp.
159. Seen. 75, above. 458–59, n. 1299 (with bibl.), notes that “although by Imperial
160. Amber might have been especially effective in magically times, crepundia had become restricted to protective charms
attracting the sun, due to its inherent magnetic property and for children, Apuleius (Apologia 56.3) confirms that they had a
because of amber’s “sympathetic” brilliance and color: like religious significance (sacrorum crepundia).” See also V. Dasen,
would attract like. The verb “to fix” in reference to amulets is “Protéger l’enfant: Amulettes et crepundia,” in Maternité et
borrowed from the Hermetic writings in reference to talismans. petite enfance dans l’Antiquité romaine, exh. cat., ed. D.
See D. Pingree, “Some of the Sources of the Ghāyat al-hakīm,” Gourevitch, A. Moirin, and N. Rouquet (Bourges, 2003), pp.
Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 43 (1980): 1–15, 149–51.
quoted by E. Reiner, “Magic Figurines, Amulets, and 171. Potenza, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 96684 (satyr) and
Talismans,” in Monsters and Demons in the Ancient and Medieval 96685 (Herakles, identified in all publications as “maenad”),
Worlds: Papers Presented in Honor of Edith Porada, ed. A. Farkas from Tomb 106, Braida di Vaglio: Magie d’ambra 2005, ill. p. 117;
et al. (Mainz, 1987), p. 27. Bottini and Setari 2003, p. 66, nos. 310 (Herakles) and 311
161. Pingree 1980 (in n. 160, above), p. 3. Plantzos 1999, p. 110, (satyr), fig. 37. S. J. Schwarz confirmed my identification of the
notes that “the ability of a lens—hyalos—to attract the rays of head as a Cypriot-type Herakles (pers. comm., September 22,
the sun ([Aristophanes,] Clouds 760–75)” was common 2006); see LIMC suppl. 2009, vol. 1, add. 2, s.v. “Hercle” (S. J.
knowledge. Schwarz), pp. 247–48.
162. Kotansky 1991, p. 108, with reference to P. W. Schienerl, “Der 172. Melfi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale del Melfese “Massimo
Ursprung und die Entwicklung von Amulett behältnissen in der Pallottino” 51436–40, from Tomb 48, Melfi-Pisciolo. The frontal
antiken Welt,” Antike Welt 15 (1984): 45–54, esp. 50–54. female heads, inv. 51436–37, are each drilled with numerous
stopped bores. Inv. 51436 even has bores in the cheek and
163. Plato, Republic 426b1–2. chin. For the female heads from this tomb, see Bottini 1993;
164. Amulets of clay, stone, ivory, bone, and other materials are Bottini 1987; and Popoli anellenici 1971, p. 125, pl. LIII. The two
among the earliest surviving sculpted objects from Italy. The other pendants, female heads, inv. 51439–40, are in poor
early Neolithic and Chalcolithic clay heads and figurines from condition.
cultic caves include nude and partially dressed figures and 173. Eos and Kephalos (identified by A. Bottini), Matera, Museo
heads with necks, but no isolated faces. See K. Holmes and R. Nazionale “Domenico Ridola” 169680, from Tricarico–Serra del
Whitehouse, “Anthropomorphic Figurines and the Cedro, Tomb 60, middle of the fourth century B.C.: Magie
Construction of Gender in Neolithic and Copper Age Italy,” in d’ambra2005, ill. p. 128. This pendant is likely older than the
Gender and Italian Archaeology, ed. R. Whitehouse (London, burial. The intact woman’s Tomb 952 from Lavello-Casino,
1998), pp. 95–126. dating to the middle of the fifth century B.C. (Melfi, Museo
165. Melfi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale del Melfese “Massimo Archeologico Nazionale del Melfese “Massimo Pallottino”),
Pallottino” 118680–81 (the female heads) and 118678–79 (the included three large amber pendants suspended in the groin

area and several necklaces composed of glass-paste eye beads, Collection (7676): Masterpieces from Central Africa: Royal
bone pendants, and amber beads and pendants. Although the Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, exh. cat., ed. G. Verswijver
necklace ambers are in poor condition, two hitherto et al. (New York, 1996). For more examples of beads and
unidentified pendants (a ram’s head and a siren; no known inv. pendants in amber and other materials that show evidence of
nos.) show evidence of pulling wear at the suspension holes: use, see R. K. Liu, Collectible Beads (Vista, CA, 1995), pp. 35–37
Ornamenti e lusso 2000, p. 57; Treasures 1998; and “La tomba and passim.
952 di Forentum” (undated pamphlet, Melfi museum, above). 177. Some classes of amulet wearers deserving closer study include
174. For the amber ram’s head from Adria, see Due donne 1993. For the Laconian acrobats and dancers; babies and toddlers;
the Bolognese (Certosa) material, see A. Zannoni, Gli scavi della Cypriot temple boys; and certain female divinities. Among the
Certosa di Bologna (Bologna, 1876); and G. Muffatti, “Paste last are seated divinities from Sicily (Gela, the extraurban
vitree, alabastri, oggetti in osso, avorio e ambra,” StEtr 35 sanctuary of Predio Sola; Selinus, the Malophoros Sanctuary)
(1967): pl. 77a. For other ambers from the area, including and southern Italy (Metaponto, San Biagio). The amulets worn
recent and previously unpublished older finds, see L. Malnati, by youngsters and athletic young women (on mirror supports)
“L’ambra in Emilia Romagna durante l’età del Ferro: I luoghi include many time-honored fertility subjects: the crescent
della redistribuzione e della produzione,” in Ambre 2007, esp. moon, lotus blossoms, lotus flowers, and the sun.
pp. 122–29, 152–59. 178. For examples of these two gods adorned with pendants, see L.
175. The female head from Tomb 90 at Latronico–Colle dei Greci is Bonfante, “Fufluns Pacha: The Etruscan Dionysus,” in Masks of
Policoro, Museo Nazionale 216349: Ambre 2007, p. 239. E. Brizio, Dionysus, ed. T. H. Carpenter and C. Faraone (Ithaca, NY, 1993),
“Verucchio, scoperta di sepolchri tipo Villanova,” NSc 10 (1898): pp. 224–31, figs. 21, 24. The Naples mirror is Museo
373, reported that an amber ring from Tomb 11 at Verucchio Archeologico Nazionale ES, pl. 82; the Berlin mirror is
was repaired in antiquity with “sewing stitches.” Antikenmuseum Fr. 36, ES, pl. 83.
176. Amber pendants are not alone in showing signs of use wear— 179. For the Tarquinian Tomb of Hunting and Fishing, see, most
from touching, rubbing, kissing, or other kinds of abrasion as recently, Steingräber 2006. On p. 95, he notes the importance
the objects came into contact with the body or clothing. See of Dionysian elements in the tomb. Haynes 2000, p. 229,
Ritner 1993 on kissing, spitting, and other acts in Egyptian interprets the tomb as Dionysian; compare Simon 1998, who
ritual magic. Ritual washing may also have been a cause of the reiterates her belief that its plants are laurel and signify it as
uneven wear. The Africanist Zoë Strother (pers. comm., August the grove of Apollo. Brown 1960, p. 106, was the first to make
2005) recounts her interview with a Central Pende man who the connection between the painted images and excavated
described how he washed his ivory pendant in river sand to gold animal-head pendants.
keep it white. Compare the ivory mask in the Tervuren
Amber Medicine, Amber Amulets 59

The Bronze Age
Archaeological evidence attests to widespread use of small Baltic amber vessel in the form of a lion’s head was
amber in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East by an exceptional object placed in the main chamber of the
men, women, and children, primarily among the elite. As Royal Tomb at Late Bronze Age Qatna, at Tell Mishrifeh,
well as for amulets and adornment, it was employed to Syria (Damascus, National Museum MSH02G-i0759). It,
embellish arms and musical instruments, to create like the other exotic, high-prestige objects found on the
spindles, buttons, and pins, and to decorate boxes and remains of a multiburial bier, may have served a ritual
furniture. Carved amber and amber-embellished objects purpose. It is the most significant figured amber to come
were offered to deities and buried in sanctuary from an excavation in the region. Was it carved in the
foundation deposits. In the Greek-speaking world and in Syro-Levantine region, at Qatna even, or might it have
Italy, these deities were almost exclusively female ones, been an exchange object or diplomatic gift?183
especially those associated with childbirth. Amber was
also significant in funerary contexts. Large amounts of it Amber is attested with a high degree of probability in the
were buried in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae. Four of the New Kingdom, from the period of the 18th Dynasty
graves in Circle A, which included both females and (1550–1295 B.C.) onward, but only in exceptional
males, contained numerous beads: the most prolific was circumstances and always in conjunction with other
Grave IV, with nearly thirteen hundred. The beads “may precious materials, such as rock crystal, gold, lapis lazuli,
have been imported ready-made, since [they] are or faïence. Sinclair Hood argues that a number of “resin”
different from the mass of Aegean ones.”180 The head and objects from the tomb of Tutankhamen, including two
chest of the woman buried in Grave Omicron of Circle B heart (possibly) scarabs and the necklace that he
were covered with various precious materials, including identifies as being from the Tumulus culture of central/
181 northern Europe, are actually amber.184 The
over a hundred amber beads and spacers.
Tutankhamen amber would be a very early instance of
The resources required to obtain so much amber must funerary amber in Egypt, and an extremely early instance
have been enormous. At this stage, certainly, amber was a of an amber scarab, a form that became a popular subject
material for the social elite, although as time went on, it in Orientalizing Italy (eighth–seventh century B.C.),
became more widely used. As Helen Hughes-Brock especially in Etruria, given the scarab’s importance as a
observed: sun symbol and its concurrent connection to rebirth.185
The large necklaces and spacer plates were only for The importance of amber in Bronze Age northern and
the very few and very rich, and hardly found their way central Europe is demonstrated by major finds and
beyond the great centers of the northeastern and significant objects pointing to several regional centers of
southwestern Peloponnese. However, generation by manufacture with local characteristics, as Aleksandar
generation amber spread over the Mycenaean world Palavestra and Vera Krstić summarize.186
and to Crete and down the social scale.182
In Italy, the Middle Bronze Age finds of amber in the
The Late Mycenaean amber finds are in tombs of every Basilicata and Late Bronze Age finds at Frattesina, in the
type, and very occasionally in shrines—although no solid Po valley, are symptomatic of an active trade in both raw
evidence connects them to any particular group of people, and finished products. The amber finds from Italy are
deity, or cult. In the ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, the early evidence of a long tradition of amber consumption
eastern Mediterranean, and Egypt, amber was a rare among women of high social rank on the peninsula.187
substance during the Bronze Age. A recently discovered

NOTES 184. For amber in Egypt, see n. 103.
180. S. Hood, The Arts in Prehistoric Greece (London, 1978), pp. 202-3. 185. Andrews 1994, p. 50. See also G. T. Martin, Scarabs, Cylinders,
See E. M. Konstantinidi, Jewellery Revealed in the Burial Contexts and Other Ancient Egyptian Seals (Warminster, 1985); and E.
of the Greek Bronze Age, BAR S912 (Oxford, 2001), pp. 60–62. Hornung and F. Staechelin, Skarabäen und andere
Siegelamulette aus Basler Sammlungen (Mainz, 1976). Hölbl 1979
181. Hughes-Brock 1985, p. 259. lists the amber scarabs from Egypt in Italy. See also Zazoff 1968
182. Quotation fromHughes-Brock 1985, p. 259. See Hughes-Brock andBissing 1931. For Phoenician and Punic amulets, see E.
1993, p. 221. Undisturbed burials of both women and men Acquaro, “Gli scarabei e gli amuleti,” pp. 404–21, and M. L.
show that burials could contain a single bead. The earliest Uberti, “Gli avori e gli ossi,” pp. 394–403, in I Fenici 1988. See
amber with figural embellishment appears to be a unique also G. Hölbl, Ägyptisches Kulturgut im phönikishen und
(Greek-made) seal engraved with a bull, excavated from Tomb punischen Sardinien, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1986).
518 at Mycenae, which, in the opinion of Hughes-Brock, may be 186. Palavestra and Krstić 2006, p. 23.
one of the few certain cases of amber worked after its arrival in
Greece. The sex of Tomb 518’s inhabitant has not been 187. For Frattesina, see, for example, Negroni Catacchio 1972; A.
established. Mastrocinque, “Le ambre di Frattesina, in protosoria e storia
del ‘Venetorum angulus,’” in Atti del XX convegno di studi
183. For Qatna, see A. J. Mukherjee et al., “The Qatna Lion: Scientific etruschi ed italici, Portogruaro, Quarto d’Altino, Este, Adria, 16–19
Confirmation of Baltic Amber in Late Bronze Age Syria,” ottobre 1996 (Pisa, 1999), pp. 227–34 (with earlier bibl. including
Antiquity 82 (2008): 49–59; and M. Al-Maqdissi, H. Dohmann- Negroni Catacchio 1989); P. Bellantini, “Frattesina: L’ambre e la
Pfälzner, and A. Suleiman, “Das königliche Hypogaeum von produzione vitrea nel contesto delle relazioni transalpine,” in
Qatna,” Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft zu Berlin Ori delle Alpi, exh. cat., ed. L. Endrizzi and F. Marzatico (Trento,
135 (2003): 189–218. 1997); and Fuscagni 1982.
Bronze Age 61

Early Iron Age and the Orientalizing Period
After about 1200 B.C., amber was much scarcer A number of female graves in and around Magna Graecia
throughout the Mediterranean until about the mid-eighth each contained but one small waterbird, which may be
century B.C., when it begins to reemerge appreciably in related to the Egyptian duck amulet, a symbol of
archaeological contexts. For the most part, it was at the regeneration; it may also be related to the duck symbol of
end of the eighth and especially during the seventh northern Europe. Since the Bronze Age, the duck, a
centuries when amber was most popular in Greece and multivalent symbol both guardian and apotropaic, was
peninsular Italy. This is not to leave out a few believed to connect the chthonic and other worlds.194
extraordinary tenth-to-early-eighth-century exceptions,
notably at sites in Italy, in Latium, at Castel di Decima, In Greece, worked amber was buried in foundation and
and, most recently, in the Roman Forum and in the votive deposits as well as, more rarely, in graves. A pair of
Basilicata, in the area between the Agri and the Sinni, Geometric-date tombs (possibly of priestesses or
where, in the graves of elite women, remarkable amber princesses) at Eleusis offer critical evidence of amber in
the burial of women of the highest rank.195 The rich
parures were discovered. This is the case with a girdle
with interspersed bird-shaped beads from the Enotrian tombs include sumptuous grave gifts, among them
Tomb 83 at Latronico.188 On the whole, amber- necklaces of gold, amber, and faïence, and amber-inlaid
embellished objects were buried in both male and female ivory furnishings. The presence of glowing elektron bears
graves, but figured amber is almost exclusively found in witness to the lavish and exceptional occasion of the
those of women and children.189 entire funeral process.
Carvedfiguredambers of eighth-to-seventh-century date Both figured and nonfigured ambers have been excavated
are characteristically small (on average, roughly fingertip at sanctuaries dedicated to a limited number of divinities,
size), suggesting that these works, mainly pendants, were mainly female. These include objects from the sanctuaries
carved from small pieces. None are composites, that is, of Artemis (Ephesus), Artemis Orthia (Sparta), Hera
works made from almost imperceptibly joined pieces, as Limenaia (Perachora), and Apollo Daphnephoros
is characteristic of contemporary fibulae from Etruria, (Etretria). Intaglios were found at Perachora, and two
Campania, and the mid-Adriatic. Among the earliest animals at Aetos (Ithaca). The earliest date to the decades
figured finds are those from the eighth-century necropolis around 700 B.C. and represent birds at rest and couchant
at Veio Quattro Fontanili. They include a standing animals, and they, like the contemporary Italian objects,
ithyphallic male, monkeys,190 a horse, a duck, and a are generally quite small. At Ephesus, the foundation
human lower leg and foot, as well as both scarabs and deposit was buried circa 700 near the cellar of the temple
scaraboids, some of which have intaglio horses engraved of Artemis. Anton Bammer has suggested that the ambers
on their flat side.191 All of these are amuletic subjects of (and accompanying ivory objects) are the remains of a
192 pectoral worn by an early statue of the goddess.196 Other
great antiquity, and truly Orientalizing. A cinerary urn
buried in the First Circle of the Interrupted Stones at figured Greek works of this period include the by-now
Vetulonia (of circa 730–720 B.C.) contained a number of traditional subjects of figured amber: crouching monkeys,
high-status objects, including an amber scarab, thus recumbent lions, human heads, birds, and other
193 species.197
indicating an object interred after cremation. The
scarab may well have been an import, like the The seventh-century B.C. ambers from Italy are almost
accompanying glass beads and bronze Phoenician bowl, exclusively mortuary and more extensive in number,
although the urn also contained locally produced objects. type, and size than the contemporary Greek examples. As

