DETAIL: A beautiful ancient amber gemstone pendant, mounted onto a contemporary chain. The amber pendant was hand-crafted (shaped, drilled, and polished) by a medieval Byzantine artisan. It was shaped into a barrel, or egg shape, with flattened ends. Throughout the Byzantine and Mediterranean world amber gemstones were widely employed in the construction of jewelry. Amber pendants were principally manufactured in the "Holyland" from Lebanese amber and traded throughout the Mediterranean and Byzantine Empire. More often than not they were crafted from softened amber pressed into molds. Archaeological evidence suggests that amber has been used as jewelry for at least 10,000-15,000 years, picked up by beach-combing Neolithic peoples of the Baltic and Black Seas, and along the shores of the Mediterranean.
The very earliest Mesopotamian cultures, later to include especially the Sumerians and Babylonians, and eventually even later the Phoenicians, traded extensively in amber gemstones. The ancient Greeks and Romans as well enjoyed the beautiful tones of amber, and it was extensively used in jewelry. And of course from the (Western) Roman Empire to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire the passion for amber was passed forward, into even then medieval and Renaissance worlds. This gorgeous memento of a world long past comes mounted free of charge onto a contemporary 14kt gold electroplated chain for your enjoyment. If you prefer, we also have chains available in sterling silver and solid 14kt gold.
HISTORY: The Byzantine Empire was the eastern remainder of the great Roman Empire, and stretched from its capital in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) through much of Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, and small portions of North Africa and the Middle East. Prior to the fifth century collapse of the Western Roman Empire, one of Rome's greatest emperors, Constantine the Great, established a second capital city for the Roman Empire in the East at Byzantium, present day Turkey. Established as the new capital city for the Eastern Roman Empire in the fourth century, Constantine named the city in his own honor, "Constantinople". After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire, the "Byzantine Empire", lasted for another thousand years as the cultural, religious and economic center of Eastern Europe. At the same time, as a consequence of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, most of the rest of Europe suffered through one thousand years of the "dark ages".
The Christian Church eventually became the major political force in the Byzantine Empire. In Byzantine art, God rather than man stood at the center of the universe. Constantine the Great is also credited with being the first Christian Roman Emperor, and was eventually canonized by the Orthodox Church. Christianity had of course been generally outlawed prior to his reign. Under the Byzantine Empire, Christianity became more than just a faith, it was the theme of the entire empire, it's politics, and the very meaning of life. Christianity formed an all-encompassing way of life, and the influence of the Byzantine Empire reached far both in terms of time and geography, certainly a predominant influence in all of Europe up until the Protestant Reformation.
Amber is fossil tree resin from long-extinct coniferous (pine) tress. Amber has been found throughout the world, but the largest and most significant deposits occur along the shores of the Baltic Sea in sands between 40 and 60 million years old. Amber has been treasured and used for millennia; beads, necklaces, buttons, and other ornamental carved objects have been made from this gemstone. Stone Age peoples believed that amber contained the resting place of the spirit, or soul, and that amber possessed supernatural properties. For this reason it was a very powerful material from which to fashion magical amulets. Archaeologists have found amber pendants, beads, brooches and statuettes of people at excavation sites of Stone Age settlements, and believe that the statuettes and amulets represented protectors - world rulers - of those times.
An enormous collection of ancient amber amulets was discovered in 1860. The amulets dated back to the 3rd millennium B.C., and were known collectively as the "Juodkrantë Treasure". Consisting of 434 ancient pieces, all were described in the book "Stone Age Amber Adornments" published in 1882. Unfortunately the entire collection disappeared during World War II, and has never been located. Amber had great value and significance to the Assyrians, Egyptians, Etruscans, Phoenicians, and Greeks. During the 2nd millennium B.C., amber was partly responsible for a network of roads built to facilitate the trade. The first trade roads archaeologists have evidence for are from the ancient Biblical/Mesopotamian city of Ur (home of Abraham). By about 1500 B.C. many of the roads in eastern and central Europe had linked together into an extensive trading network known as the “Amber Routes”. The ancient amber trade route ran from the Baltic Sea, down the Elbe River, and on to the Danube. From there roads led overland through the Brenner Pass into Italy, the heart of the Roman Empire. From Rome the roads wove throughout the far-flung empire. One principal route ran all the way from Italy to Spain via Marseille and nearby Heraclea, close to present-day Avignon. These roads were constructed of multiple layers of logs, and remnants of some of these roads dating back to before 1,500 B.C. still exist.
For the better part of a millennium, Rome was the undisputed center of the amber industry in the ancient world. The Romans sent armies to conquer and control amber producing areas. Exotic ornaments made of amber were in great demand. The Romans apparently valued amber even more than the Baltic slaves who harvested the amber. During the reign of Nero, who was himself a great connoisseur of amber, the great Roman historian Pliny wrote that the price of an amber figurine, no matter how small, exceeded the price of a living healthy slave. Not until the third century A.D., when wars with the Goths made such trade in luxury items unsustainable, did the Roman domination of the amber industry come to an end. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Baltic region eventually came under the rule of the Dukes of Pomerania and, later, the Teutonic Knights, who exercised absolute control over all aspects of the amber trade. They even prohibited the unsupervised collection of amber on beaches under penalty of hanging, and required fishermen to swear an oath that they would not retain the amber that came up with their nets. Even the mere possession of raw amber was illegal in most of Europe by the year 1400. As the Knight's power waned, trade guilds became increasingly important players in the amber trade. The amber guild established in Danzig in 1477 still exists today. During medieval times, especially within the Byzantine Empire, amber was considered the best material for rosary beads due to its smooth silky feel. The Germans burned amber as incense, so they called it bernstein, or "burn stone."
Amber gained a great deal of popularity recently after the release of the movie Jurassic Park. You’ll recall that “dino dna” was extracted from mosquitoes which had “dined” on “dino blood”, and then been trapped within amber. Far-fetched? In 1994, a molecular biologist at Cal Poly extracted DNA from a weevil that was trapped in amber 120 to 135 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The amber, which was from the Lower Cretaceous period, was mined in the mountains of Lebanon south of Beirut. The amber was part of a collection of amber pieces containing 700 insects, including termites, moths, caterpillars, spiders, scorpions, and midges, which did suck dinosaur blood. Contemporarily, the largest mining operation for amber in the Baltic region is in Russia, west of Kaliningrad, which produces about 90% of the world’s best gem-grade amber. Baltic amber is also found in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland; and occasionally washes up on the shores of the Baltic Sea as far away as Denmark, Norway, and England. Other amber sources include Burma (Myanmar), Lebanon, Sicily, Mexico, Romania, Germany, and Canada.
SHIPPING: These antiquities come from a number of collections which by and large originated here in Eastern Europe. As well, additional specimens are occasionally acquired from other institutions and dealers, principally in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these artifacts are now in the United States and are available for immediate delivery via U.S. Mail. All purchases are backed by an unlimited guarantee of satisfaction and authenticity. If for any reason you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a complete and immediate refund of your entire purchase price. A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request.
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