DETAIL: A fairly well preserved bronze ring circa sixth to eighth century A.D. As you can see, the ring is very bold, handsome, and elegant in design. The "bezel" or face of the ring bears a very deeply engraved cross in the center, surrounded by a periphery line at the bezel boundary. One half of the engraved cross is a little bit indistinct due to the fuzziness created by porosity (fine surface pitting/corrosion), but the motif and all its elements remain distinguishable. The deeply engraved bezel is flanked by engraved hashmarks to both sides, a nice and elegant flourish which marks the ring as a more exclusive piece of jewelry; still the type of ring owned by the typical citizen of the Byzantine ring. But a step above the most basic and crude specimens. Truly exclusive rings were crafted of silver or gold. Nonetheless this ring is a significant relic of early Christianity and the Roman-Byzantine world, and is entirely wearable.
It is a very handsome design, and probably was a very significant personal possession of whomsoever originally owned the ring. There are distinct indicates that the ring was worn occasionally in ancient Roman Byzantium, but these indications of wear are moderately light. However this should not be a source for disappointment. You must keep in mind that the ring was produced by an artisan and sold to a patron or consumer with the idea that the ring would be enjoyed and worn by the purchaser. And without any regard to twenty-first century posterity, that precisely what happened! The original Roman owner of this ring wore it, enjoyed it, and probably never could have in his most delusional moment ever dreamed that almost 100 generations later the ring would still exist.
It should likewise come as no surprise that also detectable are the telltale signs that the ring spent thousands of years in the soil. Porosity is fine surface pitting (oxidation, corrosion) caused by extended burial in caustic soil. Many small ancient metal artifacts such as this are extensively disfigured and suffer substantial degradation as a consequence of the ordeal of being buried for millennia. It is not at all unusual to find metal artifacts decomposed to the point where they are not much more substantial than discolored patterns in the soil. Actually most smaller ancient artifacts such as this are so badly oxidized that oftentimes all that is left is a green (bronze) or red (iron) stain in the soil, or an artifact which crumbles in your hand. However this specimen is not so heavily afflicted, and certainly has not been disfigured.
To the cursory inspection of the casual admirer, it simply looks like an ancient ring, nicely surfaced, no immediately discernible blemishes. And overall, the level of porosity is fairly modest. However about the bezel, it is clear that the ring came into contact with some fairly caustic soil elements. Both the bottom and top tips of the bezel have been burned away. And if you look at the bezel from underneath, you can see again evidence of caustic soil elements which actually managed to burn their way all the way through the bezel, perforating the front size of it. It almost looks a bit like how a worm burrows through a book, or a termite or carpenter ant through a piece of wood.
Nonetheless the ring is intact and remains quite sturdy. Excepting the immediate area of the bezel, you have to look fairly closely to detect the telltale signs indicating the ring was buried for millennia. No denying, there is oxidation. However the extent notwithstanding the bezel and immediate environs is fairly modest. Certainly if you scrutinize the ring intently, or examine the ring through a jeweler’s loupe or in these photo enlargements, the signs present in other areas of the ring that it was buried for millennia are unmistakable. There is a certain amount of oxidation, fine surface pitting, etc. However the ring spent almost one and one half millennia, yet by good fortune the ring was not completely lost to oxidation, as is otherwise so often the case with other artifacts unearthed or similar age. The integrity of the artifact remains relatively undiminished, and despite the wear, the ring remains quite handsome, and entirely wearable.
Light wear and moderate porosity aside, the ring evidences very fine workmanship, and is intact. The ring is of one-piece construction, much like a contemporary ring. The more archaic rings produced by Roman artisans were characteristically made in two pieces; an incomplete ring (a “shank”) with a separately crafted bezel which was brazed to the shank in order to assemble the ring. The ring is in reasonably good condition, integrity relatively unimpaired, and could easily be worn and enjoyed on a daily basis. The ring is very modern and distinctive in appearance, a classic and timeless design. The ring has a deep brown tone so characteristic of ancient bronze The ring dates to a time when the Western Roman World had collapsed, plunging Western Europe into 1,000 years of darkness. But at the time, yet to confront Islam, the Eastern Roman Empire still flourished as one of the globe’s great powers.
It is a significant historical relic which pertains not only to the history of Roman Byzantium and early Christianity, but also to the history of jewelry production. The Romans as well as their Byzantine successors were of course very fond of ornate personal jewelry including bracelets worn both on the forearm and upper arm, brooches, pendants, hair pins, earrings intricate fibulae and belt buckles, and of course, rings. This is an exceptional piece of Roman-Byzantine jewelry, a very handsome artifact, and eminently wearable. Aside from being significant to the history of ancient jewelry, it is also an evocative relic of one of the world’s greatest civilizations and the ancient world’s most significant military machines; the glory, might and light which was the Roman Empire of Byzantium.