is characteristic of all art from the Orientalizing period, thought to resemble the vulva. The extraordinary Getty
they take on a character different from the eighth-century Cowrie Shell / Hare pendant (figure 42), for instance,
material, although birds, especially ducks, retain their combines two subjects: fertility and regeneration. Scarab-
popular status, as they do in other figurative arts in Italy. cowrie combinations, such as that represented by a ninth-
At some sites, figured amber is found in combination with century B.C. amber from Tursi (Basilicata), do the same. In
faïence amulets of Egyptian fertility and protective Egypt, both real cowries and imitations in gold and other
subjects.198 The primary seventh-century finds have come materials were strung together to make girdles and worn
from Etruria, Campania, and Latium; Etruria Padana and in the pelvic region.205
elsewhere in the mid-Adriatic; and from the Basilicata.
Recent discoveries in southern Italy and at the Adriatic
site of Verucchio (near Rimini) have greatly modified the
picture of amber importation and use. One rare figured
subject from the extraordinary amber-rich graves at
Verucchio is a fibula decoration of addorsed ducks.199
Figured ambers excavated at southern Etruscan sites
include the ubiquitous monkeys and a number of
standing “nude” females, their arms in various poses Figure 42 a & b. Cowrie Shell / Hare pendant, Italic or Etruscan, 600–500 B.C.
associated with fertility.200 An exceptional example, Amber, H: 3.7 cm (11⁄2 in.), W: 2.6 cm (1 in.), D: 1.4 cm (1⁄2 in.). Los Angeles, J.
Paul Getty Museum, 79.AO.75.28. Gift of Stanley Silverman. a) front; b) back.
dating to the first half of the seventh century, is the Seecat. no. 30.
elaborate grouping of amber pendants and beads
(possibly a collar) found on top of the cremation layer in a The most important surviving ensemble of the seventh
tomb at Vetulonia.201 Little else accompanied the strings
202 century from Italy is that of a high-ranking woman buried
of amber: the figured pendants include a fish, a at Latin Satricum (Tomb VI).206 The grave, dated to circa
scaraboid, seven monkeys, and eleven standing female 650/640 B.C., contained a flint (actually a Neolithic
figures dressed only in collars and armlets, with legs obsidian scraper)207 and more than five hundred amber
apart, the vulva exposed, and hands placed on the lower objects—fibulae, spindles, nonfigured beads and
abdomen. The most important pendant represents an pendants, and numerous figured objects. The medley of
enthroned female giving birth, the infant’s head stylistic and iconographic connections of the objects is
appearing between her legs.203 This tiny amber is the
typical of the period and place, but the burial is without
strongest evidence to date for a direct link between amber parallel: it is the largest single burial with amber from
and childbirth. ancient Italy. The figured pieces include nude females and
Many other types of figured amber from the second half males (some doubled and addorsed), fantastic
creatures,208 and fish, and some of the pendants were
of the seventh century correspond to standard Egyptian carved from large amber blanks. Some pendants are
amuletic iconography. Among the most popular are the unique, others variants on or copies of Egyptian subjects:
dwarf deities, such as Bes and Pataikos-Ptah—the most fish, Bes, and patakoi. The unworked pieces of amber,
common Egyptian protective genies.204 Bes was known to
protect sleepers and women in childbirth and here and in other tombs, may also have served as
fumigants, unburnt incense, or apotropaics.209 This
safeguarded the young mother and her children. Both grave’s goods and the many contemporary large amber
figures have solar associations; the Pataikos-Ptah figure, fibulae of the mid-Adriatic of these decades speak to new
part adult and part infant, symbolized the infant sun. sources (geographic or cultural) of or new access to big
Almost without exception, the images on early amber pieces of jewelry-grade amber.
carvings were reiterations of Egyptian-sourced solar and
rebirth symbols. NOTES
The main focus in this catalogue is amber in the form of
figural subjects, but the many beads and pendants of this 188. S. Bianco in Magie d’ambra 2005, pp. 94–96, ill. p. 99.
period in botanic or shell forms are also important, since 189. This is theorized on the basis of a small percentage of
they, too, served a similar role via a metonymic process. excavations or published accounts; the number of unpublished
Amber cowrie pendants, common in Italy from the graves and deposits with amber objects and the amount of
seventh to the fifth centuries B.C., were potent subjects of pre-Roman amber in non-source-country museums and
fertility and childbirth, since the mature cowrie shell was collections (from old or unreported finds and uncontrolled
Early Iron Age, Orientalizing 63

excavations) is unfortunately very high. The exceptions are Mainz31 (1984): 269–75; J. Szilágyi, RA 1972: fasc. 1:111–26; and
critical (such as the male Tomb 43 at Melfi-Pisciolo). D. Rebuffat Emmanuel, “Singes de Maurétanie Tingitane et
190. Orientalizing Greek and Etruscan images of nonhuman d’Italie—Réflexions sur une analogie iconographique,” StEtr 35
primates are generically referred to as “monkeys” in the (1967): 633–44. For an Etrusco-Corinthian aryballos in the form
literature, although some may represent baboons, especially of an “ape,” see B. A. Kathman in Kozloff 1981, pp. 95–96, no.
the hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas), as well as a long- 95.
tailed monkey (Cercopithecus) and the green monkey, or vervet For the monkey in the Minoan world, see N. Marinatos, “An
(Cercopithecus aethiops). The prototypes of the eighth-to- Offering of Saffron to the Minoan Goddess of Nature: The Role
seventh-century amber pendants from Italy (Etruscan, Latin, of the Monkey and the Importance of Saffron,” in Gifts to the
Faliscan, Picene) are Egyptian in invention, but they also may Gods: Proceedings of the Uppsala Symposium 1985, Boreas 15,
have derived from Phoenician examples and could be related ed. T. Linders and G. Nordquist (Uppsala, 1987), pp. 123–32,
to northern Mesopotamian, northern and western Syrian, Old who argues convincingly for a religious function for monkeys
Babylonian, and Anatolian types and symbolism. In Egypt, and interprets various Minoan roles for them: as adorants, as
amulets in the form of monkeys and baboons are first known intermediaries between humans and the goddess of nature, as
in the Old Kingdom, made of steatite and faïence, then of her servants, and as guardians. Marinatos draws parallels with
amethyst and carnelian in the Middle Kingdom, and in a wider Egyptian and Anatolian images of squatting monkeys (nn. 10,
variety of materials from the New Kingdom onward. The green 17) and suggests the images’ possible entry into Crete in the
monkey is most often the subject of Egyptian and Phoenician Middle Bronze Age, but points also to Mesopotamian examples
simian amulets: its humanlike features, the females’ motherly of the squatting posture. Both Egyptian and Near Eastern
love, its cleverness and ability to mimic, and its greenish color prototypes are proposed, with reference to R. D. Barnet,
(symbolic of freshness and regeneration) account for its “Monkey Business,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 5 (1973):
popularity. It participates at the side of the dwarf as an 1–10; and C. Mendelson, “More Monkey Business,” Anatolian
emissary of Ra, the sun-god, in magical invocations for Studies 33 (1983): 81–83. F.-W. von Hase 1984 (above) proposes
successful parturition and thus has a solar aspect (Andrews Phoenicians as intermediaries in the transition of the motif to
1994, p. 66). In Egyptian glazed-composition faïence maternity Italy. For a view on the possible permutation of the “monkey”
amulets, where it is joined with Bes, the green monkey takes type into human imagery in early Greece, see S. Langdon,
on the role of nurse for the newborn and is connected to music “From Monkey to Man: The Evolution of a Geometric Sculptural
and dance, as associated with birthing. For the monkey and Type,” AJA 94 (1990): 407–24.
maternity, see also Bulté 1991, pp. 99–102. Monkey To be added to this discussion are the simianlike “emaciated
representations in the Levant seem to carry several humans” of the Old Babylonian period, the clay plaques of the
connotations, of both Near Eastern and Egyptian origin, goddess Nintu, and the separate statuette images in the same
including veneration, eroticism, good luck, and best wishes. In form. D. Parayre, “Les âges de la vie dans le répertoire figuratif
erotic scenes on Old Babylonian terracottas, simian dancers oriental,” KtèMA 22 (1997): 67, identifies the figures as
often keep company with dwarfs. As S. Schroer and J. Eggler, representing premature or deformed fetuses. See her figs. 10a
“Monkey,” in Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient (stamped relief possibly from Tell Asmar, Louvre) and 10b
Near East, (bronze statuette, Cincinnati Art Museum). Parayre suggests
/prepublication.php (accessed November 12, 2009), p. 1, note that the fetus images may be figural transpositions of the
for Mesopotamian and Elamite art, “Just like in Egypt, there is a šumma izbuseries, listing the precautions to take in the case of
proximity between the monkeys and the Nude Goddess. This premature, nonviable, or monstrous births. If the amber
may be due to their playful nature, but also their excitability … pendants represented such fetuses rather than monkeys or
leading to their association with sex and eroticism.” baboons, they would be extraordinary “like banishes like”
Amber and glazed-composition amulets of monkeys might amulets. Alternatively, if the amber monkeys are identified with
work in various direct and indirect forms of magic: to ensure the Minoan interpretation of the type (following Marinatos),
love and sexual fulfillment; to provide sexual aid in this world they may be associated with the local nature goddesses in
and the next, to aid in rebirth and rejuvenation, to assist in the Crete, as in Mesopotamia.
care of newborns, and to inject humor (a potent aversion 191. For Italian finds of eighth- and seventh-century date,
technique). On the nonhuman primate in Egyptian art Waarsenburg 1995is the most complete compendium of
generally, see Andrews 1994, pp. 66–67; and A. Kozloff, ed., objects and earlier bibl., including Massaro 1943. The Iron Age
Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection Greek amber finds are listed in Strong 1966, pp. 21–24 (with
(Cleveland, 1981), pp. 67–69, nos. 54–56. For a wide range of earlier bibl.). The horse imagery, which appears early and
opinions about “monkeys” in Etruscan art, see Waarsenburg remains until the fourth century B.C., deserves closer study.
1995, p. 415–16, and esp. 445–50. See also Bonfante 2003, pp. Although the horse has good connotations throughout the
138, 141; Negroni Catacchio 1999, pp. 280–82; Waarsenburg ancient world (the Egyptian hieroglyph for “beautiful,” nefer, is
1996; F.-W. von Hase, “Die golden Prunkfibel aus Vulci, Ponte a prancing horse), it had both positive and negative aspects in
Sodo,” Jahrbuch des Römisches-Germanischen Zentralmuseums

Greece. “The horse was strongly associated with Poseidon, a 198. This is noted by Waarsenburg 1995; and Mastrocinque 1991, p.
dark and marginal god, a god of the frightening sea and 78.
destructive earthquake. According to myth and cultic tradition, 199. Verucchio (Rimini), Lippi Necropolis, Tomb 27, inv. 11392: P. von
Medusa and Erinys (or Demeter-Erinys) each assumed the Eles, entry for no. 395, in Bartoloni et al. 2000, p. 295; Verucchio
shape of a mare to become the consort of Poseidon, and 1994, p. 161, n. 553, pl. LXI. See also Franchi Dell’Orto 1999, pp.
subsequently bore him the foals Pegasus and Areion.… From 91–92.
Homer onwards, [Erinys and Medusa] represent the grim,
horrific and threatening aspects of the chthonic world”: 200. Nude and partially clothed humans (with primary and
Johnston 1995, pp. 375–76, nn. 36–38. An amber horse may secondary sex characteristics exposed) were potent signs of
have worked as a danger-averting object. sexuality, both promoting fecundity and controlling
192. On the Orientalizing phenomenon in Italy, see D. Ridgway, conception, but such pieces also would have encompassed
“The Orientalizing Phenomenon in Campania: Sources and powerful apotropaic, guardian, and positive-attraction forces.
Manifestations,” in Prayon and Röllig 2000, which takes the For “fertility” gestures, see P. Demargne, La Crete dè dalique:́
phenomenon far beyond Campania. Ridgway’s term medleyis Études sur les origines d’une renaissance (Paris, 1947), pp. 38–39;
useful in describing sources of Orientalizing art. Also apt is his Haynes 1985, p. 253, no. 21; Waarsenburg 1995, pp. 433–34,
assessment of the term Phoenician: “We cannot simply call the (with additional bibl. and pertinent comparanda, including
orientalia (and Orientals) in question ‘Phoenician’ e basta.” The ivory and bucchero caryatid supports of ritual vessels). For the
term encompasses considerable diversity; as coined by the relevant caryatids, see H. Salskov Roberts, “Some Observations
Greeks, it was used to describe Bronze Age Canaanites, Iron on Etruscan Bowls with Supports in the Shape of Caryatids or
Age Phoenicians, and Punic Carthaginians. See also I. J. Winter, Adorned by Reliefs,” Acta Hyperborea 1 (1988): 69–80.
“Homer’s Phoenicians: History, Ethnography, or Literary Demargne, on the basis of the Cretan material, distinguishes
Trope? (A Perspective on Early Orientalism),” in Carter and nine types of pudical gestures (and their predecessors). For
Morris 1995, pp. 247–72. Compare Lapatin 2001, p. 38, n. 3, who this Orientalizing material, the gestures may be read as they
concludes that the terms Phoenician and North Syrian are useful may have been in Egypt: the pose or gesture is a “still.” As
and readily understood stylistic labels, despite their Wilkinson 1994 explains, a figure’s gesture may be the visual
inaccuracies and problems. recording of the most characteristic movement within a
sequence of movements. The image thus registers the most
193. Poggio alla Guardia Necropolis, Tomb 7. Haynes 2000, p. 15, memorable or significant movement or gesture in a sequence.
cites the burial as indicating early connections with the Near 201. Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 7815.
194. Waarsenburg 1995, p. 428. The birds are waterfowl, often 202. This fish pendant is close to the Egyptian lates amulet type, an
ducks, represented as if afloat. See S. Bianco (with bibl.) in emblem of the goddess Neith, one of the four great
Magie d’ambra 2005; and Franchi Dell’Orto 1999. An eighth- protectresses of the dead.
century necklace of bulla-shaped bronze pendants inset with 203. Haynes 2000, p. 100, queries the identity of the figure between
convex pieces of amber and with sleeping ducks above and the legs of the seated woman—is it a child or a monkey? It
below (mirrored compositionally) is an important early Italian must represent a birthing scene, the throne a birthing chair,
object that associates amber, the sun, and ducks. the head that of an infant human. For the tiny birthing amber,
195. For a recent consideration of the pair of tombs, see J. B. see also Waarsenburg 1995, p. 429; von Hase 1984 (in n. 190,
Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient above), p. 274; Massaro 1943, p. 46; I. Falchi, Vetulonia e la sua
Greece (Princeton, 2007), p. 224. For the larger discussion of necropoli antichissima (Florence, 1891), p. 101, pl. 7.4; and L.
precious materials and grave gifts in death, ceremony, and Pernier, “Vetulonia: Il circolo del monile d’argento e il circolo
burial, sources consulted include C. Sourvinou-Inwood, dei lebeti di bronzo,” NSc 22 (1913): 425–37.
“Reading” Greek Death: To the End of the Classical Period (Oxford, 204. Bes was closely associated with Hathor, as was the related
1995); S. Campbell and A. Green, eds., The Archaeology of Death dwarf-god Pataikos-Ptah. Although dwarf figures were
in the Ancient Near East (Oxford, 1995); M. Parker Pearson, The associated with a number of gods, they were commonly linked
Archaeology of Death and Burial (Gloustershire, 1999); and D. with Bes, often called simply “the dwarf.” V. Dasen, “Pataikos,”
Bolger, Gender in Ancient Cyprus (Lanham, MA, 2003). Iconography of Deities and Demons (in n. 190, above), p. 1,
196. A. Bammer, “Kosmologische Aspekte der Artemisionfunde,” in summarizes: “The term pataikos is first used by Herodotus
Der Kosmos der Artemis von Ephesos, Sonderschriften des (Historiae 3.37) to describe representations of the god Ptah in
Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 37, ed. U. Muss the form of a dwarf equated with Hephaistos,” and “it remains
(Vienna, 2001), pp. 11–26. unclear whether [pataikoi] depict various forms of one and the
same god, or a group of dwarf gods, as with Bes.” Connected
197. Also mentioned by Mastrocinque 1991, p. 68. with solar and rejuvenating symbolism, they were regarded as
a solar hypostasis, embodying the morning form of the sun-
Early Iron Age, Orientalizing 65

god, newly born and old at the same time. “Their association discusses such lightning stones and cites A. Cherici,
with the continuing process of creation may have motivated “Keraunia,” ArchCl 41 (1989): 372, n. 37. Tamburini points to
their identification with Ptah in his capacity as a creator god the ancient belief “in the heavenly origin of prehistoric
and likewise with Horus, Khnosu, Osiris, and other youthful and flintstones found by chance on the ground … [and] their
regenerative gods.” In respect to protection, Pataikos-Ptah relation to the thunderbolt” and “to their simple apotropaic
seems to have been concerned with both the living and the function.” Still in early-twentieth-century Italy, Neolithic flints
dead; it aimed to guard the family, especially pregnant women are recorded as important amulets to protect against lightning,
and small children, against unpredictable negative forces. As and to protect people, animals, houses, and land against
prescribed in magical spells, pataikoi could be worn around the natural disasters, as G. Bellucci (in n. 150, above) shows. In
neck as helpers during delivery. Pataikoi are often discovered in Etruria, both Menerva and Tinia could hurl thunderbolts, and
burials, where they had a strong afterlife symbolism; see as such they may have had oracular faculties, as suggested by
Dasen, above (with refs.). For Bes, see esp. M. Malaise, “Bes et G. Camporeale, “La manubia di Menerva,” in Agathos daimōn:
les croyances solaires,” in Studies in Egyptology Presented to Mythes et cultes; Études d’iconographie en l’honneur de Lilly Kahil
Miriam Lichtheim, ed. S. Israelit-Groll (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. (Athens, 2000), pp. 77–86. Waarsenburg 1995, p. 411, notes that
680–729. See also V. Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece “a functional and semantic relationship seems to have existed
(Oxford, 1993), pp. 54–83; LIMC 3 (1986), s.v. “Bes” (A. also between Eileithuia, lightning and the Elysium.… An entry in
Hermary), pp. 98–112; and Pinch 1994. For the Egyptian and [the Suda] states that Eilusion—normally the afterlife world—
imitation Egyptian amulets of Bes figures and pataikoi, see also was also used to denote a place hit by lightning.” Was the flint
H. Győry, “To the Interpretation of Pataikos Standing on a special amulet of protection against lightning?
Crocodiles,” Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts 94 (2001): A carved amber in New York likely represents a thunderbolt (a
27–40; and Andrews 1994, p. 39. Hathor, the “goddess of perfect marriage of subject and material). Metropolitan
sexuality, fertility, and childbirth, was also a funerary goddess Museum of Art 1992.11.22, Purchase, Renée E. and Robert A.
who presided over the necropolis; she helped women give Belfer Philanthropic Fund, Patti Cadby Birch and the Joseph
birth in this world but also facilitated the rebirth of the Rosen Foundation Inc., and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1992:
deceased into the afterlife”: G. Robins, “Dress, Undress, and The Metropolitan Museum Annual Report (1991–92), p. 37; C. A.
the Representation of Fertility and Potency in New Kingdom Picón, “Carved Ambers,” Recent Acquisitions: A Selection,
Egyptian Art,” in Kampen 1996, p. 28. For the dwarf amulet as a 1991–1992: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 50, no. 2
health amulet of Hathor, see also G. Pinch, Votive Offerings to (Fall 1992): 10; Art of the Classical World 2007, pp. 295, 473, no.
Hathor (Oxford, 1993). These dwarf images may have 339.
functioned not only to protect the state of birthing, but also to
control fertility and birth spacing—equally critical issues for The bracelet pendant worn by the male figure on the Etruscan
young families—for the protection of the mother’s health and stone sarcophagus of a couple from Vulci, now in Boston
that of her young. On birth spacing, see n. 15. (Museum of Fine Arts 86.145), appears to be either a shark’s
205. On cowries, cowroids, and cowrie-shell imitations in Egypt, see tooth or a “flint.”
Pinch 1994, p. 107; Andrews 1994, p. 42; and R. E. Freed in Quest 208. The most frequent form of demons is that of a hybrid or
for Immortality 2002 (in n. 75, above), p. 102, no. 17. For a monster, and the demonic “frequently serves as a classificatory
discussion of the cowrie in amber, see 79.AO.75.28 (cat. no. 30). marker that is part of a larger system of boundaries used to
206. For the find, see the exhaustive treatment in Waarsenburg express or reinforce a society’s values”: Johnston 1995, p. 362.
1995; and Waarsenburg 1996. “The demon is situated between two taxa that are considered
mutually exclusive: the hybrid nature of demons, noted by
207. Waarsenburg 1995, pp. 410–11, nn. 1058–64: the “flint” likely Smith, is a form of this”: Johnston 1995, p. 363. Johnston cites J.
originated on the nearby island of Ponza and is thus one of Z. Smith, “Towards Interpreting Demonic Powers in Hellenistic
several secondarily reused in the Iron Age. Obsidian “flints” and Roman Antiquity,” Augsteig und Niedergang der römischen
are found in central Italy in tombs dating from the ninth to the Welt 2.16.1 (1978): 425–39, who therein develops the precepts
seventh centuries and in several Latin votive deposits, of M. Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of
including in Satricum. A tomb from Terni yielded a Neolithic Pollution and Taboo (London, 1966).
flint wrapped in an embossed bronze sheet medallion with a 209. SeeWaarsenburg 1995, p. 430, on the unworked pieces in the
representation of Bes. Waarsenburg suggests that the “flint” Archaic votive deposit. See n. 126 above for reference to amber
from Tomb VI would have been known in antiquity as a and resins in a tomb at Cerveteri.
ceraunium, or lightning stone. P. Tamburini in Antichità
dall’Umbria a New York, exh. cat. (Perugia, 1991), p. 276,

