An Impeccable Golden Pectoral

Fig 1. Gold pectoral, Greek for the Scythian market, 4th century BC. Discovered in the royal grave at Tolstaja Mogila Kurgan, Ukraine. The Historical Museum, Kiev.

This is one of the world’s great examples of goldsmithing; a pectoral made by the Greeks for the Scythian market sometime in the 4th century BC [1]. The Scythians were nomadic warriors who roamed the areas north of the Black Sea but traded regularly with the Greeks. Not surprisingly, given their way of life, they were enthusiastic admirers of the animal style in art and ornamentation. The bottom register of this pectoral is a Greek version of the violent animal combats that the Scythians often depict in their own art. The precision and vitality of the tiny images, right down to the grasshoppers facing off at each end of the register, is almost beyond belief, and testify to the consummate skill of Greek artisans during this period. The literalism of the Greek approach, which leaves nothing to the imagination, gives this magnificient pectoral the feel of miniature sculpture rather than ornament.

Fig 2. Details of central portion of the pectoral

Fig 3. Details of one end of the pectoral

The Scythians (pronounced ‘SIH-thee-uns’) were an ancient nomadic tribe who originally lived in what is now southern Siberia. Their culture flourished from around 900 BC to around 200 BC, by which time they had extended their influence all over Central Asia, from China to the northern Black Sea.

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