HISTORY: The significance of the Christian cross symbol lies in the belief that Jesus Christ was executed by the Governor of the Roman Province of Judaea on a large wooden cross. This Roman form of execution was known as crucifixion, and required that the condemned be tied or nailed to a cross and left to die. This painful method of execution was common for slaves and non-citizens convicted of serious crimes. During the first three centuries of Christianity the symbol of the cross was not commonly used, although descriptions of it are found in Christian writings from the early second century onwards. Rather the symbol of the fish was the predominant symbol used by early Christians as a symbol of their faith. The Chi-Rho monogram, the origin of the Latin Cross, was adopted as a battle symbol by the (allegedly Christian) Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. The banner was known as a “labarum”, and ultimately became an early Christian symbol of wider use.
By the third century the symbol of the cross was much more prominent. Early literature of the period refers to the cross as the “symbol of the Lord”. In Christianity, the cross represents Christ's victory over death and sin, since it is believed that through His death he conquered death itself. Catholic and Orthodox Christians often make the sign of the cross by moving their right hand so as to draw a cross upon themselves. Making the sign of the cross was already a common Christian practice in the time of the fifth century Roman Catholic Saint Augustine. The Crucifixion Cross was the first of the Instruments of the Passion that came to be venerated in the form of relics, after the original cross was allegedly discovered in 326 by Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. In time, even the “Holy Nails” that were used to nail Christ to the cross would be sought out, discovered, elaborately mounted as relics, and venerated in Catholic circles. A nail, said to be one of these, is mounted in the Iron Crown of Lombardy, preserved in the cathedral of the former Lombard capital, Monza. Many fragments of wood alleged to be fragments of the true cross were brought to Europe during the era of the Crusades.
BYZANTINE 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. Constantine The Great sought to reunite the Roman Empire, centered upon Christian faith, by establishing a second "capital" for the Eastern Roman, away from the pagan influences of the city of Rome. 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". As the center of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople was one of the most elaborate, civilized, and wealthy cities in all of history. 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, its 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. In Byzantine art, God rather than man stood at the center of the universe. Representations of Christ, the Virgin, and various saints predominated the coinage of the era. The minting of the coins remained crude however, and collectors today prize Byzantine coins for their extravagant variations; ragged edges, "cupped" coins, etc. Other artifacts such as rings, pendants, and pottery are likewise prized for their characteristically intricate designs.
In the ancient world valuables such as coins and jewelry were commonly buried for safekeeping, and inevitably the owners would succumb to one of the many perils of the ancient world. Oftentimes the survivors of these individuals did not know where the valuables had been buried, and today, thousands of years later caches of coins and rings are still commonly uncovered throughout Europe and Asia Minor. Throughout history these treasures have been inadvertently discovered by farmers in their fields, uncovered by erosion, and the target of unsystematic searches by treasure seekers. With the introduction of metal detectors and other modern technologies to Eastern Europe in the past three or four decades, an amazing number of new finds are seeing the light of day thousands of years after they were originally hidden by their past owners. And with the liberalization of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, new markets have opened eager to share in these ancient treasures.
HISTORY OF BRONZE: Bronze is the name given to a wide range of alloys of copper, typically mixed in ancient times with zinc, tin, lead, or arsenic. The discovery of bronze enabled people to create metal objects which were better than previously possible. Tools, weapons, armor, and building materials made of bronze were harder and more durable than their stone and copper predecessors from the “Chalcolithic” (the “Copper Age”), i.e., about 7000-3500 B.C., and the Neolithic (“New Stone Age”), i.e. about 12000 to 7000 B.C.). Of particular significance were bronze agricultural implements, tools for cutting stone, and weapons. Culturally significant was bronze statuary, particularly that of the Romans and Greeks. The ancient Greeks and Romans had a long history of making statuary in bronze. Literally thousands of images of gods and heroes, victorious athletes, statesmen, and philosophers filled temples and sanctuaries, and stood in the public areas of major cities. In fact, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Colossus of Rhodes are two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Initially bronze was made out of copper and arsenic. It was only later that tin was used, becoming (except in ancient Egypt) the sole type of bronze in the late 3rd millennium B.C. Tin-alloyed bronze was superior to arsenic-alloyed bronze in that the alloying process itself could more easily be controlled, the alloy was stronger and easier to cast, and unlike arsenic, tin is not toxic. Toxicity was a major factor in the production of arsenic bronze. Repeated exposure to arsenic fumes ultimately led to nerve damage in the limbs. Evidence of the long agony of Bronze Age metalsmiths came down to the ancient Greeks and Romans in the form of legend, as the Greek and Roman gods of metalsmiths, Greek Hephaestus and Roman Vulcan, were both lame. In practice historical bronze alloys are highly variable in composition, as most metalworkers probably used whatever scrap was to hand. In one instance of ancient bronze from Britain, analysis showed the bronze to contain a mixture of copper, zinc, tin, lead, nickel, iron, antimony, arsenic, and silver.