The Archaic and Afterward
The most important reference to amber from around 600 many of the individual pieces are of exceptional size. This
B.C. may be only apocryphal. It concerns the early Greek is the third great flourishing of archaeologically
philosopher Thales of Miletos, the first to recognize evidenced amber importation in the Mediterranean-rim
amber’s magnetism, which he argued was proof of a soul area before the time of the Flavian emperors.
or life, even in inanimate objects. Did he observe this
property at home when watching women spinning Most large sixth-to-fourth-century figured works
Miletos’s famous wool with an amber spindle and distaff? demonstrate a new respect for the original shape of the
raw material in its naturally occurring forms—rods,
After about 600 B.C., the record shows a change in amber drops, or sheets—and figural subjects accommodate the
use. Individual pieces and long strings of worked amber ancient resin’s form. Italian figured ambers of the eighth
became much rarer throughout the Mediterranean, and seventh centuries continued ancient traditions, but
perhaps owing to relative scarcity or to fluctuations in new kinds of amuletic figuration developed during the
trade or even its interruption (perhaps by the Celts). Thus, sixth century B.C. in response to changing local and
amber finds from the next decades take on a particular contemporary magical, medicinal, and sacral needs. The
importance. Most are very small pieces used for inlay, in multifarious seventh-century fertility and hunting
multimedia fibulae, in small ivory and bone boxes, or in divinities began to be replaced by Olympian subjects and
furnishings. Four composite ivory or bone and amber hitherto unknown faunal and fabulous subjects. Rams,
figured objects dating to the first half of the sixth century lions, and boars (figure 43) take the place of frogs,
are of considerable iconographic importance: a pair of monkeys, dogs,212 and sphinxes. Sirens now proliferate,
plaques from the Picene territory, from Tomb 83, that of and dancers appear. Pendants in the form of detached
an elite woman, at Belmonte Piceno; and a pair from a heads, of either specific female divinities or other figures,
late Hallstattian Celtic tomb of an elite woman at Asperg, are among the few traditional subjects that retain their
Germany. The two Picene plaques each represent a important place right through to the beginning of the
winged female figure flanked by two smaller female fourth century B.C. Yet despite the change in iconography,
figures. The winged female is represented in the schema the categories of appropriate subjects do not appreciably
of Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals) or perhaps change: they are still the protective and regenerative
another (now unknown) divinity of protection and subjects of tradition, the subjects that could enhance or
fertility. The carving is on all sides; the faces (now lost) focus the powerful properties of amber.
were inlays of amber. Giulia Rocco attributes the reliefs to
Picenum, noting the Greco-Orientalizing character of the
figures and their relationship to portrayals of Artemis in
the Laconian world.210 The Halstattian furniture plaques
with amber-faced sphinxes are generally believed to be
The figured ambers of the sixth to fourth centuries B.C.
range in size from the tiny (20 mm) to the very large (250
mm) and are formed in a range of subjects, some
traditional and some new to the material. They are
mainly pendants and fibulae bow decorations. Not only is
there a wide distribution of finds on the peninsula, but

In what sense is an image identical with the deity or
activity it represents? The magical and theological
properties of images, as well as the way the offering of
the Orneatai could actually substitute as a ritual, hint
at a much more dynamic interpenetration of image
and referent, representation and prototype, than we
usually allow for in discussions of mimesis.… Here …
the context of the image asserts the actual presence of
its prototype.217
Figure 43 Foreparts of a Recumbent Boar pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C.
Amber, L: 5 cm (19⁄10 in.), D: 1.3 cm (1⁄2 in.), H: 2.4 cm (9⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J.
Paul Getty Museum, 76.AO.84. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 37.
A number of exceptional (unprovenanced) ambers can be
dated to the sixth century based on their style and
iconography. Among them are the Getty Divinity Holding
Haresgroup (figure 44), the Getty Ship with Figures
pendant (see figure 6), a two-figure group in London,
Satyr and Maenad(seefigure 17, which is perhaps instead
a dancing male and female),213 and a group of four
pendant figures, possibly from Ascoli Piceno, now in
Philadelphia: two crouching nude males and an addorsed
pair of draped female figures.214 A recumbent lion, found
in a circa 560–550 B.C. tomb at Taranto, is a rare example
of a piece from a Greek colonial city.215 These are
“contemporary” works for their time, but they also evince
artistic connections to older central Italic and Etruscan
art, to the eastern Mediterranean, and to East Greek and
Peloponnesian art. This wide range of influences might
suggest simple explanations: itinerant carvers with a rich
artistic vocabulary or a workshop in the ambient of a Figure 44 Divinity Holding Hares pendant, Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H:
9.7 cm (34⁄5 in.), W: 6.4 cm (21⁄2 in.), D: 2.4 cm (9⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul
great crossroads. While both may be accurate, this line of Getty Museum, 77.AO.82. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 4.
thought underemphasizes the magical aspects of the
imagery. Alongside such evocative and wide-ranging In contrast to these “international style” works are a
explanations should be considered the fact that the scattering of amber carvings, markedly Ionian in style,
figured ambers were made as amulets, or objects that date to the second half of the sixth century B.C.
following a “prototype” or recipe, or modeled according to Where they were carved is not known for sure, but some
tradition and prescription, which required the have old provenances: Falconara, in the mid-Adriatic, for
practitioner to absorb various symbol systems and modes the amber in New York; Sala Consilina, for the flying-
of representation. There must have been persistent types, figure ambers in the Petit Palais, Paris; Armento, for the
and a long-lived oral tradition behind them. Because London kouros. Another tiny kouros in Paris,218 two of
precision of execution is essential to efficacy, “magical the Getty Heads of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figures
practices have little potential for modification, change, 18and45), and the Getty Kore (figure 46) and her animal
and interpretation and thus tend to be slower to change companions, the ram and boar pendants (see figures 29,
than most other aspects of culture.”216 What Jaś Elsner
queries from the starting point of a large-scale offering at 39, and 43), if from the Italian peninsula, would be
Delphi is relevant here: additional evidence of the presence of Ionians (or Ionian

Aggressive subjects, of rape, imminent or active combat,
or triumph over death, emerge: Eos and Kephalos (or
Tithonos), Herakles killing the Nemean lion, Ajax, or
Achilles lying in wait.223 Only in a few cases, such as
these, can heroes and divinities be surely identified.
The style and iconography of the ambers of this period
come out of the artistic traditions of Greece (including
Magna Graecia), Etruria, and other Italic areas. Some
heads have old-fashioned “divine” hairstyles and large,
severe faces, conjuring up Near Eastern divinities. Most
Figure 45 Head of a Female Divinity wear old-fashioned Etruscan dress, the significance of
or Sphinx pendant, Etruscan, which deserves more attention. Generally speaking, the
550–520 B.C. Amber, H: 3.4 cm (13⁄10
in.), W: 2.4 cm (9⁄10 in.), D: 1.6 cm (3⁄5 Archaic style has a secure hold throughout the fifth
in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Figure 46 Standing Female Figure century B.C. and well into the fourth. Some works are
Museum, 76.AO.79. Gift of Gordon (Kore) pendant, Etruscan, 525–500
B.C. Amber, H: 6.7 cm (25⁄8 in.), W: 2 very like other sculptural works and compare well with
McLendon. Seecat. no. 11. cm (7⁄ in.), D: 0.9 cm (3⁄ in.). Los
10 8 the corpora of ivories, bronzes, and terracottas. Others,
Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, significantly, are old-fashioned in style: many have the
76.AO.77. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
Seecat. no. 8. oversized eyes of much earlier art, kept alive in the
millennia-old schemata of divine and heroic
Three burials, rich in amber objects that date to the end of representations of the Near East; some are remarkably
the sixth century B.C., demonstrate the tradition like Hittite sculptures. The huge eyes signify the figure’s
(extending back to the Bronze Age) of burying strings of identity and the characteristic keenness of sight of the
ambers in elite females’ tombs: at Sala Consilina, with supernatural. Wide-open and exaggerated, the eyes of the
three necklaces totaling a minimum of 114 pieces; in amber heads project a dazzling gaze, emphasizing the
Tomb 102 at Braida di Vaglio, with nearly 300; and at the efficacy of their role as apotropaia, or devices of
“princely” tombs at Novi Pazar (Serbia), with over 8,000 protection and danger aversion (figure 47).224
individual amber beads, pendants, and related objects. In
the Braida di Vaglio tomb, the skeleton is that of a young
Fifth-century finds are more concentrated outside coastal
sites in Latium, Etruria, and Magna Graecia. They are
dispersed at the fringes of Etruria and the mid-Adriatic
area and in Campania and the Basilicata. A very large
number of surviving figured ambers, mainly pendants,
can be dated by context or style to the period of about the
mid-fifth to the early fourth century B.C. They range in
subject from the now-traditional rams’ heads, female
figures, detached heads and faces, and satyrs to whole
animals and mythological creatures in repose to more
innovative images. The new subjects reflect the plurality
of cultural and commercial relations established among
Greeks, Etruscans, and other indigenous peoples, and
many show the incorporation of new ways of attracting
the good, averting the dangerous, or picturing the voyage
to the afterworld and its guides. New to amber, but
already established by this date in vase and wall painting,
bronzework, and gold, all of which have come from
graves, are action figures: Dionysian revelers vintaging or
dancing,220 a charioteer, a swaying Danaid, and figures in
flight, sirens especially.221 Athena, with lionskin, shield,
and lance, is in movement: the Pyrrhic dance?222
Archaic and Afterward 69

that tombs with figured amber of the sixth to fourth
centuries were female burials, with one anomaly: the
man buried in Tomb 43 at Melfi-Pisciolo. All the others
belonged to women and girls. Figured pendants, in almost
every case, were found on the upper torso, once the
elements of neck and chest adornments, or in the pelvic
area, once girdle pendants.226
Many of the (well-published) fifth-century B.C. tombs with
figured ambers from southern Italy are critical evidence
for amber’s importance to the inhabitants and to the
funeral customs of elite women of the populations, which
reveals the continuation of certain late Bronze Age
(indigenous) traditions and the impact of Magna Graecian
and Etruscan culture in the interior through interaction
with more recent settlers of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian
coasts. The link between amber and ritual, elite status and
salvation, is undeniable. Two exemplary tombs of elite
Italic females might be singled out: the aforementioned
late-sixth-century Tomb 102 from Braida di Vaglio, and
the late-fifth-to-early-fourth-century Tomb 955 from
Lavello-Casino. Both contain not only significant pieces of
figured amber, but also gold (a grape-cluster necklace in
Tomb 955) and a selection of vessels and utensils for
Figure 47 Female Headpendant, Italic or Campanian, 500–480 B.C. Amber, H: banqueting, mixing and drinking wine (Italic and Greek
3 cm (11⁄5 in.), W: 2.6 cm (1 in.), D: 0.4 cm (1⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
Museum, 83.AO.202.12. Gift of Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 21. traditions are both represented), and roasting and eating
meat.227 The contents reveal a climate welcoming the
Nearly every subject represented in amber during this worship of Dionysos in Italy, and perhaps the impact of
period has counterparts in other media found in Italy, Orphism.
namely sculpture, vases, and gems, as well as in Greek, Dionysian subjects had come into prominence in figured
Etruscan, and Italic architectural decoration. In some amber by the sixth century, satyrs first and then other
cases, individual objects or monuments have been related imagery, and some ambers probably were prepared
to ancestors or clan, as well as to place or cult.225 expressly for funeral rituals. They are powerful evidence
Rather than coming from Etruria proper, almost all fifth- for the importance of the resurrection divinity in folk
religion and cult in Italy.228 They, like the evidence of
to-fourth-century B.C. ambers are documented as coming banquet practices and sacrifice in indigenous graves,
from (or are believed to have been found in) areas with denote an afterlife condition of beatitude, and the
significant Etruscan connections: at sites north of the Po; mysteries of Dionysos constituted one path to
in Campania; on the Italian mid-Adriatic seacoast; farther salvation.229 Amber could have illuminated the way.
inland in the Basilicata, Lucania, and Calabria; at Aleria
(Corsica); and at Kompolje (Croatia). As is true for the Dionysos (figure 48) watched over Italy, as we hear from
earlier figured ambers from nonpeninsular finds (at Novi the chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone: “God of many names …
Pazar, most importantly), those from Aleria and Kompolje you who watch over far-famed Italy.”230 Dionysos, the god
are closely related to Italian finds. Unfortunately, as is the not only of wine but of dance and drama, who promised
case with the ambers from the eighth to sixth centuries, experiences outside the corporeal (ecstacies), was an
only a few ambers of fifth-to-fourth-century date have obvious focus for individuals worried about the
been included in the study or, in some cases, publication afterworld.231 By the fifth century B.C., as Susan Guettel
of the graves’ skeletal material. None of the significant Cole has observed, “the rituals of his cult were clearly
amber objects from chance finds, problematic associated with themes of life and death. Dionysus was a
excavations, or illicit undertakings are able to yield god whose myths about a double birth, death and rebirth,
information about the sex of the inhabitant(s) or other and a journey to the underworld made him a figure
critical contextual information. The admirable exceptions,
including many recent excavations in the Basilicata, show

attractive to those who wished to find a way to escape the
anxieties of death.”232
Figure 49 Satyr Head in Profile pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, H: 6.5
cm (21⁄2 in.), W: 6.8 cm (27⁄10 in.), D: 3.5 cm (13⁄8 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
Figure 48 Head from the Statue of the Young Bacchus (Dionysos), Roman, A.D. Museum, 83.AO.202.1. Gift of Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 12.
1–50. Bronze with silver, H: 21.6 cm (81⁄2 in.), W: 18 cm (71⁄16 in.), D: 19 cm (71⁄2
in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 96.AB.52. Herakles (figure 50) in Greece and Italy (in Etruscan,
Hercle) was another powerful apotropaic figure, because
Dionysos also knew the great sea, into which he plunged of his cultic roles as danger averter, healer, and death
to avoid Lycurgus and from which he was rescued by dealer.235 His polyvalent cult functions in Etruria and
Thetis, and where he showed his powers as he much of the Italian peninsula were also associated with
transformed his Tyrrhenian pirate captors into dolphins. trade, triumph, transhumance, and initiation, and he was
The liquid, winelike optical characteristics of amber may worshipped in his oracular and mantic roles.236 The
have created a natural connection between Dionysos and representation of the hero-god in amber is derived from
the ancient resin. As E. R. Dodds writes in his edition of various schemata—Greek, Etruscan, and Cypriot. Two
Euripides’ Bacchae, “[Dionysos’s] domain is, in Plutarch’s amber amulets of the Cypriot type of Herakles show him
words, the whole of hugra phusis [the principle of wearing a lionskin helmet: these pendants were doubly
moisture], not only the liquid fire of the grape, but the sap potent, for the lionskin itself was a standard protective
thrusting in a young tree, the blood pounding in the veins device.
of a young animal, all the mysterious and uncontrollable
tides that ebb and flow in the life of nature.”233
Satyrs (figure 49), nymphs, Bacchic revelers, heads of the
god, and other Dionysian subjects are among the most
numerous of the fifth-century B.C. funerary figured
ambers. And Dionysian subjects would be the most
common of Roman-period figured ambers.234
Archaic and Afterward 71

