Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Clarisse Prêtre, Kosmos et kosmema: les offrandes de parure dans les inventaires déliens. Kernos. Supplément, 27. Athens: Centre d'Etude de la Religion Grecque Antique, 2012. Pp. 269. ISBN 9782875620064. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Alexis Q. Castor, Franklin and Marshall College (alexis.castor@fandm.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

How many words can you think of to describe jewelry? A bracelet could be labeled as a cuff or a bangle, perhaps, and adjectives can further designate a charm bracelet or the gel wristbands that signal advocacy for social causes. Prêtre's detailed lexical study of the jewelry listed in the Delian temple inventories offers seven Greek terms for wrist ornaments. Considering that bracelets are one of the least commonly recovered ornaments in the archaeological record, such diversity in labeling comes as something of a surprise, but it is representative of the wide range of terminology found in these sacred records.1 The richness of jewelry vocabulary found in temple inventory lists stands in contrast to what archaeologists usually retrieve from sanctuaries: whole and fragmentary bronze pins, rings or the like, with stray finds of gold or silver ornaments.2 Apart from the exceptional Archaic gold and electrum cache of ornaments found at Ephesus, it is temple inventories from the Classical and Hellenistic periods that give us the best insight into the gold treasures brought by pilgrims and dedicated to the gods. The Parthenon inventories probably come first to mind, but the Delian lists are the most extensive, both in chronological span and in surviving fragments. Prêtre's work provides valuable insight into jewelry terminology for epigraphers and jewelry specialists.

Jewelry was the second most common offering mentioned in the Delian inventories – vases and vessels top the list – and the objects range from iron finger rings to gold necklaces that weighed almost 600 grams (1.8lbs). Prêtre presents a brief introduction that focuses mainly on the terminology found in the inventories, explaining, for example, the many different ways in which the temple administrators described damaged or broken objects, or the several words used for gilded ornaments. The remainder of the book is devoted to analysis of the 60 different words used for jewelry in the inventories. For each entry, Prêtre provides an etymology, where possible, and discussion of the term as used in Greek literature. Where archaeological evidence exists, either in the form of depictions of a jewelry type or its actual examples, she presents that as well, although below I express reservations about this aspect of her work. In some cases – by far less often than one would hope – it is possible to correlate a particularly descriptive entry in the inventories with a jewelry type known in the archaeological record. The ὅρμος ἀμφορέων (necklace with amphora pendants) or the ὅρμος λογχίων (necklace with spearhead pendants) are two examples where description can meet reality. These were almost certainly the strap necklaces woven from gold wire and embellished with a fringe of dangling pendants; the types begin to appear in Macedonian graves in the last quarter of the fourth century and also show up on Attic painted vases at about the same time.3 The inventory also describes finger rings with engraved scenes or seal stones, such as a δακτύλιος ἐπίσημον ἔχων Ἔρωτα, a ring engraved with an Eros figure. These happy coincidences can raise the hopes of researchers that the inventories will fill in some gaps in our knowledge of what Greek jewelry looked like. But of those seven terms for bracelets mentioned above, it is impossible to know how they differed from each other or what form they represented. Indeed, the most common bracelet type, which had snake-head terminals at either end, may have been described simply as ὄφις, ὀφίδιον or δρακόντιον, which all refer to snakes. Prêtre's detailed examination of these terms shows the importance of snake imagery in jewelry: they appear as bracelet and necklace terminals, and, according to Euripides' Ion (24-26), as amulets for the baby Erichthonios.4 Prêtre acknowledges that the word used in the inventory can only generally indicate – or even merely suggest – what type of ornament was dedicated.

Despite her caution about the complexity of the relationship between written description and real ornaments, Prêtre often makes an attempt to correlate the two. While I sympathize with her desire to do so, this is not always successful. Her entry on καθετήρ (necklace), for example, includes a fascinating discussion of the borrowing of the word from medical terminology for reasons we cannot now know. (It certainly raises interesting questions about the appearance of both the necklace and the instrument!) Stratonike, daughter of Demetrios Poliorketes, dedicated to Leto such a necklace, decorated with 48 disks . Prêtre reconstructs its appearance with a drawing (fig. 12-13) that seems to conflate a strap necklace type with a disk-and-pendant earring. I am not sure how valuable this attempt is, given the lack of comparable pieces. I also find problematic her decision to prioritize jewelry found on Delos in her discussions and illustrations. All of the figures that are used to illustrate jewelry terms show Delian jewelry, despite the fact that, as she correctly notes in her introduction (p. 12), the island does not provide examples of all the different types. It is not credible that all the ornaments dedicated in this cosmopolitan sanctuary were made in Delos, but her focus on material excavated there implies otherwise.

The strength of Prêtre's work lies in her detailed investigation and discussion of the jewelry terms within the Delian inventories. She has taken on a difficult and unwieldy body of material that does not readily fit into archaeological, historical, gender, religious or etymological categories, but she has drawn on all these disciplines to help illuminate the votive offerings. Her work will become a key resource for those exploring the use of jewelry in ritual practices.


1.   B. Deppert, "Greek bracelets of the Classical period," 91-94, in D. Williams, ed., Art of the Greek Goldsmith (London, 1998)
2.   H. Philipp Bronzeschmuck aus Olympia. ÖlForsch 13 (Berlin, 1981)
3.   See P. Themelis and I. Touratsglou, Οι τάφοι του Δερβενίου (Athens, 1007, pl. 24 and 140 for strap necklace with spearhead pendants from Grave Z (c. 300), Derveni and La Civilisation Grecque. Macédoine royaume d'Alexandre le Grand (Athens, 1993) fig. 272 and 285 for black-glaze vessels decorated with a strap necklace with spearhead pendants found in Macedonian tombs.
4.   Additional discussion of the significance of the snake is offered in D. Ogden, ed., Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Oxford, 2013), which appeared after Prêtre's work was published.

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