Other advantages of bronze over iron include that bronze better resists corrosion, particularly seawater corrosion; bronze resists metal fatigue better than iron; and bronze is a better heat conductor (and thus is better suited for cooking vessels). However ancient bronze, unless conserved properly, is susceptible to “bronze disease”, wherein hydrochloric or hydrosulfuric acid is formed due to impurities (cuprous chloride or sulfur) found within the ancient bronze. Traditionally archaeology has maintained that the earliest bronze was produced by the Maikop, a proto-Indo-European, proto-Celtic culture of Caucasus prehistory around 3500 B.C. Recent evidence however suggests that the smelting of bronze might be as much as several thousand years older (bronze artifacts dating from about 4500 B.C. have been unearthed in Thailand).
Shortly after the emergence of bronze technology in the Caucasus region, bronze technology emerged in ancient Mesopotamia (Sumer), Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization of Northern India, the Aegean, the Caspian Steppes (Ukraine), the Southern Russia/Central Mongolia Region (the Altai Mountains), the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean), Anatolia (Turkey) and the Iranian Plateau. By the late third millennium B.C. many Western European Bronze Age Cultures had emerged. Some of the more notable were the Celtic cultures of Middle Europe stretching from Hungary to Poland and Germany, including the Urnfield, Lusatian, and (Iron Age Transitional) Hallstatt Cultures.
The Shang in ancient China also developed a significant Bronze Age culture, noted for large bronze burial urns. The ancient Chinese were the first to cast bronze (using the “lost wax” technique) about 2200 B.C. Prior to that time all bronze items were forged. Though weapons and utilitarian items were produced in great numbers, the production of bronze in ancient China was especially noteworthy for ornamented ritualistic/religious vessels (urns, wine vessels, water pots, food containers, and musical instruments), many of immense size.
Britain’s Bronze Age cultures included the Beaker, Wessex, Deverl, and Rimbury. Copper and tin ores are rarely found together, so the production of bronze has always involved trade. Cornwall was one of the most significant sources of tin not only for Britain, but exported throughout the Mediterranean. Other significant suppliers of tine were the Taurus Mountains of Anatolia (Turkey), as well as Spain. Enormous amounts of copper was produced from the Great Orme mine in North Wales, the island of Cyprus, the European Alps, and from the Sinai Peninsula and other nearby sites in the Levant. Though much of the raw minerals may have come from Britain, Spain, Anatolia, and the Sinai, it was the Aegean world which controlled the trade in bronze. The great seafaring Minoan Empire (about 2700 to 1450 B.C.) appears to have controlled, coordinated, and defended the trade.
Tin and charcoal were imported into Cyprus, where locally mined copper was mined and alloyed with the tin from Britain. Indicative of the seafaring trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, a shipwreck from about 1300 B.C. off the Turkish coast revealed a ship carrying a ton of copper ingots, several dozen small tin ingots, new bronze tools, scrap metal, and a blacksmith's forge and tools (along with luxury trade goods from Africa). It appears that the Bronze Age collapsed with the fall of Minoan Empire, to be replaced by a Dark Age and the eventual rise of the Iron Age Myceneans (on mainland Greece). Evidence suggests that the precipitating event might have been the eruption of Thera (Santorini) and the ensuing tsunami, which was only about 40 miles north of Crete, the capital of the Minoan empire.
Some archaeologists argue that it was Santorini itself which was the capitol city of the Minoan World. However where Crete or Santorini, it is known that the bread-basket of the Minoan trading empire, the area north of the Black Sea lost population, and thereafter many Minoan colony/client-states lost large populations to extreme famines or pestilence. Inasmuch as the Minoans were the principals of the tin/copper shipping network throughout the Mediterranean, the Bronze Age trade network is believed to have failed. The end of the Bronze Age and the rise of the Iron Age is normally associated with the disturbances created by large population disruptions in the 12th century B.C. The end of the Bronze Age saw the emergence of new technologies and civilizations which included the large-scale production of iron (and limited scale production of steel).
Although iron was in many respects much inferior to bronze (and steel was inefficiently produced in very limited quantities), iron had the advantage that it could be produced using local resources during the dark ages that followed the Minoan collapse, and was very inexpensive when compared to the cost of producing bronze. Bronze was still a superior metal, resisting both corrosion and metal fatigue better than iron. And bronze was still used during the Iron Age, but for many purposes the weaker iron was sufficiently strong to serve in its place. As an example, Roman officers were equipped with bronze swords while foot soldiers had to make do with iron blades.
Pliny the Elder, the famous first century Roman historian and naturalist, wrote about the reuse of scrap bronze and copper in Roman foundries, noting that the metals were recast as armor, weapons or articles for personal use, such as bronze mirrors. The melting and recasting foundries were located at the Italian port city of Brindisi. Located on the Adriatic coast, Brindisi was the terminus of the great Appian Way, the Roman road constructed to facilitate trade and military access throughout the Italian part of the Roman Empire. The city was the gateway for Roman penetration into the eastern parts of her empire (Greece, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea Region, the Danubian Provinces, and eventually Mesopotamia).
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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