lion (with blood spurting from the wound) in the
Bibliothèque nationale de France might be explicated by
the recipe of the physician Alexander of Tralles (circa A.D.
525–circa 605) for abdominal pain or colic. It was to be
given if a patient “would not follow a regimen or could
not endure drugs.” It reads: “On a Median stone, engrave
Herakles standing upright and throttling a lion; set it in a
gold ring and give it to the patient to wear.”239
The last moment in the pre-Roman period for the
interment of amber is toward the end of the fourth
century B.C. This is documented by a concentration of
finds on the central Adriatic coast and in southern
Campania. Villalfonsina,240 Paestum, and Timmari have
three exceptional finds: the subjects of the pendants are
female heads or faces, joined into necklaces with spacer
beads of various shapes. The finds at Paestum date after
the Lucanian takeover of the site, as Angela Pontrandolfo
Greco points out—critical evidence for the earlier
appreciation of amber among the Lucanians.241 One of
the latest examples of these necklaces was found at
Timmari and dates to circa 330–320 B.C.242 From the late
fourth century B.C. until the first century A.D., amber was
a scarce grave good in Italy. The exceptions are a number
of gold earrings in the shape of helmeted heads (the
negroid heads are of amber) of the third century B.C.,
many of them from Etruria.243 Just like the earliest
Figure 50 Votive Statuette of Hercle, Etruscan, 320–280 B.C. Bronze, H: 24.3 Etruscan and Greek ambers, these late manifestations of
cm (95⁄8 in.), W: 7 cm (23⁄4 in.), D: 8.7 cm (37⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty funereal figured amber objects are tiny. Yet their
Museum,96.AB.36. functions are still to protect, to avert danger, and, as
fertile subjects, to promise rebirth. It was not until the
The Homeric heroes Achilles and Ajax, both represented revival of trade by the Romans that amber again became
in amber, also had longstanding danger-averting, abundant in Italy. Figured amber objects, necklaces, rings,
protective, and propitious roles in Greek and Greek- small vessels, and small, independent carvings once again
influenced culture. Achilles triumphed in arms; Achillean were significant grave goods, particularly for women and
sharp-subject amulets “cut” pain. An amulet with Ajax— children. Danger-averting gorgons, Dionysian and marine
heroic rescuer of the fallen body of Achilles—who subjects, and other time-honored images of protection
committed suicide by falling on his sword but was said to and regeneration dominated, continuing what was now a
live after death on the island of Leuke, might also “cut” peninsular vocabulary for efficacious objects of amber.
pain or offer protection.
Most importantly, Homer’s very words were magical. NOTES
“Quotations from his work could heal people when 210. Ancona, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 1154 (from Tomb 83,
whispered in their ears or hung around their necks Belmonte Piceno): Rocco 1999, pp. 82–85, nos. 135–36, pls.
written on amulets, which should be preferably of gold.” 44–45.
Not only could Homer cure disease; he could also make
fruit trees grow and favor people’s relations with one 211. C. Rolley, “Sculpture in Magna Graecia,” in Pugliese Carratelli
another.237 1996, p. 389.
Heroic and martial figures could play important roles in 212. On the dog as a subject of early figured ambers in Italy, see
what is called aggressive magic.238 Subject, material, and 82.AO.161.2 (cat. no. 27). As N. Winter, Greek Architectural
actions (such as attachment and incantation) were likely Terracottas: From the Prehistoric to the End of the Archaic Period
combined in the use of potent objects for healing. The (Oxford, 1993), has shown, the Temple of Artemis in Epidauros
large amber pendant of Herakles stabbing the Nemean employed dog protome waterspouts, and this usage was

widely followed in Campania and Latium in the second and first regenerative and life-giving symbols.… Several … were found
centuries B.C., particularly in private residences. She attributes in tombs, and probably had a specific funerary meaning; one
this popularity to the dog’s symbolism in the Greco-Roman vessel in particular was found with two small silver bracelets
world. Originally valued primarily as a hunter and, as such, the and one Corinthian aryballos in a child’s tomb from Ialysus.
indispensable companion of gods and particularly of Artemis, Others come from sanctuaries of female deities, such as that
the dog eventually assumed the role of guardian and of Hera at Perachora or of Demeter at Gela; it is revealing
companion and obtained apotropaic powers. Ancient authors that two vases were found with three statuettes of
attributed to dogs the power to forewarn of danger, and thus kourotrophic dwarfs in a votive deposit dedicated to
recommended their use as temple guardians. Demeter at Catania. The association of squatting demons
with the protection of fecundity is also suggested by the
213. British Museum 43: Strong 1966, pp. 61–62, no. 35, pl. XV. decoration of the comast from Isthmia: the figure has
214. Warden 1994. The draped female figures of the Philadelphia pendulous breasts, like Bes or Egyptian personifications of
group may represent the same type as the female figures of a fecundity, and his belly is painted with a large phallus
group in the Getty: 77.AO.84 (cat. no. 1), 77.AO.85 (cat. no. 2), surrounded by phallic padded dancers.… The influence of
77.AO.81.1 (cat. no. 3), and 77.AO.82 (cat. no. 4). The kneeling Egyptian dwarf-gods is also perceptible in the iconography of
figures in Philadelphia are close enough in form to a type of Corinthian padded dancers, with bandy legs, protruding
Egyptian alabaster magical or medical vessel, imitated in abdomens and buttocks like Bes figures, and likewise
“Rhodian” faïence, in the form of a kneeling woman to invite associated with music, wine and powers of fecundity.
further investigation, especially if E. Brunner-Traut, On the importance of musicmaking in danger aversion,
“Gravidenflasche,” in Archaeologie und Altes Testament: especially in birthing and early childhood, see Bulté 1991. The
Festschrift für Kurt Galling (Tübingen, 1970), pp. 35–48, is antiquity of such figures is suggested by the existence of
correct: that women used the ingredients of such vessels in dancing figures from before the fourth millennium; see Y.
magic, and rubbed the contents on the body during Garfinkel, Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture (Austin, TX, 2003),
pregnancy. Such a faïence vessel was found in the Circolo dei who connects them to early agricultural ritual.
Leoncini d’Argento III Tomb at Vetulonia (Vetulonia, Museo
Civico Archeologico “Isidoro Falchi” 116483: Bartoloni et al. On the child-killing demons, see Johnston 1995. She cites the
2000, p. 3012, no. 413 [L. Pagnini], with earlier bibl.). significant work by J. A. Scurlock, “Baby-Snatching Demons,
The Philadelphia ambers are formally and stylistically Restless Souls, and the Dangers of Childbirth: Medico-Magical
comparable to an amber pendant from an early-fifth-century Means of Dealing with Some of the Perils of Motherhood in
B.C. female grave at Tolve-Magritiello, which is in the form of a Mesopotamia,”Incognita2 (1991): 1–112. See also Maternité et
short-chiton-wearing, front-facing, seated figure whose knees petite enfance 2003 (in n. 170, above).
are close to the body and whose arms are crossed on the The bent-under feet may have magical significance. The
chest, illustrated in Magie d’ambra 2005. A. Russo (p. 114) gesture may refer to reversed feet, to bent or bound legs, or to
suggests that it could be the work of an artisan from a Greco- a deformed fetus. All three are known in ancient magical
Oriental culture and compares it to the sculpture of Samos. She practice as ways to harness the dangerous potency of a
suggests that the amber was made in Magna Graecia and particular demon or agency: see Gager 1992; Faraone 1991;
compares it to a small alabaster of Helen emerging from the and C. Faraone, “Binding and Burying the Forces of Evil: The
egg, excavated at Metaponto. Defensive Use of ‘Voodoo Dolls’ in Ancient Greece,” Classical
The Tolve-Magritiello figure can also be compared to an Antiquity 10, no. 2 (October 1991): 165–220. Two extraordinary
Egyptian-derived kourotrophos-demon type of ancient Greece: ancient bound figures are the inscribed Etruscan lead figures
see U. Sinn, “Zur wirkung des ägyptischen ‘Bes’ auf die of a nude woman and man from the late fourth or early third
griechische Volksreligion,” in Antidoron: Festschrift für Jürgen century that were inserted into a much older tomb at Sovana,
Thimme,ed. D. Metzler, B. Otto, and C. Müller-Wirth (Stuttgart, now in Florence (Museo Archeologico Nazionale): Haynes 2000,
1989), pp. 87–94. (For Bes, see also n. 204, above.) p. 282, figs. 228–29; and Faraone 1992. If the subject of the
amber alludes to a deformed fetus, it would function magically
Corinthian and Rhodian terracotta vessels in the form of as “like banishing like.” Alternatively, the twisted feet could
squatting comasts offer parallels to many figured ambers. See, refer to the anger of Artemis. Cole 1998, p. 31, citing
for example, V. Dasen, “Squatting Comasts and Scarab- Callimachus’s famous hymn to the goddess, lists the dangers,
Beetles,” in Tsetskhladze et al. 2000, p. 132: including “their women either die in childbirth or, if they do
survive, give birth to infants unable to stand ‘on upright
Like kourotrophic demons or the Cypriote forms of Bes and ankle’[Hymn to Artemis 128].”
Ptah-Pataikos, the figures seem to have conveyed the
Egyptian notion of dwarfs as healing gods and family 215. See F. G. Lo Porto, “Ceramica arcaica dalle necropoli di
guardians: their scaraboid features may also have translated Taranto,” Annuario della Scuola archeologica di Atene e delle
into Greek idiom the Egyptian concept of scarab-beetles as Missioni italiane in Oriente, n.s., 21–22 (1959/60): 213, n. 7, fig.
183d. Tomb 116 (Acclavio Str.) is dated to 560–550 B.C.
Archaic and Afterward 73

216. D. Schmandt-Besserat, “Animal Symbols at ‘Ain Ghazal,” to point to production centers in South Italy. While some works
Expedition 39, no. 1 (1997): 52, quoting D. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics can be linked to ambers from southern Italy, the burial
and Power (New Haven, 1988), p. 12. seemingly represents the work of many different artisans,
217. J. Elsner, Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text traditions, and object types, and it draws on a variety of
(Princeton, 2007), p. 44. sources for subject, style, and type. The other figured ambers
in the Novi Pazar burial include part of a vessel, well-worn plain
218. For the amber kouros in London (British Museum 41), see beads, and pendants, as well as figured pendants, korai, rams’
Strong 1966, pp. 65–66, no. 41, pl. XIX. For the amber kouros heads, and acorns. In addition, there are two large plaques,
pendant in Paris, Bj 2343 – MNE 967, see M. C. D’Ercole, Ambres part of larger, more complex ornaments. One plaque is
graves: La collection du département des Antiquités grecques, engraved with Herakles carrying the Cecropes on one side and
étrusques et romaines du Museé du Louvre (Paris, 2013), pp. with two hoplites on the other; the second is engraved with a
36–38. A comparable amber kouros from Arezzo is now lost. rider and horse on one side and facing sphinxes on the other.
Two nearly identical kouroi in ivory, from a comb, are 220. Satyrs in action include the London Vintaging Satyr (British
published by K. A. Neugebauer, Antiken im deutschen Museum 36):Strong 1966, pp. 62–63, no. 36, pl. XIV. A parallel,
Privatbesitz (Berlin, 1938), no. 255. now lost, was in the de Jorio collection: Strong 1966, pp. 62–63.
219. The ambers of a grave context excavated in 1896 at Sala The Eos and Kephalos (possibly) amber in the Steinhardt
Consilina (the finds are now in the Petit Palais, Paris) are still collection, New York (Grimaldi 1996, pp. 150–51; Negroni
not fully published. The amber of the tomb included three long Catacchio 1999, pp. 290–92, fig. 7), is said to have been found
necklaces and 113 beads and pendants. For some of the Sala with the large winged female head in the collection (Grimaldi
Consilina ambers, see Le arti di Efesto: Capolavori in metallo 1996, pp. 151, 289–90, fig. 5), as well as with a third large head
dalla Magna Grecia, exh. cat., ed. A. Giumilia-Mair (Trieste, of a Cypriot-type Herakles in a Swiss private collection
2002), no. 51; Mastrocinque 1991; La Genière 1968, p. 203; and (unpublished). Eos as kourotrophos with Kephalos is the subject
La Genière 1961, p. 76. Among the published figured ambers of a pendant from Tomb 60 at Tricarico–Serra del Cedro, dated
are Dut 1600 (5), a flying figure carrying an amphora; Dut 1600 to the mid-fourth century B.C. (see n. 173, above).
(6), a bee-divinity; Dut 1600 (2–4), unencumbered “sirens”; Dut 221. Why a bird-woman composite as the subject of an amber
1600 (1), a lion; and Dut 1600 (2), a ram’s head. Mastrocinque pendant? The variant subjects—some must be sirens, while
1991, pp. 114–17, figs. 44–47, illustrates the four fliers. others may represent harpies, chthonic beings, or the soul, or
Independently, both this author (public lecture, Washington, be related to the Egyptian ba-bird—may augment or focus
DC, 1997) and A. Bottini, in Ambre 2007, p. 232, have proposed certain aspects of amber. Without doubt, the composites all
that the bee-divinity with child pendant may represent the represent beings with some connection to death and the
Archaic Cretan myth of the nourishment of Zeus by Ideo. afterworld, and it is likely that the amber bird-woman carvings
For Tomb 102 at Braida di Vaglio, see n. 276. Among the have magic in them. In amber are found most of the bird-
animate subjects are a crouching sphinx, a tiny vase with woman composite creatures of Orientalizing–Archaic-period
crouching felines, a scallop shell, two rams’ heads, two female art; they belong to several types of “siren” imagery, one close
faces, and the foreparts of a boar. There are also three to the form of Rhodian terracotta vessels and probably related
compressed-composition subjects: a feline, a bovine, and an to the Egyptian ba-bird type, and others that are more like
“Achelous.” The largest pendant, a crouching sphinx with various Near Eastern–derived bird-female composites. Some
reverted head, is exquisite (and then-recent) Etrusco-Ionian are more like Oriental and early Greek sphinx types, others
work, the surfaces still exhibiting great subtlety in carving, the more like flying birds in an as-seen-from-below schema; some
engraved lines crisp. Given its chthonic associations, a sphinx are more human than bird, and others more bird than human.
(especially a recumbent one) might be interpreted as a As J. Leclercq-Marx, La Sirene dans la pensè e et dans l’art dé
permanent amulet expressly made for the rituals of death. l’Antiquite et du Moyen Á ge: Du mythe païen au symbole chretien,́
Classe des beaux-arts, Academie ŕ oyale de Belgique (Brussels,
For the Novi Pazar material, see Palavestra and Krstić 2006; 1997), pp. 1–42, superbly sets out, “siren” encompasses many
Palavestra 2003; and Popović 1994, pp. 66–68, figs. 288–329 different things and beings, and a range of beliefs about them.
(with earlier bibl. including Mano-Zisi and Popović 1969 and B. Homer’s sirens may not be Hesiod’s. However, by the seventh
Jovanović, “Les bijoux en ambre dans les tombes princières de century B.C., an undoubtedly magical power is associated with
Novi Pazar et d’Atenica,” in Hommages à D. Mano-Zisi [Belgrade, them, and sometimes they are invoked as protective divinities
1975]). Novi Pazar was a complicated excavation. A. for the deceased. Some are undoubtedly related to the sirens
Palavestra’s studies of the Balkan burial underscore what is not of the Odyssey; others must be linked more closely to the
known. As he writes in Palavestra and Krstić 2006, p. 110, ba-bird, representing “the freedom and mobility of the spirit of
nothing can be inferred conclusively about the number of the the deceased”: S. Quirke, Ancient Egyptian Religion (London,
bodies buried in Novi Pazar, or of their sex, or of whether the 1992), p. 106. In Egypt, as Vermeule 1979, p. 76, points out, the
chest found under the church is the primary or secondary ba-bird functioned as an agent to reintegrate a dead person:
archaeological context. Palavestra considers the ambers’ style the ba could mediate between the living and the dead,

