Jewelry Trends

A Quick Guide to Ancient Greek Jewelry

Rachel Akmakjian

Author

Rachel Akmakjian

Much like today’s fine, haute couture jewelry, ancient Greek jewelry was part art, part accessory. From hair ornaments to pendants, finger rings to necklaces, jewelry in ancient Greece was not just gorgeous, but also culturally relevant.

Ancient Greek jewelry

What You Will Learn

History and Art Collide: Cultural Influences in Ancient Greek Jewelry

Much of the antique Greek jewelry we think of today as classically Greek stems from the first few centuries of the common era. Great strides in innovation and creativity in jewelry making began with Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, and then through Alexander the Great’s reign and conquering of the Persian Empire, and even afterward, on until the rise of the Roman Empire. This time period also includes the Hellenistic period (the Hellenistic Era began shortly after Alexander the Great’s death).

Throughout all this time, Greece and its jewelry makers had access to a wide variety of cultural influences throughout Asia Minor, with access to new materials thanks to Alexander the Great’s conquests. Typically, the Greek jewelry ancient people wore was heavily influenced by political motives, the empire’s growth, and then recession.

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What Kind of Jewelry Did Ancient Greeks Wear?

Most popular trends in ancient Greek jewelry

So, what kind of jewelry did ancient Greeks wear? Here are a few of the most popular trends in ancient Greek jewelry.

  • Gold

Ask someone in ancient Greece if they prefer silver or gold — they’ll always choose gold.

Gold jewelry was exceedingly popular throughout Greece due to Alexander the Great’s capturing of Babylonian treasures. As gold became increasingly available, jewelry makers used it in various pieces. As such, much of real ancient Greek jewelry is gold.

  • Intricate Designs

Jewelry makers also did not shy away from intricate designs on their bracelets, rings, and other pieces. The Herakles knot was trendy and is precisely what it sounds like — an intricate knot with multiple intertwining strands. The knot can be found in a range of cultures and countries, not just Greece, and holds great symbolism.

For example, the knot was notable in ancient Egypt for its healing powers. Both the Greeks and the Romans thought of the knot as protective. Roman weddings incorporated the knot, tying the knot form around the bride for the groom to untie, symbolizing the couple’s unity.

  • Nature Motifs

Hellenistic jewelry often featured plant or animal motifs. For example, beechnuts were a popular option and could be found on pendants alongside floral, ivy, or grape renderings. Birds were also popular among animal motifs.

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  • Strap Necklaces

Strap necklaces made up of multiple chains were trendy, and have been found throughout Greece and Asia Minor in general.

  • Unique Pieces

Ancient Greeks often wore more unique pieces that went beyond the ancient Greek necklaces, bracelets, and rings you might imagine. Armbands were popular, as were thigh bands. Pendants and pins found a place. Hair ornaments and diadems were also an option.

  • Religious motifs

The ancient Greeks were undoubtedly no stranger to depicting their gods and goddesses in their jewelry. From Aphrodite to Eros, Nike to Zeus, all the leading players made appearances.

Precious Stones and Other Materials

Alongside their gold, ancient Greeks also used a variety of precious stones and other materials, some familiar and some not so much. For example, you probably know emeralds and garnets. However, other, less familiar options included:

  • Carnelian, a semi-precious brown-red mineral
  • Chalcedony, a silica-based mineral
  • Sardonyx, a type of chalcedony that’s a translucent brown
  • Agate, a type of chalcedony that comes in many colors and usually contains multi-colored bands in a single rock

Enamel was also popular.

Where to See Ancient Greek Jewelry

There are many places you can go to see ancient Greek jewelry. In the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City boasts a nice collection of Greek jewelry.

The Louvre likewise boasts a notable range of ancient jewelry from a wide array of cultures, including ancient Greece.

If you want to go right to the source, visit the National Archaeological Museum in Greece and check out the jewelry collection. While you’re there, try out the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, the first jewelry museum in Greece.

Where to Buy Ancient Jewelry Reproductions

While it’s easy to see Ancient Greece necklaces in a museum, behind glass, it’s not as easy to get your hands on a piece you can add to your jewelry collection. Ancient jewelry reproductions allow you to embrace these ancient styles on a budget.

Museum of Jewelry offers replicas of jewelry from myriad ancient cultures, including Egyptian, Scythian, Etruscan, Celtic, Roman, and Greek. The platform’s Greek offerings range from rings to necklaces, cufflinks to brooches, and feature classic Greek symbols, such as the Heracles knot. You can find jewelry at various prices, from under a hundred dollars to closer to $1,000.

Melikos offers museum reproduction jewelry at prices similar to Sands of Time Ancient Art.

Ancient Greek Jewelry FAQs

TL;DR? Here’s everything you need to know.

What Kinds of Jewelry Did Ancient Greeks Wear?

Ancient Greeks wore many types of jewelry that we wear today, including necklaces, rings, and bracelets, but also a few less common types, such as arm and thigh cuffs or diadems. They wore quite a lot of gold and preferred symbolism that reflected their cultural and religious beliefs, and plant and animal motifs.

Is There a Greek God for Jewelry?

Though a lesser-known goddess, the goddess Theia represents jewelry, as she is the source of light or radiance that can be seen within certain gemstones and similar materials.

What Precious Metals and Gemstones Did Ancient Greeks Wear?

Ancient Greeks loved gold, and it was lovingly prominently throughout their jewelry. Other favorite materials included pearls and gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds, and garnets.

Protect Your Jewelry

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Rachel's expertise is further enhanced by her distinction as a Graduate Gemologist from the prestigious Gemological Institute of America (GIA), equipping her with exceptional knowledge in gem identification and grading. Her education and experiences have given her an in-depth understanding of the demands and expectations facing jewelers and customers in today’s evolving retail marketplace.