bringing the sustenance of funeral gifts from the earth’s such as Theseus, Achilles or Alexander the Great were often
surface to the deep tomb. In Homer’s Odyssey (12.158–200), the shown on red stones, carnelians and jaspers, for red is the
sirens are “endowed with omniscient memory, including colour of blood and life.” In late antiquity, hematite was chosen
complete knowledge of the Trojan War.… In Greek literature, for magical amulets, as notes G. Vikan, “Magic and Visual
their presence foreshadows, accompanies, or otherwise refers Culture,” in Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, ed. J. C.
to death”: M. J. Bennett in Centaur’s Smile 2003, p. 285. Essential B. Petropoulos (Abingdon and New York, 2008), p. 55, because
was the siren’s association with transport to the afterlife and of its “persuasive parallel”: as an iron oxide, it can hold its red
with the underworld and the task of the spiritural nourishment “blood” within its shiny black skin. Perhaps amber that was
of the dead. See also D. Tsiafakos, “Life and Death at the Hands more red than yellow was selected for martial subjects. If the
of a Siren,” Studia Varia from the J. Paul Getty Museum 2 (Malibu, amber was not red enough, it could be colored, as Pliny relates
2001): 7–24; LIMC 8, 1, Thespiades-Zodiacus: Supplementum (Natural History 37.12): “tinted, as desired, with kid suet and the
(1997), s.v. “Seirenes” (E. Hostetter and I. Krauskopf), pp. root of alkanet. Indeed, it is now stained even with purple dye.”
1093–104; and LIMC 4 (1988), s.v. “Harpyiai” (L. Kahil and A. In discussing the making of artificial transparent stones (ibid.),
Jacquemin), pp. 445–50. For the confusion surrounding the he mentions this possibility again: “It can be dyed any color.”
Harpies and other winged creatures, including their D. E. Eichholz’s gloss (Eichholz 1962, p. 200, n. a) explains: “The
interchangeability, see B. Cohen, “Red-Figure Vases Take modern technique is to open a fissure, introduce colouring
Wing,” in Athenian Potters and Painters: The Copenhagen matter and heat the amber. The root of the alkanet, which was
Proceedings, ed. Oakley et al. (Oxford, 1997), pp. 143–55. That commonly used for rouge in antiquity, would have reddened
the sirens ranged along the coast of Italy, and that Parthenope it.”
was traditionally buried at Naples, may provide some 224. On the large and animated eye, see Steiner 2001, pp. 171–81;
explanation for the impressive number of amber sirens from Faraone 1992, pp. 45, 58–59, 119; and Mottahedeh 1979. See
documented Italian finds of the sixth to fourth centuries, a also Frontisi-Ducroux 1991. On the startling eyes of
number of them from Campania. The sirens’ watery origins Mesopotamia, see Winter 2000.
(they are daughters of either Achelous, the river god, or of
Phorkys and Ceto, sea divinities) must also have added to their 225. Archaic Etruscan gemstones are a case in point; see I.
powers. Since amber, too, was of water (originating in, Krauskopf, “Interesse private nel mito: Il caso degli scarabei
hardened by, or borne by ocean, sea, rivers, or streams), etruschi,” in Le Mythe grec dans l’Italie antique: Fonction et imag;
material and subject reiterated each other. Actes du colloque international organisé par l’École française de
222. This amber pendant is from Tomb 9, Rutigliano-Purgatorio Rome, l’Istituto italiano per gli studi filosofici (Naples) et l’UMR 126
Necropolis: see Negroni Catacchio 1993, p. 199, fig. 7. du CNRS (Archéologies d’Orient et d’Occident), Rome, 14–16
novembre 1996, ed. F. H. Massa-Pairault (Rome, 1999), pp.
223. On Eos and Kephalos see n. 220, above. The amber of Herakles 405–21.
slaying the Nemean lion (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet 226. D’Ercole 1995.
des Médailles Fröhner 1146) shows the slaying on the
pendant’s main side and a coiled, bearded snake on its 227. Melfi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale “Massimo Pallottino”
secondary side, although the figures wrap around the lump: (from Lavello-Casino, Tomb 955): the female head is inv.
D’Ercole 2008, pp. 52–61, figs. I–II; and La Genière 1967, p. 302, 337381; the pendant, in the form of the foreparts of a rearing
figs. 7–8. The Ajax in New York (Ajax Carrying the Body of horse, is inv. 337832. I do not know the inventory numbers of
Achilles) is Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.267.2, Gift of Mr. the other ambers from the tomb. For the tomb, see Magie
and Mrs. Jonathan P. Rosen, 1992. The Achilles from the “Tomb d’ambra2005, pp. 82–83; Due donne 1993, pp. 63–69, 97–158;
of Amber” at Ruvo di Puglia (Naples, Museo Archeologico andBottini 1990.
Nazionale 113643) was found with at least six other figured
ambers, including an equine head and three female heads: A. 228. A. Bottini, “Le ambre nella Basilicata settentrionale,” in Ambre
C. Montanaro, Ruvo di Puglia e il suo territorio: Le necropoli; I 2007, p. 233, cites the British Museum Satyr and Maenad
corredi funerari tra la documentazione del XIX secolo e gli scavi pendant (Strong 1966, pp. 61–62, no. 35) as another example of
moderni(Rome, 2007), pp. 917–18, no. 325.3 (with important the identification of a deceased person with Dionysos in Italic
bibl., including Ambre 2007, pp. 246–47, ill. 280); G. Prisco, “La Italy. The London pendant is perhaps the most complex of the
tomba delle ambre,” in I Greci in Occidente: La Magna Grecia “Orphic” ambers, as this author outlined in “Dionysos in
nelle collezioni del Museo Archeologico di Napoli, exh. cat. Amber” at the College Art Association Annual Meeting (New
(Naples, 1996), pp. 115–16; and Siviero 1959, p. 132, no. 560. York, 1996). See also A. Bottini, “The Impact of the Greek
Colonies on the Indigenous Peoples of Lucania,” in Pugliese
Martial subjects have a long history as protective objects, Carratelli 1996, p. 546.
beginning in the third millennium and continuing through to
the present. In Rome, martial subjects in red stones were 229. Garnered from essays by A. M. Nava, S. Bianco, A. Bottini, and
especially popular; see M. Henig, “Roman Seals,” in Collon M. Tagliente in The Wine of Dionysos 2000 (in n. 79, above).
1997, p. 99: “It is not surprising that Mars and warrior heroes
Archaic and Afterward 75

230. Sophocles: The Plays and Fragments, part 3, Antigone, trans. R. C. 234. This author was among the first to suggest the continuity of
Jebb (Cambridge, 1900), 115s. Dionysian subjects in Italian amber objects from the
231. The literature on Dionysos in Italy is vast. Especially important Orientalizing period through Late Antiquity. See also
for this study, in addition to the sections on the god in LIMC, Mastrocinque 1991; and D’Ercole 1995, n. 18.
were D. Paleothodoros, “Dionysiac Imagery in Archaic Etruria,” 235. Herakles’s seminal role in amuletic magic is partly explained by
Etruscans Now: The British Museum Twenty-Sixth Classical his ability, even as a baby, to overcome dangerous animals and
Colloquium; An International Conference Hosted by the British monsters and to conquer Death. In Euripides’ Herakles Furens,
Museum, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities and the the hero repulses the attack of the demonic (Gorgon) and
British Museum Friends, 9–11 December 2002, “assumes the same appearance and powers as the invading force: issuing ‘terrifying looks,’ he rolls his Gorgon-like eyes”:
(accessed April 28, 2004); Bonfante 1996; S. G. Cole, “Voices Steiner 2001, p. 171. Herakles’s survival of Nessus’s deadly
from Beyond the Grave: Dionysus and the Dead,” in Masks of poison might have made him a “wounded healer” (similia
Dionysus, ed. T. H. Carpenter and C. A. Faraone (Ithaca, NY, and similibus curantur). His role in spring cults and his sanative
London, 1993), pp. 276–96 (with earlier bibl.); L. Bonfante, aspects relate to his successful cleansing with water of the
“Fufluns Pacha: The Etruscan Dionsyus,” in Masks of Dionysus; Augean stables and other exploits. Water was a healing agent,
A. Bottini, “Appunti sulla presenza di Dionysos nel mondo a carrier of omens, and a supporter of fertility. On Classical
italico,” in Dionysos: Mito e Mistero; Atti del convegno spring cults, see F. Muthmann, Mutter und Quelle: Studien zur
internazionale, Comacchio, 3–5 novembre 1989, ed. F. Berti Quellenverehrung im Altertum und im Mittelalter (Basel, 1975).
(Ferrara, 1991), pp. 157–70; G. Colonna, “Riflessioni sul In private worship especially, Herakles was commonly
dionismo in Etruria,” in Dionysos: Mito e Mistero, pp. 117–55; W. appealed to as a defender against evils and a victor over them.
Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. J. Raffan (Cambridge, MA, 1985); SeeOxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford, 1949), s.v. “Herakles”
E. Richardson, “The Story of Ariadne in Italy,” in Studies in (H. J. Rose), pp. 413–14. As Mottahedeh 1979, p. 201, outlines,
Classical Art and Archaeology: A Tribute to Peter Heinrich von “Herakles was the first of the heroes to appear with a facing
Blanckenhagen, ed. G. Kopke and B. Moore (Locust Valley, NY, head, and he remained the most prominent throughout Greek
1979), pp. 189–96; and J. D. Beazley, Etruscan Vase Painting coinage.” Faraone 1991, n. 6: “The locus classicus for the
(Oxford, 1947). Bonfante 1996, pp. 162–63, summarizes: “In deadly Herakles is Od. 11.605–12, where he appears glaring
Etruscan religion, Dionysos (Fufluns) is also god of the dead. about with his bow forever drawn.… He alone shares Ares’
Satyrs are images of Dionysos’ power as well as creatures of epithet πτολίπορθος as the traditional destroyer of Troy and
the world of the dead.… The connection of sexual or Oechalea.” Faraone 1991, pp. 195, 203, no. 19, fig. 5 (with
scatological activity with the circle of Fufluns in Etruscan tombs reference to A. Minto, “Curiosità archeologiche,” StEtr 1 [1927]:
seems to urge a connection between sexuality and death that 475–76, pl. 72a), discusses a magically bound Etruscan bronze
can present apotropaic meanings as well as notions of fertility figure of a male god or hero wearing a wolf- or dogskin hat
and continuity between life and death.” The representations of and leaning on a knotty club; the head is completely twisted
male figures disguised as satyrs on funerary objects, such as in about and the legs broken off below the knees. Faraone (and
the dance of a woman and a man disguised as a satyr on the Minto) tentatively identifies him as the Etruscan Herakles.
funerary cippus from Chiusi (Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Alternatively, this figure may represent Suri/Apollo or Aita/
Nazionale 2284), may shed light on amber imagery and the Hades, despite his lack of a beard, or Perseus, despite the
role of amulets in the grave. Haynes 2000, pp. 246–47, presence of the club. For a dog-hatted Perseus, see A. Krug,
discusses the Etruscan staged funerary performances “with “Eine etruskische Perseusstatuette,” in Festschrift für Frank
satyrs or silenoi; the pairs of women (maenads?) with tall, Brommer,ed. U. Höckmann and A. Krug (Mainz, 1977), pp.
draped headdresses; nude boys dancing with castanets.” 207–17, pls. 57–58.
These are the same subjects that are found in fifth- and early-
fourth-century amber carvings, the same subjects that are The literature on Herakles in Italy is extensive. In addition to
found on vases painted by the Micali Painter and his followers. LIMC5 andLIMCsuppl. 1 (2009), s.v. “Herakles/Hercle,”
Dionysos’s importance in the life of children in ancient Greece literature consulted includes Le Mythe grec 1999 (in n. 225,
is evidenced by the spring festival of Anthesteria, one that above).
celebrated new growth and transformation. His role in healing, Schwarzenberg 2002, p. 57, reminds us that elektron and
magic, and protection (especially of children) deserves greater Herakleon, the name given in antiquity to magnetite (the
attention. Dionysos’s own infancy and childhood were magnetic compound Fe3O5, formed when lightning strikes iron
significant in myth, and he was a revered father. Might this ore) as well as to a plant that could cure wounds made by iron
have contributed, too, to his place in the protection of the weapons, were first associated by Thales because of their
young? magnetic, animate properties. Might an elektron amulet of
232. Cole 1993 (in n. 231, above), pp. 277–79. Herakles with a sword have incorporated multiple magical
manners of animated healing?
233. E. R. Dodds, The Bacchae of Euripides (Oxford, 1944), p. xii.

236. As S. J. Schwarz, LIMC 5 (1990), pp. 196–253; and LIMC suppl. 1 240. R. Papi, “Materiali archeologici da Villalfonsina (Chieti),” ArchCl
(2009), pp. 244–64, documents, there are few places in Italy 31 (1979): 18–95.
where Herakles/Hercle is not evident and not honored. 241. Pontrandolfo Greco 1977.
237. S. Sande, “Famous Persons as Bringers of Good Luck,” in 242. The Timmari (Basilicata) necklace was found in Tomb 1: see E.
Jordan et al. 1999, p. 233. Lattanzi, “Attività archeologica in Basilicata,” in Atti del XV
238. Bonner 1950, passim. Convegno Internazionale di studi sulla Magna Grecia (Naples,
239. Alexander of Tralles 2.377, as quoted in Bonner 1950, p. 63, nn. 1976), pp. 561–667; and Losi et al. 1993, n. 20.
43–44. In n. 45, Bonner cites Abraham Gorleus, Dactylioteca 243. SeeMastrocinque 1991, p. 143, n. 477. The documented
(1695 ed.), as the first modern writer to recognize that the examples are from Vulci, Volterra, Orvieto, Taranto, and
many gems showing Herakles and the lion were medico- Bettona (Umbria).
magical and corresponded to Alexander’s prescription. Bonner,
p. 64, cites two other relevant medico-magical prescriptions.
Archaic and Afterward 77

The Working of Amber: Ancient Evidence and Modern Analysis
There is no literary or archaeological evidence for existence of artisans working in more than one
specialized amber-workers in pre-Roman Italy. Because of medium.246The evidence is also found in many surviving
its inherent properties, it is likely that amber was worked multimedia works, such as one type of seventh-century
by any number of skilled craftspeople or artisans. B.C. fibula made from ivory, amber, gold, and bronze, or a
Considering its magical and medicinal importance, amber work such as the Getty Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx
must also have been worked by a multiplicity of ritual (see figure 45), an amber face with metal additions
specialists–pharmacists, “wise women,” priests or (possibly silver) and once, perhaps, inlaid eyes.247
priestesses, and “those who had the knowledge.”244
However, for the working of very large carvings, or for
amber fibulae composed from conjoined pieces,
considerable experience with varying qualities of amber
was essential.
An artisan comfortable in working other hard organic
materials, such as hardwoods, ivory, or horn, or one
skilled in cutting gems would have found working amber
comparatively undemanding. Amber is also pleasant to
work, for it is fragrant, unlike ivory.
A number of scholars have proposed that amber was
worked by ivory-workers. Certainly, the tool marks on the
objects in the Getty collection (and elsewhere) show that
eighth-to-fourth-century B.C. amber objects were made
with a toolkit probably no different from that of a Bronze Figure 51 a & b. Silver Pin with Amber Satyr Head pendant, Italic, 5th century
Age ivory-worker, for which there is excellent B.C. Amber, H: 6.8 cm (27⁄10 in.), W: 4.9 cm (19⁄10 in.), D: 2.2 cm (7⁄8 in.). Taranto,
archaeological evidence.245 (Much less is known about the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 138144. a) front; b) back. By permission of Il
pre-Roman period.) In fact, amber-working today has Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Direzione Regionale per i Beni
Culturali e Paesaggistici della Puglia—Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici
changed very little, with the exception of the speed della Puglia.
offered by electric tools. Like Bronze Age toolkits, pre-
Roman ones likely would have included bow drills, Many figured ambers, particularly those of the seventh to
chisels, saws, knives or blades, points, awls, burins, rule fifth centuries B.C., are similar in style to contemporary
and compass, vices, abrasives, oils, metal foils, pigments, and earlier works in other media, such as gemstones,
and glues. The surviving evidence of amber from the Iron coins, terracottas, and bronzes. However, they are closest
Age and beyond—furnishings, arms and armor, utensils, in manufacture, and often in subject, to objects of ivory or
boxes, vessels, dress ornaments, and amulets—shows that wood. The amber kouros in London is very close in form
amber was in the supply of many kinds of trained to a wood kouros excavated at Marseilles and to a pair of
workers. Some composite works—furniture inlaid with tiny ivory Etruscan kouroi.248 The Getty plaque Addorsed
ivory and amber; ivory carvings inlaid with amber; Lions’ Heads with Boar in Relief (see figure 30) is very like
bronze fibulae ornamented with amber and ivory (figure an ivory relief. Works such as the exquisite
51); and amber carvings embellished with ivory and chryselephantine “Artemis” and “Apollo” from Delphi249
precious metals—are additional concrete evidence for the are among the closest parallels for the Getty Head of a

Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figure 18) and the Getty
Kore(seefigure 46), not only for the style, but also for
details such as the eyes.
The pre-Roman ambers themselves yield considerable
evidence of their manufacture. The traces of working
consist of carving, cuts, filed grooves, drill pointing and
drilling rills, abrasion scratches, engraving, and fine Figure 52 Hippocamppendant,
burnishing. Supplemented by both earlier (Bronze Age) Etruscan, 575–550 B.C. Amber, L: 7
cm (23⁄4 in.), W: 4.3 cm (17⁄10 in.), D:
and later (Roman) physical evidence, medieval and early 2.7 cm (11⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul
modern treatises, and still-current methods of amber- Getty Museum, 78.AO.286.1. Gift of
working, a picture of their manufacture comes into focus. Gordon McLendon. Seecat. no. 29.
Figure 53 Female Holding a Child
The process of creating the objects likely began with (Kourotrophos) with Bird pendant,
careful study of the piece of amber. Some ambers must Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H: 8.3
cm (31⁄4 in.), W: 5 cm (115⁄16 in.), D: 5
have been worked from the raw state, others from cm (115⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul
preexisting finished works. In some cases, the raw Getty Museum, 77.AO.85. Gift of
material was treated as if it were any other costly Gordon McLendon. Seecat. no. 2.
material, and little trace exists of the natural form of the
amber, whether drop, rod, or sheet. However, in other
cases, the ancient resin’s naturally occurring form is
retained and sometimes even exploited in the finished
object; the Getty Hippocamp (figure 52), Kourotrophoi (see
figures 35 and 53), and Lion (figure 54) are good
Figure 54 a & b. Lion pendant, Etruscan or Campanian, 525–480 B.C. Amber,
L (as preserved): 10.5 cm (41⁄8 in.), L (estimated original): 11.5 cm (41⁄2 in.), W:
4 cm (11⁄2 in), D (at chest): 1.8 cm (7⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum,
76.AO.78. Gift of Gordon McLendon. a) front; b) back. See cat. no. 31.
If the work were begun with a raw piece of amber
retaining its outer skin, or cortex, it was necessary to
remove it and any encrusted material, organic matter, or
shells. This was likely done with saws, abrasive powders,
and water. The fissures would be cleared of organic
matter and hard minerals, the pyrites. In amber-working,
water acts as both a coolant and a lubricant in the
shaping, smoothing, and drilling processes, since the
ancient resin softens or melts with the application of high
friction.250 The resulting surface of an amber blank was
smooth but uneven, with craters and undulations. In the
seventh century, an artisan might remove a large amount
of material to attain the desired form; in fifth-century B.C.
Italy, the design would be accommodated to the irregular
(magical) shape. The twelfth-century A.D. guide to
working crystal by Theophilus probably outlines the next
steps, which are corroborated by the tooling remains on
Working of Amber 79

both pre-Roman and Roman-period ambers. The medieval transverse perforations and, as discussed below, could be
treatise states: “Rub it with both hands on a hard used to attach works to pins or even to a piece of
sandstone moistened with water until it takes on the furniture.
shape you want to give it; then on another stone of the
same kind, which is finer and smoother, until it becomes The final stage of the work was probably to polish the
completely smooth.”251 surface, likely with oil and a fine abrasive or cloth. To
bring out the brilliance of the stone, Theophilus instructs:
Theophilus then suggests the use of a flat abrasive surface “Finally, put the tile rubbings, moistened with spittle, on a
to sand the nodule. Evidence of this is found on the goatskin free of dirt and grease, which is stretched on a
remarkably well-preserved flat inside of the Getty wooden frame and secured below with nails, and
pendantHead of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figure carefully rub the crystal on this until it sparkles all over.”
18). For amber, such polishing and rubbing would bring up
the luster and the fragrance, releasing the amber’s
The amber pieces must have been further abraded, ambrosial perfume; if that were not enough, the piece
carved, graved, and polished into the desired subjects, could have been rubbed with perfumed oils. We might
perhaps refined with engraving (and, more rarely, imagine how this would have added to amber’s attraction
drilling). Sketching was likely done with a sharp scriber of and mystery, especially if it were in a divine image. The
metal, stone, or flint.252 Pliny refers to “Ostacias” (possibly delicious odor might have “[matched] the emanation of
flint), which is “so hard that other gemstones are fragrance that forms so regular a part of divine
engraved with it.”253 Engraving required a rotating epiphanies.”257 As a divine characteristic, fragrance was
instrument, such as a bow drill, the standard tool of a gem itself imbued with the power of everlasting life.
All of the surviving pre-Roman figured ambers (at the
The narrow-bore suspension perforations, usually Getty Museum and elsewhere) reveal an understanding of
transverse, were drilled with particular attention to how the morphological and structural characteristics of the
the pendant would hang or would attach to a carrier. The ancient resin. Compositions tend to be compact, without
narrowness of the borings suggests that the ambers would projecting parts; the potential points of weakness are
have been suspended from plant filaments, such as linen, minimized in the designs. In human figures, legs and feet
or silk. Many larger pendants have multiple long borings, are close together, arms and hands are attached to bodies,
again usually transverse, signifying that more than a and necks are short; animals may have their legs tucked
simple filament was needed for the suspension, or that beneath themselves, heads reverted, and tails curled
the pendant was part of a complex beaded apron, neck around their haunches. The best-preserved works retain
ornament, or girdle or was sewn directly onto clothing. signs of surface burnishing, which once enhanced the
The Getty’s large Ship with Figures (see figure 6) and the optical qualities of the amber: its transparency, brilliance,
Getty Kourotrophoi group (see figures 35 and 53), to name luster, and color.
three examples, have multiple perforations and would
have required more than one carrier, and a system of The earliest figured amber objects from Greece and Italy,
knots. The circa 600 B.C. multipiece pendant in Trieste254 dating to the eighth to seventh centuries, are small, from
and the circa 500 B.C. composite pendants from Novi about 48 mm, and frequently imitate small-scale
Pazar255 were made possible by complicated stringing/ sculptural objects in other media, including ornaments
knotting systems. The through-borings are all visible in and amulets. The Orientalizing amber carvings are
the transparent amber. comparable to works in ivory, bone, wood, faïence,
precious metals, gemstones, and bronze. Many appear to
Not only would the stringing have secured the pendants, be direct translations into amber. Examples are the
but both the knots and the action of tying the knots were Egyptian and Egyptianizing scarabs, scaraboids, monkeys,
critical to amuletic usage. In magical practice, tying a knot dwarves, and other time-honored amuletic subjects. In
implies hindering negative actions. Demons and their these small works, there is no evidence of the amber’s
corresponding diseases were believed to be caught by natural shape, and little wastage. Some excess may have
knots, bands, threads, strings, and amulets. Knots thus been used to make tiny beads or inlay, as flux in
could actively play a protective or benevolent role. The goldsmithing,258 or as incense or medicine. A number of
pendant-amulets would have been tied on, attached, or pendants in the Getty collection, all dating to about the
suspended as an essential aspect of their efficacy, as we last third of the sixth century B.C., correspond closely to
learn from ancient literary sources.256 The large frontal objects of Ionian Greek (or Ionian-influenced) art. Among
holes of some figured works are secondary to the

the finest examples are the two Heads of a Female Divinity
or Sphinx (see figures 18 and 45), the Kore (see figure 46),
and some of the rams’ and lions’ heads.
A different approach to the material emerged at the
beginning of the sixth century B.C. The natural form of
the amber nodule is preserved, even enhanced, by the
design. Some objects, such as the Getty Hippocamp (see
figure 52), suggest that the lumpy nodule of amber may
even have dictated the subject. The subjects of the
multifigure pendants are distorted as they wrap around
the exceptionally large amber pieces. In order to
comprehend the entire subject, the pendant needs to be
physically turned in every direction. In any one view, the
figures are deformed, but as the pendant is turned, the
shapes shift. The Boston Dancing Youth (figure 55) and the
British MuseumSatyr and Maenad(seefigure 17) are
excellent illustrations of this approach. The compositions
are illogical, the scale of the figures is skewed, parts are
missing, the heads and bodies are twisted or wrapped
around the amber in an anatomically impossible manner.
Is this because of the sanctity of the whole piece of
amber? Are the figures deformed as part of the magic, the
shapes shifting as the object is turned over? Might this
shape shifting—a common demonic talent—be part of the
Figure 55 Dancing Figure. Etruscan or Italic, early 5th century B.C. Amber,
7.2 x 3.7 cm (213⁄16 x 17⁄16 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Miss C.
Wissmann, 02.254. Photograph © 2011 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
A variant of this approach is seen in a number of animal
subjects, best exemplified by the Getty Lion (see figure
54). In this work, there must have been no appreciable
wastage. The natural form of the amber blank is obvious
and the subject embellishes, rather than conceals, the
idiosyncrasies of the raw material. In such cases, the
outline, depth, and undulations of the surface are
incorporated into the design, with the result that animals
and anthropomorphic figures are compacted, splayed, or
contorted.260 A few anthropomorphic pendants are
worked in the round, but many have flattish, plain backs.
Since the amber was transparent, the carving would have
been visible from any angle, an extraordinary sight
especially if the piece was figured on all sides. The reverse
of the Lion allows it to be seen from below, a view only
chthonic beings might have. These are extraordinary
sculptural objects; in the ancient world, perhaps only in-
the-round rock crystal carvings are comparable.261
Working of Amber 81

There are precedents as early as the third millennium for
the figural manipulation and contortion of pre-Roman
amber objects. Many examples can be found in the art of
the Near East in objects dating to the fourth millennium
and the Aegean Bronze Age. Ivories, amulets, and stone
vessels are figure-wrapped. However, this is not common
in Greek art. In Italy, the earliest parallels are in Etruria,
in bronze vessel attachments and scaraboids. The
outstanding examples of a wraparound composition on a
large scale are the stairway sculptures of circa 560 B.C.
from a possible altar at the side of a clan tumulus at
Cortona.262 The extreme examples of figure contortion
are certain pre-Roman amber pendants, of which the
earliest might be associated with the neighborhood of
Cortona. Was it done only to preserve as much of the
amber as possible—not just because of amber’s high
value, but also because of the efficacy of the resulting
images? Might it also have been done because such
contortion was a way to magically “bind” or control the
potency of the subject? Were the subjects of the British
MuseumVintaging Satyror the GettyHippocamp(see
figure 52) bound in order to strengthen their power?263
Many human and humanoid heads contain drillings or
stopped bores, many of which were filled with tiny amber
plugs, on average 2 to 3 mm in diameter and 5 mm in
length. These holes are on the face, in the hair and
headdress, on the neck, or on the obverse, but were never
drilled into the facial features. Only sometimes are they
found in areas with inclusions. It is not apparent why the Figure 56 Asinine Head in Profile pendant, Italic, 500–400 B.C. Amber, H: 4.8
holes were bored and then plugged. The holes might have cm (17⁄8 in.), W: 5.9 cm (25⁄16 in.), D: 1.9 cm (3⁄4 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
been made to render the pendant more consistently Museum, 77.AO.81.24. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 56.
translucent, or to remove a microscopic bubble or an A number of fifth-to-fourth-century B.C. amber pendants
inclusion. Alternatively, the amber may have been drilled from southern Italy have large holes drilled through their
specifically in order to insert something into the bore, middles. Four examples are still attached to large
which was then plugged. Amulet-making and medicinal fibulae.266 The large holes disfigure the design and must
recipes often include directions for inserting materials have been drilled after the carving was finished, perhaps
into another object.264 Many of the plugs are now missing,
but the remaining ones are often darker and more much later. In the case of four other pendants, including a
opaque than the rest of the pendant. This is probably not Satyr Head in Profile (see figure 49) that retains its silver
an intended effect, but a result of the plugs’ accelerated fibula, the holes are incorporated into the design, which
oxidation.265 The Getty Asinine Head in Profile (figure 56) implies that the perforations preexisted the figural
has four large stopped bores, but none of the plugs composition. The large holes may have originated in the
remain. This pendant is full of inclusions, and the stopped amber’s formation (the resin could have formed around a
bores penetrate into areas with inclusions. On the other small branch) or in a previous use: the pendants might
hand, the Getty Winged Female Head in Profile (see figure have been carved from older works, perhaps large, plain
37) has numerous stopped bores, some in areas with beads or pin decorations. It is also possible that these
visible inclusions, others in areas that appear to be large holes were made to remove inclusions, or to insert
inclusion-free. something into the amber—both are commensurate with
magico-medical practice. Alternatively, the secondary
perforations may have been drilled to destroy the power
of the image.

NOTES 246. That craftsmen worked in a variety of materials is suggested by
a range of “multimedia” furnishings and other kinds of objects
244. Dickie 2001. from very early times throughout the Mediterranean and the
245. The ivory-working techniques in the Aegean and Near East ancient Near East. The Late Bronze Age Adriatic site of
during the second to first millennia B.C. are relatively well Frattesina shows evidence of bone, horn, ivory, amber, and
understood from the tool marks on ancient ivory (and osseous) glass working. This accords with archaeological evidence from
objects and from excavated “workshop material,” notably from Mycenaean workshops that different materials were worked at
Knossos and Mycenae. From these, a picture of the basic ivory- the same place: precious metals, glass paste, shells, amber,
worker’s toolkit has been reconstructed. See Lapatin 2001, esp. rock crystal, steatite, onyx, amethyst, agate, and lapis lazuli.
chap. 2; O. Krzyszkowska and R. Morkot, “Ivory and Related See, for example, H. Hughes-Brock, “Mycenaean Beads:
Materials,” in Nicholson and Shaw 2000, pp. 328–30 (with Gender and Social Contexts,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 18,
references); Evely 2000; D. Evely, “Towards an Elucidation of no. 3 (August 1999): 283, 289; and R. Laffineur, “Craftsmen and
the Ivory-Worker’s Tool-kit in Neo-palatial Crete,” in Fitton Craftsmanship in Mycenaean Greece: For a Multimedia
1992, pp. 7–16; and R. D. Barnet, Ancient Ivories in the Middle Approach,” in Politeia: Society and State in the Aegean Bronze
Age; Proceedings of the 5th International Aegean Conference / 5e
East (Jerusalem, 1975). rencontre égéenne internationale, University of Heidelberg,
For the Orientalizing period in Italy, evidence for the working Archäologisches Institut, 10–13 April 1994, ed. R. Laffineur and W.
of various hard materials is found in the same atelier at D. Niemeier (Liège and Austin, TX, 1995), p. 196. For a Greek
seventh-century Poggio Civitate. The amber (as well as the gem cutter’s toolkit, see Plantzos 1999, pp. 38–41. Warden 1994
glass and some of the ivory, bone, and antler) found in the makes an excellent case for amber being worked by ivory-
Lower Building remains unpublished; see Berkin 2003, p. 21. carvers, as does Waarsenburg 1995, n. 1121, who cites Massaro
For ivory from the site, see E. O. Nielsen, “Lotus Chain Plaques 1943as among the first to have “acknowledged the intimate
from Poggio Civitate,” in Studi di antichità in onore di Guglielmo links between ivory and amber carving as well as their close
Maetzke, vol. 2 (Rome, 1984), pp. 397–99; and E. O. Nielsen, connection with jeweler’s workshops.” Waarsenburg 1995, p.
“Speculations on an Ivory Workshop of the Orientalizing 428, emphasizes that “we should look for carving workshops in
Period,” in The Crossroads of the Mediterranean: Papers Delivered general rather than for amber workshops.” See A. Russo,
at the International Conference on the Archaeology of Early Italy, “L’ambra nelle terre dei Dauni e dei Peuketiantes,” in Magie
Haffenregger Museum, Brown University, 8–10 May, 1981, d’ambra2005; andRocco 1999for the rapport among amber,
Archeologica transatlantica 2, Publications d’histoire del’art et ivory, and bone carving.
del’archéologie de l’Université catholique de Louvain 38, ed. T. The popularity of amber inlays in ivory during the Orientalizing
Hackens et al. (Louvain-la-Neuve and Providence, RI, 1984), pp. period is suggested by various kinds of cult or ritual objects
255–59. belonging to the elite. These include the late-eighth-to-early-
Simple amber beads and pendants would not have required seventh-century axe handle from Chiusi (Florence, Nazionale
tools much different from those used to work amber in the Museo Archeologico 70787), in n. 50, above; the “hunting
Mesolithic period. Sophisticated Mesolithic carvings from scene” ivory panels (the amber is backed with gold foil) from
Denmark and Lithuania, for example, likely were made with the Bernardini Tomb, Palestrina (F. Canciani and F.-W. von
stone tools and polished with ground minerals, leather, or Hase, La Tomba Bernardini di Palestrina: Latium Vetus II [Rome,
cloth and common lubricants, such as water or fat. For amber- 1979], p. 68, no. 120, pls. 55.3, 56.2, 56.5); the seventh-century
working, see also S. Zanini, “Cenni sulla lavorazione e il (Phoenician?) Etruscan ivory trumpet with geometric
commercio dell’ambra,” in Gioielli del Museo Archeologico di decoration from the Praenestine Barberini Tomb (Rome,
Padova: Vetri, bronzi, metalli preziosi, ambre e gemme, exh. cat., Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia 13229: I Fenici 1988, p.
ed. G. Zampieri (Padua, 1997), pp. 116–18; and Evely 2000, pp. 742, no. 928; and M. E. Aubet, “Estudios sobre el periodo
562–65, where he discusses “actual cooperation.” See Lapatin orientalizante I: Cuenco fenicios de Praeneste,” Studia
2001, chap. 2 and p. 134, for a discussion of ivory-working and Archeologica 10 [1971]: 165–68, pl. 25); and the fillet worn by
the “ivory worker.” What Lapatin notes about chryselephantine the seventh-century ivory lyre arm in the form of a “jumper”
works by the best sculptors has resonance for the finest amber from Samos, which preserves inlaid amber disks (Lapatin 2001,
carvings: “Although not a single ‘original’ that can confidently p. 48, fig. 88; B. Freyer-Schauenburg, Elfenbeine aus dem
be attributed to any of these sculptors has survived, many of samischen Heraion: Figürliches, Gefässe und Siegel, vol. 3
these craftsmen are reported to have also produced statues in [Hamburg, 1966], pp. 19–26, pl. 2; and Carter 1985, pp. 207–13,
other media. The chryselephantine technique was, after all, a fig. 76). For the late-seventh-to-early-sixth-century (possibly
composite one, and processes of production can be discerned Laconian) reliefs of sphinxes (elements of furniture with amber
not only from ancient anecdotes … but also from the evidence faces) from Asperg and other German sites, see J. Fischer, “Zu
of closely related wood working from other periods and einer griechischen Kline und weiteren Südimporten aus dem
cultures.” Fürstengrabhügel Grafenbühl, Asperg, Kr. Ludwigsburg,”
Germania68, no. 1 (1990): 120–21; and H. Zürn, “Die Grabhügel
von Asperg (Kr. Ludwigsburg), Hirschlanden (Kr. Leonberg)
Working of Amber 83

und Mühlacker (Kr. Vaihingen),” Hallstattforschungen in seventh-century bone kouros pendants were excavated at the
Nordwürttemberg(Stuttgart, 1970), p. 21, fig. 9, pls. 10–11, sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta: see Marangou 1969, pp.
61–62, 68–69. Amber was also inset into gold and silver, as the 163–64, nos. 109–10, figs. 138a–c.
Latin tombs (especially Tomb 102) from Castel di Decima show: Much Egyptian wooden and ivory (or bone inlaid) furniture, the
see, for example, M. R. Di Mino and M. Bertinetti, eds., Orientalizing wooden throne from Verruchio (Verucchio 1994),
Archeologia a Roma: La materia e la tecnica nell’arte antica and the furniture from Gordion are exempla of the technical
(Rome, 1990). and stylistic similarities between ivory- and woodworking. See,
Inset amber eyes are found on the (possibly seventh-century for example, O. Krzyszkowska and R. Morkot, “Ivory and
Ionian) ivory lion staff heads (chance finds) from Vasilkov near Related Materials,” pp. 320–31, and R. Gale, P. Gasson, N.
Smêla:Boardman 1980, p. 259, fig. 301; and E. H. Minns, Hepper, and G. Killen, “Wood,” pp. 334–71, in Nicholson and
Scythians and Greeks: A Survey of the Ancient History and Shaw 2000; G. Herrmann, “Ivory Carving of First Millennium
Archaeology on the North Coast of the Euxine from the Danube to Workshops: Traditions and Diffusion,” in Images as Media:
the Caucasus (Cambridge, 1913; repr., New York, 1971), pp. 78, Sources for the Cultural History of the Near East and the Eastern
193, fig. 85. A number of Greek headpieces for horses Mediterranean (1st Millennium BCE), ed. C. Uehlinger (Fribourg,
(prometopidia) from southern Italy have eyes of ivory inset with 2000), pp. 267–82; E. Simpson and K. Spirydowicz, Gordion
amber irises; compare Getty 83.AC.7.1. Votive eyes of ivory and ahş ap eserler / Gordion Wooden Furniture (Ankara, 1999); G.
amber were excavated at the Syracusan Athenaion: see Strong Herrmann, ed., The Furniture of Western Asia: Ancient and
1966, pp. 22–23. For a possibly Etruscan seventh-century ivory Modern(Mainz, 1996); R. A. Stucky, “Achämenidische Hölzer
bed inlaid with amber, see G. Caputo, “Quinto Fiorentino: Avori und Elfenbeine aus Ägypten und Vorderasien im Louvre,” AntK
applicativi incastonati d’ambra,” StEtr 56 (1989–90): 49ff.; and 28 (1985): 7–32; and O. W. Muscarella, The Catalogue of the
A. Mastrocinque, “Avori intarsiati in ambra da Quinto Ivories from Hasanlu, Iran (Philadelphia, 1980), who writes,
Fiorentino,” BdA 10 (1991): 3–11. For an East Greek or Lydian “That the same artisans who carved the ivories also worked
kline from a later sixth-century B.C. grave in the Athenian with wood and bone is attested at Hasanlu [which date prior to
Kerameikos cemetery, see U. Knigge, Der Kerameikos von Athen: 800 B.C.] … and this situation … fits into a general pattern
Führung durch Ausgrabungen und Geschichte (Athens, 1988), p. known from other Near Eastern sites.” Rocco 1999 frequently
101. Rocco 1999 compares the Hallstattian examples from refers to the relevant hard materials in understanding the
Asperg, Hundersingen, and Römerhügel to the Orientalizing Picene bone and ivory material. As noted in n. 246 above, both
bone and ivory objects from Italy; D. Marzoli, in Bartoloni et al. Rocco 1999 and Russo 2005 draw significant connections
2000, pp. 397–98, no. 587, compares them to the furnishings among amber, bone, and ivory carvings.
from Etruscan tombs. See also A. Naso, “Egeo, Piceno, ed 249. Delphi Museum 10413–14, circa 550 B.C. See Lapatin 2001, no.
Europa central in period arcaico,” in L’Adriatico, i Greci e 33, for illustrations and bibl. (note especially the photographs
L’Europa: Actes du colloque (Venice-Adria 2000), ed. L. Braccesi, L. of the heads during restoration). Attention to detail (akribeia)
Malnati, and F. Raviola (Padua, 2001), pp. 87–110. In the was much praised by ancient critics, records Lapatin 2001, p.
Byzantine Suda, under elektron, it is noted: “ancient beds used 135, with reference to R. Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient
to have their feet set with dark precious stones and amber.” Mediterranean World (Oxford, 1982), pp. 302–5.
See “Elektra,” trans. A. Ippolito, March 16, 2006, Suda on Line, (accessed November 27, 2009). Such 250. Forming holes from both ends toward the center prevents
elaborate objects correspond well to the literary descriptions of “blowout”—a technique already in evidence in the earliest
earlier Near Eastern furniture, marvelous works worthy of the bead- and pendant-making. Modern craftspeople recommend
gods’ attention: see, for example, Winter 2000, p. 29, who cites placing amber underwater when making perforations to avoid
a text of Ashurnasirpal I (1049–1030 B.C.) in which an ornate shattering the material or cracking the holes.
bed of precious wood, gold, and precious stones, made for the
inner chamber of the temple of the goddess Ishtar, is 251. Theophilus, Book 95, The Various Arts, trans. C. R. Dodwell
described as “shining like the rays of the sun (god).” (London, 1961), pp. 168–69. G. Kornbluth, Engraved Gems of the
Carolingian Empire (University Park, PA, 1995), pp. 9–10,
247. Massaro 1943, pp. 36ff., no. 27/a, records that the bored provides the useful model of using Theophilus.
concentric eyes of female pendants from the Circolo dei Monili
preserved traces of silver inlay (reference from Waarsenburg 252. The sketching might have been done in a manner similar to
1995, p. 429, n. 1123). that which Theophilus, Book 98 (see n. 251, above), p. 166,
recommends for carving a prepared piece of bone. Chalk is
248. See A. Hermary, “Un petit kouros en bois de Marseille (fouilles spread as the ground for drawing figures with lead. Theophilus
de la Bourse),” RA 1997: 227–41, n. 14, figs. 5a–d (inv. H 34), advises scoring “the outlines with a sharp tracer so that they
who dates the Marsailles kouros “third-quarter to end of the are quite clear.”
seventh century.” K. A. Neugebauer, Antiken im deutschen
Privatbesitz (Berlin, 1938), no. 255, dates the pair of ivory kouroi 253. Pliny, Natural History 37.15, 37.65.
in a German private collection to circa 500 B.C. Two late-

254. Trieste, Civico Museo di Storia ed Arte 9795. Pendant-pectoral almost as if they had been intended as hand-pieces, a sort of
from Santa Lucia di Tolmino / Most na Soči, Tomb 3070, end of netsuke of the late archaic Italic world.”
the seventh or beginning of the sixth century B.C.: Ambre 2007, 262. Tumulus II of Melone del Sodo at Cortona: P. Zamarchi Grassi,
p. 120, fig. III.8. “Il tumulo II del Sodi di Cortona (Arezzo),” in Bartoloni et al.
255. For the most recent discussion of this composite jewelry, see 2000, pp. 141–42, no. 109.
Palavestra and Krstić 2006, pp. 94–115. 263. On binding in magic, see Gager 1992; Faraone 1992; and
256. Kotansky 1991, pp. 107–8. Kotansky, p. 124, n. 6, recommends Faraone 1991.
that “the verb περιάπτειν should be regularly translated 264. The insertion of materials into an amulet or “talismanic statue”
cognately, viz. ‘to wear/attach/suspend a περίαπτον,’ or the is not uncommon in ritual and magical practice. The amber
equivalent.” bullae from Satricum have a large vertical piercing unrelated to
257. Steiner 2001, 101. On the ambrosial fragrance of the gods, see the suspension perforation, which Waarsenburg 1995, pp.
also Lapatin 2001, p. 55; Richardson 1974 (in n. 82, above), p. 409–10, takes to be meant for the insertion of a charm. He
252; and Shelmerdine 1995 (in n. 72, above). relates the amber specimens to the original idea of the bulla as
258. T. Follett, “Amber in Goldworking,” Archaeology 38, no. 2 a locket. (On the bulla, see n. 152.) There are also vertical
(1985): 64–65; but compare G. Nestler and E. Formigli, borings in the bottle-shaped pendants and the seated monkey
Granulazione Etrusca: Un antica tecnica orafa (Siena, 1994). of the necklace from Praeneste in London: see Strong 1966, p.
53, no. 23, pl. IX. Were the inclusions in amber conceived as
259. Johnston 1995, p. 363. This may push the concept of shape naturally inserted material? Might there have been a
shifting, but such a concept is relevant for the magical aspects preference for specific inclusions, such as a lizard? In Egypt,
of some amber pendants. The appearance of shape shifting “the lizard was symbolic of regeneration because of its ability
could be conceived as an attestation of the artisan’s skill in to regrow limbs and tail if they were injured or lost” (Andrews
making what were perhaps to be considered daidala. 1994, p. 66).
260. Because of this, each amber object is unique. Figures 265. Strong 1966 and others think the plugs might have been made
contorted, splayed, or wrapped around planes are seen in for coloristic effects. It is more likely that they were originally
ancient Near Eastern animal representations as early as the the same color but have suffered from increased oxidation and
fourth millennium, and some Mycenaean ivories and Middle thus have more rapidly darkened. The original attempt may
Assyrian alabaster vessels suggest that such figure have been to make the piece appear uniform, as large “tears”
manipulation was well established much earlier. Of the art of amber.
made in or imported into pre-Roman Italy, contorted and 266. Additional pendants with large secondary holes include a large
splayed figures are found in ivory work, scaraboids, plastic Eos group and the large frontal head with wings in a New York
vases, some bronzes (especially utilitarian items such as feet or private collection (Grimaldi 1996, pp. 150–51; and Negroni
handles), and gold objects of adornment. An early example is Catacchio 1999, pp. 289–90); a draped, dancing figure from
the ivory lion group from the Barberini Tomb (Museo Oliveto Citra, Aia Sofia district, Tomb 1 (Paestum, Museo
Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome), thought by Brown Nazionale OC/00082: Mastrocinque 1991, pp. 129, 133, fig. 84;
1960, p. 5, to be Syrian work. The resonance in Etruria for and P. C. Sestieri, “Ambra intagliata da Oliveto Citra,” ArchCl 4
wrapping figures (divine, heroic, and demonic subjects most [1952]: 16, pl. 14); a winged female figure (perhaps Lasa)
especially) around planes may reflect several generations of (Shefton Museum of Greek Art and Archaeology 286: B.
contact with art from the Orient. Eastern Greece seems to have Shefton, Archeological Reports [1969–70]: 58–59, figs. 11–12);
been a direct source not only for the large-scale stone carving two other, very different sirens in the Shefton Museum (nos.
of the Cortona altar (see n. 262, below), but also for later, 298, 596: unpublished); a pair of satyr heads from Palestrina in
small-scale bronzework, such as the Vulcian naked youth riding Boston (Museum of Fine Arts 02.252–53: Mastrocinque 1991,
the winged lion of an incense burner’s foot (circa 450 B.C., pp. 131–32, figs. 73–74); a head from Tomb 9, Rutigliano-
from Olympia: Olympia Museum B 1001) and the (possibly Purgatorio Necropolis, which has a lateral through-bore in the
Orvietan) bronze tripod feet with representations of Peleus top of the head and is still attached to a silver pin (Taranto,
wrestling Thetis and Perseus decapitating Medusa (circa Museo Archeologico Nazionale 138144: Ornarsi d’ambra: Tombe
470–460 B.C., provenance unknown: Florence, Museo principesche da Rutigliano, ed. L. Masiello and A. Damato
Archeologico Nazionale 710–11). The dating and localization of [Rutigliano, 2004]; Mastrocinque 1991, p. 131, n. 408; and G. Lo
the bronzes follow Haynes 1985, nos. 118–19. Porto in Locri Epizefirii: Atti del XVI Convegno di studi sulla Magna
261. Perhaps only Chinese amber carvers and Japanese inro- and Grecia [Naples, 1977], pl. CXV); a winged female head from
netsuke-makers have exploited the material and figural form to Tomb 10, Rutigliano-Purgatorio Necropolis, also still attached
the same degree. D. G. Mitten (review of Strong 1966, AJA 71, to its bronze pin (Ornasi d’ambra 2004; and Negroni Catacchio
no. 3 [July 1967]: 323) was the first to point out the visual 1993, pl. XIII). A satyr head in Milan has a large frontal hole: N.
relationship: “Many of these strange lump-sculptures look Negroni Catacchio, “Un pendaglio in ambra in forma di
Working of Amber 85

protome maschile,” Notizie dal chiostro del Monastero maggiore: together in the Basilicata, a female head and a horse’s head,
Rassegna di studi del Civico museo archaeologico e del Civico were originally pendants that saw considerable use (there are
gabinetto numismatico di Milano 15–18 (1975): 37, 39, pl. XXV. A pulling troughs on the upper edges of the suspension
large, unpublished head of Herakles in a lionskin helmet (art perforations). The two were later bored and attached to a
market, Geneva) has a large central hole through the forehead. wooden(?) support with silver nails, fragments of which still
Two ambers on the London art market, allegedly found remain.

The Production of Ancient Figured Amber Objects
As a result of unauthorized archaeological activity since such as Vulci in the sixth century B.C., are important
at least the nineteenth century, a great number, perhaps examples to consider. The extent to which the existence of
the majority, of sixth-to-fourth-century B.C. figured such centers resulted in a web of autonomous secondary
ambers are undocumented or lack sure provenance. This routes—along with a whole range of other cultural
places greater importance on works with solid outcomes268—demands our attention, especially with a
documentation for a discussion of culture and meaning. It mythic material such as elektron. An indigenous palatial
is often the case that findspot is equated with place of center such as Braida di Serra di Vaglio (Potenza,
origin, and grave goods are associated with ownership by Basilicata) is an Italic example of a place where the
the deceased or assumed to be direct evidence of daily “circulation” of both objects and people, and interchange
dress and customs. The existence of high-value objects among foreigners and colonial Greeks and Etruscans and
such as amber and gold in elite graves must be considered the indigenous population, might be found. Traders and
in light of their role as ingredients in a larger network of makers of amber objects might include residents as well
cultural relationships. Amber and gold, incense and as itinerants.
precious textiles were internationally recognized
prestigious and valuable objects, suitable for exchange, It is important to say a word about style: the efficacy of
gift giving, and status display. Not all objects were new. pre-Roman ambers may have been determined in part by
They may have been tokens of guest friendship, or the resin’s assured provenance (from the north), by its
heirlooms or funerary gifts from family or clan members form (it should follow established guidelines or a
or people with some other relationship. Such “antiques” prescription), and by its appropriate style(s). The very
may have been valued for their history, provenance, or duration of time-honored forms and style—the long life of
established efficacy (sacral, magical, or medicinal). Egyptian subjects and forms in amber, or the importance
Celebrations of alliances, marriages, and other rituals of Ionian- and Etruscan-looking ambers deep into the
were likely occasions for the gathering, exchange, special fourth century B.C.—underlines the conservative
commissioning, and social display of such objects. Some functions of figured ambers. It was seemingly important
ambers may have been highly prized prestige objects— that works look as if they were made by, or followed the
treasures gained from purchase, plunder, or prescriptions of, Egyptians, Ionians, or Etruscans. This
presentation—and were meant to be circulated within an visual resemblance, perhaps a stamp of authenticity, may
aristocratic network. Emporia, palaces, or possibly sacred have assured their potency or “branded” the objects’
magic. In this way, the style, “a way of doing things,”269 is
sites might support established as well as itinerant
artisans. And the gifting of things, old and new, could not a culturally significant variable. In the case of amuletic
have been a rare occurrence in the pre-Roman period ambers, the style can be said to play a critical role in
when amber reigned. Travel and travelers (for reasons of defining the genuineness and efficacy of the objects. In
commerce, politics, religion, or celebration) meant addition, there appear to be prototypes—not only
gatherings of people at sanctuaries and “princely” schemata, but actual models—that were followed for
centers, where high-status objects might be purchased or centuries. It is possible that certain works were on view
commissioned, and where jewelry or magic or medicine for a long period, through public display in ceremonial
may have been procured. The “‘cultural clearing houses,’ circumstances or via circulation. If some works were
the intermediate centers where goods and ideas were family or clan heirlooms, they may have been valued for
received, adapted, mixed—and passed on,”267 places such one or more reasons, economic, sacral, medical, or
as Pithecoussai and Rhodes in earlier centuries, or a city

magical. To find individual style in a copy of a copy is a
challenge indeed.
In a search for the artistic origins of some figured ambers,
scholars have tended to look for individual hands,
schools, and centers of production. Connoisseurship and
archaeological sleuthing have identified master artisans.
Much progress also has been made in siting some groups
of objects, drawing them around schools or the hands of
particular artisans, and there are undeniable stylistic
connections between groups of carved ambers.270
However, there are many reasons to consider paradigms
that move beyond individuals, workshops, and centers of
manufacture. As touched on above, many students of
figured ambers see an undeniable Etruscan connection in
the subjects and “art” of these objects. Some emphasize
Magna Graecian, Campanian, Lucanian, or other Italic
elements. This author has long advocated for the Ionian, Figure 57 Lion’s Head spout or finial, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, H: 1.9
and even more specifically the Milesian, aspects of many cm (3⁄4 in.), W: 1.7 cm (2⁄3 in.), D: 2 cm (7⁄10 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty
amber pendants.271Other scholars, notably Nuccia Museum, 76.AO.81. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 34.
Negroni Catacchio, have charted well-stated arguments
for several regional centers.272 Canosa is a good candidate The great potency of amber made it the province of
for the fifth century B.C., as Angelo Bottini has argued.273 healing specialists, too. Although it is possible that
Armento is another.274 itinerant craftsmen produced the amber carvings of pre-
Roman Italy, and that they did so in court settings, as has
But why (and where in) these centers? Was there a been proposed,276 these hypothetical models emphasize
religious site or sacred sanctuary there? A market? A the craft and deemphasize the special function of figured
venerable studio? A school of pharmacology? Raw amber objects in medicine, magic, and mourning.
materials and finished products were easily portable, and
not only was the use of amber amulets pervasive, but the The termscraftsmanandartisanimplymétier,
iconography of some types—the form of a detached head instruction, apprenticeship or training, and the
(figure 57), to cite the most numerous—was consistent production of art. It must be kept in mind that amber is
over time. There is also evidence that carvings of different relatively soft and easy to work and was not, of necessity,
dates and styles could be buried together, as in the grave the exclusive province of skilled artisans. While the Getty
of the young girl of Tomb 102 at Braida di Vaglio.275 pendantHead of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figure
45) may be equal to the finest of contemporary temple
dedications or cult imagery, many figured ambers are art
only by modern definition. The material was the force
behind its usage, and therefore the workers of amber
might well have encompassed pharmacists and religious
functionaries, including priests or priestesses, magicians,
healers, seers, midwives, and sorceresses.277 Was an
amber object an heirloom, a gift, an exchange object?278
Or was it produced and/or purchased at a time of crisis?
What was most important about these objects was how
well they worked: as social indicators, as prestige objects,
as gifts, as items in transition rituals, as ornamentation,
materia medica, and amulets. Knowledge of the
incantations necessary to accompany them and their
specific magical role as amulets was essential. Any
analysis of how ambers functioned for the living and the
dead needs first to consider who would have possessed
such information.

In what activity was an amber involved? This question is the British Museum, possibly found together at Armento,
especially important when it comes to the most long-lived which some scholars believe are Campanian, or made
and geographically widespread amulet types, of which a under Campanian influence, as is Donald Strong’s
substantial number (early as well as late) are schematic in opinion.282 In each of the two cases, the heads may have
manufacture. The sixth-century B.C. female heads from been produced at a sanctuary of the divinity represented
Eretum, for example, are small and schematic, their in the amber, by a local carver as a commissioned good,
features formed primarily by abrasion.279 Such is also the by an itinerant, for the open market, or even as filled
case with a number of crude heads in the Getty collection. “prescriptions.” Relevant here are the critical questions
Since both the material and the subjects of pre-Roman Jean Turfa asks about offerings and exchange in Greek
amber amulets suggest an association with healing, the votive tradition: “The large number of terracottas
protection of women, infants, and children, and the manufactured from the same molds or workshops at sites
aversion of danger, some may have been acquired at the like Kirrha, the staging port for Delphi, suggests seasonal
sanctuaries of healing divinities, where old traditions production or supply from factory to sanctuary, and thus
were kept alive or powerful images were on view in the sanctuary as the ‘retail’ supplier of votives.”283 These
special settings or ceremonies. Some pieces may have heads, like all amber amulets, were valuable in every
been spoils, gifts, or dedications. sense, and their value may have depended in part on
where or by whom they were made. And they were just
There is much to be learned about the making of power the sort of thing to have accrued further value by being
objects, jewelry, and amulets from Egypt and displayed, worn, or buried at a place distant from their
Mesopotamia, where the literary sources and the manufacture. A carved amber or group of ambers may
archaeological evidence are especially rich, and from the have been carried in the pouch of an itinerant artisan,
later Greek tradition of inscribed amulets, among the trader, or healer. Before it played a role in a sanctuary or
earliest of which were found in the south of Italy. With in the rituals of death, the amber may have been traded
noninscribed amulets, the situation is more complicated or gifted elsewhere, to be copied or remembered. Carved
and more open to misinterpretation. Nevertheless, ambers may have had many lives and been involved in
information can be mined from earlier, concurrent, and many activities. Made from a material as old as the earth,
later traditions. Especially valuable are ancient amulets formed into deeply significant subjects only to be interred
with writing, which appear frequently in Roman times, as once again, these gems of the ages offer new windows
well as ancient handbooks with instructions on the onto the past.
preparation of rites and amulets. These reveal a great deal
about the workings of amulets: the stated purpose, the NOTES
ingredients, the time and place for performance,
accompanying gestures, and the incantations themselves. 267. Ridgway 2000 (in n. 192, above), p. 236.
For specific objects, however, we may never know the
answer to the question “Was the preparation, inscription, 268. Ibid., with reference to A. Peserico, “L’interazione culturale
or donning of the amulet conceived or enacted as a ritual greco-fenicia,” in Alle soglie della classicità: Il Mediterraneo tra
act or in a purely perfunctory manner?”280 tradizione e innovazione; Studi in onore di Sabatino Moscati, ed. E.
Acquaro, vol. 2 (Pisa and Rome, 1996), pp. 899–924.
The differing possibilities for who made the amber 269. These ideas were articulated with the help of M. Hegmon,
pendant heads, and in what kind of context, are not “Technology, Style, and Social Practices: Archaeological
necessarily mutually exclusive. A female head pendant Approaches,” in The Archaeology of Social Boundaries, ed. M. T.
excavated at Lavello may be a local product, for it has Stark (Washington, DC, and London, 1998), pp. 264–79. “A way
formal connections with earlier Etruscan art, with the art of doing something” is found on p. 265.
of (Laconian) Taranto, and with local Italic production, as
Maria-Cecilia D’Ercole has shown.281 Was it carved by a 270. SeeStrong 1966, p. 31. He argues convincingly that if the
local artisan who offered up key elements of the image in analogies he put forward are valid, “it leads to the conclusion
her/his own style? What was the model? How old was it, that the bulk of the better pieces were made under the strong
and where was it seen? Or was it made by an itinerant influences of Campanian art of the sixth century.” Strong
who had absorbed a large visual vocabulary, sculptural thinks that Lucania was the center of such manufacture but
does not rule out centers in Apulia. Others who have published
repertoire, or pharmacopoeia—whatever the correct strong arguments about other sites of manufacture are Russo
lexicon may be? And according to which traditions, and 2005 (in n. 246, above); Bottini and Setari 2003 (with earlier
which kind of “instructions”? Another example might be a bibl.); Palavestra and Krstić 2006; Palavestra 2003; D’Ercole
group of pendants in the form of frontal female heads in
Production of Figured Amber 89

1995, pp. 284–85; Mastrocinque 1991, passim; Bottini 1987, pp. symposium in Italy, see A. Rathje, “The Adoption of the
11–12; and La Genière 1961, pp. 87–88. Homeric Banquet in Central Italy in the Orientalizing Period,” in
271. D’Ercole 2008, pp. 52–69, convincingly argues for an Ionian Sympotica: A Symposium on the Symposium, ed. O. Murray
working in Etruria for the Herakles and the Nemean Lion group (Oxford, 1990). The earliest representation from Italy of
of circa 530–500 B.C. in Paris (Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet feasting while reclining is the Etruscan symposiast on the lid of
de Médailles, Fröhner 1146). a two-handled calyx vessel from Tomb 23 from the necropolis
at Tolle, dating to circa 630–620 B.C. See G. Paolucci, ed., City
272. This has also been done by a number of University of Milan Archaeological Museum of Thermal Waters: Chianciano Terme
students, noted by Negroni Catacchio 1999. (Siena, 1997), fig. 90; and Haynes 2000, p. 108.
273. Bottini 1987, p. 12, has suggested several reasons for this but 277. “A seer, or a healer of illnesses, or a carpenter who works on
emphasizes the existence of a clientele capable of appreciating wood, or even an inspired singer,” named by Eumaios (Odyssey
and acquiring luxury articles. Might the draw have been a 17.381–87), are four kinds of high-ranking strangers, any one of
temple, cult, shrine, or healer at Canosa or Armento (see n. which (theoretically) could have been involved in aspects of
274)? amulet construction. For discussion of the passage and the
translation see Nagy 1997. See also Burkert 1992, pp. 41–87.
274. On Armento as a center, see, most recently, A. Bottini, “Le
ambre nella Basilicata settentrionale,” in Ambre 2007, pp. 278. Bottini 1987 discusses the figured ambers of two “princely”
232–33. tombs at Melfi-Pisciolo as being older than their (second half of
the fifth century B.C.) contexts.
275. Bottini and Setari 2003; A. Bottini (pp. 541–48) and E. Setari (p.
644) in Pugliese Carratelli 1996; Bottini and Setari 1992; Bottini 279. The Eretum pendants are from Tomb XIII: see P. Santoro,
and Setari 1995; Bottini and Setari 1998; and E. Pica in Treasures “Sequenza culturale della necropoli di Colle del Forno in
1998, pp. 224–25, pls. 32–33. See also E. Greco, Archeologia della Sabina,” StEtr 51 (1985): 13–37; and Losi et al. 1993, p. 203.
Magna Grecia(Rome, 1992). Santoro published Tomb XIII as a child’s grave (P. Santoro, “La
necropolis di Colle del Forno,” in Civiltà arcaica dei Sabini nella
276. For the amber from Tomb 102, E. Setari summarizes in Pugliese valle del Tevere [Rome, 1973], pp. 39–44), but this is not certain
Carratelli 1996, p. 643: “Native craftsmanship can in no way be perLosi et al. 1993, p. 209, n. 1.
excluded, but they were probably part of a palace-based
activity, the work of traveling craftsmen with various cultural 280. D. Frankfurter, “Narrating Power: The Theory and Practice of
origins.” E. Pica in Treasures 1998, p. 224, hypothesizes that the the Magical Historiola in Ritual Spells,” in Meyer and Mirecki
amber objects “came from the shops of itinerant indigenous 1995, p. 3.
artisans who reworked both colonial Greek and Etruscan- 281. D’Ercole 1995.
Campanian models.” This idea is elaborated in Bottini and
Setari 2003. Bottini 1987, pp. 11–12, proposes a modulated 282. Strong 1966, pp. 67–71, no. 44–3.
picture: the possibility of a fixed center of production at a 283. J. M. Turfa, “Votive Offerings,” in De Grummond and Simon
major center and the existence of itinerants using acquired 2006, p. 108, n. 37. She cites J.-M. Luce, “Les terres cuites de
models (particularly aristocratic Greek ones) while introducing Kirrha,” in Delphes: Centenaire de la “grande fouille” réalisée par
innovations. The types of drinking vessels in the Braida di l’École française d’Athènes (1892–1903), ed. J.-F. Bommelaer
Vaglio necropolis indicate the acculturation of Greek rituals of (Leiden, 1992), pp. 263–75; and J. Uhlenbrock, “Terracotta
wine consumption alongside native traditions. For a recent Figurines from the Demeter Sanctuary at Cyrene: Models for
note on this tomb, with the wine service as possible evidence Trade,” in Cyrenaica in Antiquity, BAR International Series 236,
of the Dionysian aspect of the burial, see Causey 2007. On the ed. G. Barker et al. (Oxford, 1985), pp. 297–304.
Greek customs of wine drinking and the adoption of the


Orientalizing Group
The first six objects presented here, Female Holding a All six ambers are better understood when looked at in
Child (Kourotrophos) (77.AO.84, cat. no. 1), Female Holding the context of contemporary and slightly earlier
a Child (Kourotrophos) with Bird (77.AO.85, cat. no. 2), production from Greece, especially from the
Addorsed Females(77.AO.81.1, cat. no. 3), Divinity Holding Peloponnesus and South Ionia, as well as ivories, bronzes,
Hares(77.AO.82,cat. no. 4), Lion with Bird (77.AO.81.2, cat. gold, faïence, and shell carvings from the Near East and
no. 5), and Paired Lions (77.AO.81.3, cat. no. 6), are similar Cyprus, including Cypro-Phoenician objects, and
in style, technique, state of conservation, and size. Subject Orientalizing carved ambers and ivories from Picenum
also relates them. Because of this, and because the six and Latium. This is a range similar to the visual
were part of the same donation, it is posited that they vocabularies of other Orientalizing amber and ivory
come from the same original context. carvings, as carefully analyzed by A. M. Bisi and G. Rocco
(for Picene ivory and bone carvings), P. G. Warden (for
As is argued below, the six were produced in northern four “Picene” ambers in the Museum of Archaeology and
internal Etruria in the first half (or perhaps in the third Anthropology, University of Philadelphia), and D. J.
quarter) of the sixth century B.C. and have stylistic Waarsenburg (for ambers from Satricum in the Villa
connections to Greek Arcadian and Ionian small bronzes, Giulia).1 Similarly rich stylistic and iconographic links are
as well as to contemporary Etruscan votive bronzes, relief characteristic of some Orientalizing bronze reliefs,
work, andbucchero. All can be shown to have specific ties Praenestine ivory work, and Felsine stelai, and many of
to subjects and styles current in the Near East and Cyprus. the small finds from Samos, a number of unique carvings
The North Syrian and “Phoenician” aspects are salient. in wood and in ivory in particular.2 Because of the
These objects would have belonged to an elite person. The Etruscan aspects of the Italian-provenanced works, it
size alone of the largest three pendants would have seems most likely that they all were produced on the
signaled their exceptional value even before peninsula for locally based commissioners and
craftsmanship transformed the lumps of amber into purchasers.
traditional subjects of great power and status. As Therealiaof the amber figures’ thoroughly Etruscan
ornaments and amulets, the ambers could not but have dress is matched by the waterfowl depictions. The bird of
made a spectacular impression, if only because of the 77.AO.85is a white-fronted goose, and that of the Lion
optical characteristics of the rare material and its with Bird pendant (77.AO.81.2) a mute swan. These species
associations. The imagery enhanced the amber’s value. have long histories in the ancient world and its art, and
The age-old vocabulary that gave form to these glistening both long-necked waterfowl accrued a rich lore and
jewels made them good luck–inviting, danger–averting, symbolism. The species are highly distinctive migrants to
protective objects. Although there are no close parallels in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, and both are excellent
amber or other media for the individual works or the table fare. The hare, too, is good eating.
group, they belong to the vocabulary, iconography, and
styles of Etruscan Orientalizing art. The subjects are Each of the six might also have been read as
women, children, and wild fauna—lions, hares, and incorporations, or as symbolic, of a female nature
migrating waterfowl. In format, the six include three divinity. This may be the principal divinity of popular
heraldic compositions, a squared-up group of a lion with Etruscan religion, who was worshipped in a variety of
its prey, and two pairs of an adult and child in a side-by- forms and under different names.3
side pose.

Although the six may have been used during the life of avori piceni,” in La civiltà nelle Marche: Studi in onore di Giovanni
one or more powerful persons, some of their iconography Annibaldi (Ripatransone, 1992), pp. 128–39, shaped my
seems to be funerary: the right-hand-on-breast gesture argument originally. See also Warden 1994; Waarsenburg 1995;
made by the figures of 77.AO.84, 77.AO.85, and 77.AO.81.1, andRocco 1999.
the common mantle of77.AO.85, and the hares of 2. Warden 1994outlines the issue succinctly. Strøm 1971 was
77.AO.82may have held special funerary meaning. instrumental to my study of this group of ambers.
Further study may support the identification of the large
female figures as divinities with chthonic as well as 3. H. Nagy, “Divinities in the Context of Sacrifice and Cult on
afterworld aspects; the same may be true of the waterfowl Caeretan Votive Terracottas,” in De Puma and Small 1994, p.
and hares. Individually and as a group, the six 221. She refers to A. Pfiffig, Religio Etrusca (Graz, 1975), p. 98.
remarkable ambers invite questions about their Waarsenburg 1996andWaarsenburg 1995discuss in detail the
commissioning, making, owning, and burial. At this point, representation of the Great Mother in the Orientalizing period,
it is feasible to interpret these as the property of one or with special attention to Astarte. There is a visible absorption of
more political-ceremonial specialists, and to posit that a female nature divinity’s aspects by several female and male
4 divinities, but the concept of a Great Goddess is fraught, as
these amulet-ornaments may have served as insignia. Moorey 2004points out.
There are only a few documented pre-Roman burials with 4. For this idea, compare the placing of certain ritual pre-
significant numbers of figured ambers. All such intact, Columbian gold objects in the graves of political-ceremonial
published graves also included numerous other high- specialists by other specialists. For example, in the Costa Rican
status objects, providing not only evidence of the Guanacaste and Central regions, finds from funerary contexts
elaborate rituals that accompanied the deceased, but also show that both new and previously used objects were
a glimpse of ideas about the tomb and the afterworld. deposited. Some are local, but there is also evidence of
These comparison burials, which are rich in figured interchanges from around the region. The production of
amber, also contain nonfigured amber beads and sumptuary and ritualistic objects in diverse materials suggests
pendants, plus many other high-value objects, of bronze, the existence of such specialists, who required the use of
precious metals, ivory, or ceramics, among their durable insignia associated with those possessions that, at some point,
goods. Textiles and other now-perished organic goods that were deposited in graves. The archaeological evidence suggests
must have accompanied the deceased have left few traces. that during the period of A.D. 300–800, as these societies
became more hierarchical, with greater social stratification,
These six pendants, then, may be evidence of what must there was greater consolidation of experts in political-ritualistic
have been an extraordinary burial. activities, and the number and quality of grave offerings
increased and changed. There is also evidence, represented by
NOTES images in clay, of women carrying out various roles. See, for
example, S. K. Lothrop, Archaeology of the Diquis Delta, Costa
1. A. M. Bisi, “Due avori piceni di tradizione vicino-orientale,” Studi Rica, Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and
urbinati di storia di filosofia e letteratura Urbino, ser. B, 3, 55 Ethnology at Harvard University 51 (Cambridge, MA, 1963).
(1981–82): 79–83; and A. M. Bisi, “Componenti siro-fenicie negli
Orientalizing Group 93

1. Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos)
–1977, Gordon McLendon (Dallas, TX), donated to the J.
Paul Getty Museum, 1977.
The pendant is intact and in good condition. There is a
long, curved fissure in the lower right section of the larger
figure’s heavy cloak, extending to the base. There are
numerous minute chips on the child’s head and on the
adult’s nose, chin, and left side of the neck, and along the
cloak’s left shoulder. There is an old chip on the tip of the
hat. A pattern of minute cracking extends over the surface
of the entire piece. There are inclusions at the hem on the
right side, at the right elbow, at the top of the child’s head,
and scattered throughout the adult’s body. The pendant’s
patina varies from yellow-ocher to brown. In ambient
light, the amber is reddish brown, and in transmitted
light, translucent and ruby-red.
The two figures form a compact composition. The
physiognomy, pose, gestures, dress, and relative scale of
the figures suggest that the larger figure is a woman and
the smaller figure is a child. The woman wears a long,
heavy cloak and a conical hat and is shod in close-fitting
boots. The raised area at the collarbone suggests the
presence of a close-fitting undergarment. Although there
Accession 77.AO.84 is no sign of the undergarment’s hems or selvage edges, it
Number is probably a long, close-fitting, unbelted chiton. Bunched
Culture Etruscan cloth at the top of the cloak forms a kind of collar at the
Date 600–550 B.C. back of the neck and around the shoulders. Engraved
vertical lines extend from the lower edge of the sleeve
Dimensions Height: 130 mm; width: 45 mm; depth: 18 mm; slits to the hem. On the left side, the cloak hem falls to the
Diameter of suspension holes: 2.5 mm; Weight: ankles, just above the small feet, and on the right, to
55.2 g ground level. The two front edges of the cloak join below
Subjects Amulets; Artemis; Birds; Etruscan culture; the chest, at the woman’s solar plexus. Her open right
Funerary use of amber (also Burial); Ionia, hand is placed at this junction. Her somewhat bulbous
Greece (also Ionian, Greek); Kourotrophos conical hat stands high off her head. The hat’s rim is
rounded and protruding; it is engraved with short
diagonal striations, creating a design resembling cable
molding. On the proper left side of the hat, a graved line,
interpreted here as a seam, runs from the apex to the rim.

The woman’s left forearm emerges from the cloak as it Discussion
encircles the upper body of the child; her left hand lies
flat on the child’s upper arm. The upright, frontally and 77.AO.84 and 77.AO.85 (cat. no. 2) belong to the category
rigidly posed child tilts back toward the body of the of divinities known as child-carriers, or kourotrophoi, and
woman. From the back, it appears that the child is under are composed in the side-by-side pose exclusive to heroes
the mantle of the adult. The child wears a miniature and divinities, a schema of great antiquity.1
version of the adult’s garments, but the hood/collar For the style and the forms, the principal amber
section of the mantle is pulled over the head. The mantle comparisons for 77.AO.84 are a pendant in London of two
fits snugly around the brow, curves behind the right ear, standing figures2 and a group of four Etruscan amber
and drapes forward over the shoulder and chest before pendants in Philadelphia, perhaps excavated at Ascoli
extending to the ankles. The tiny shod feet are set side by Piceno. One of the latter pendants, MS 2536, a
side and jut straight outward. Below them is a spur of fragmentary standing woman, is the single best parallel
amber. The child, too, appears to wear a long chiton. for 77.AO.84 in style and physical type.3
The woman’s head is large, full, and round, and her neck The physiognomies of the women and children of
thick, short, and cylindrical. The child’s neck is 77.AO.84, 77.AO.85, and the relevant Philadelphia pendant
characteristically short, and the hea