A Civilization Fond Of Jewelry The Urartu

That the Urartu was a civilization fond of jewelry is apparent both from their visual arts that have survived to our day and from the thousands of decorative items that in one way or another have found their way into museums and private collections.

Centered in and around Lake Van, the Urartu ruled Eastern Anatolia in roughly the 9th to 7th centuries B.C. It is generally acknowledged that everyone, from the ruling class right down to the common people, wore jewelry, which took the form of objects that signified a person’s status in society as well as having religious significance.

Hair spirals, earrings, bead necklaces, collars, pectorals, medallions, amulets, bracelets, armbands, rings, metal belts, decorative pins and brooches immediately spring to mind at the mention of Urartu jewelry. Used in their production were metals like bronze, gold, silver, iron and lead as well as other materials such as bone, ivory and semi-precious stones. This jewelry was produced by one or a combination of techniques still used today, such as casting, chasing, relief, engraving, ajouré, repoussé, filigree and plating.

Jewelry was manufactured at central workshops to meet the need for decoration of families and bureaucrats who worked at various levels of the state organization. Some jewelry designs were developed based on examples taken from the Assyrians, neighbors of the Urartu and the super power of the period. Jewelry found in local markets attests to the fact that the Urartu followed these fashions very closely.
In addition to satisfying the human need for adornment and the expression of ostentation, wealth and physical attractiveness, jewelry today is also used for more mystical purposes such as warding off evil and bringing health and good fortune. The archaeological data indicate that the situation was no different among the Urartu.

Urartu jewelry is generally worn on the head, around the neck or on the breast, on the arm, wrist or leg, at the waist, or over clothing. Diadems, earrings, hair spirals and pins, for example, were worn on the head while collars, bead bracelets, pectorals, medallions and amulets were worn on the neck and chest. Pectorals and medallions were worn exclusively by persons of high rank to indicate their class and were usually covered with scenes of religious content depicting sacred trees.  Necklaces made of strings of beads meanwhile must have been varied in color, type and style depending on whether they were believed to be mere adornments or protection against the evil eye and expressions of good luck, or to have magical or healing properties.

On the arm, bracelets were worn at the wrist and biceps bands on the upper arm. Worn by both men and women, such jewelry usually consisted of three sections: a dragon, a snake and a lion’s head.

Metal belts worn at the waist were widely used by Urartu men and women, the men’s belts adorned with war and hunting scenes featuring lions, bulls and mythological creatures, and the women’s with scenes of religious feasts held in the open air.

The Urartu use of the same type of figures on bracelets, armbands and rings is reminiscent of the coordinated jewelry sets so popular today and an indication of their aesthetic concerns. The finest examples of this are a combination of dragon, serpent and lion’s head collars, armbands, rings and bracelets.

This can be divided into two types. The first are the brooches and decorative pins that were fastened to clothing, and the makeup sets, the other the decorative metal objects like buttons that were actually attached to the garment. Pins were used either to hold together the two ends of a garment like a cape, or as a decoration on the chest, or to gather up long hair. Although some items of jewelry were used by men and women alike, the archaeological data confirm that it was Urartu women who were more passionately attached to such adornments.

Jewelry is the finest and most striking reflection of the Urartu civilization, which flourished on the shores of Lake Van. From princess to peasant, all Urartu women enhanced their beauty with jewelry, especially with Urartu beads.

The roots of the fondness for jewelry that persists today in the region of Van and Hakkâri goes back thousands of years. This tradition, which survives today especially at weddings and on other special days, is again being kept alive through styles of jewelry unique to the region.

Men’s belts are generally adorned with war and hunting scenes featuring lions, bulls and mythical creatures. Women’s belts in contrast generally exhibit a feast scene of religious content held in the open air.

It would be a mistake to consider the jewelry of the Urartu period as confined to beads alone. ‘Fibula’ for fastening the hair, bracelets, and earrings, necklaces and pins made of various metals were the crowning glory of Urartu jewelry.

Not content with using only metal and beads in their jewelry, the Urartu also used precious and semi-precious stones as adornments. Furthermore, these stones were not from the region but were imported from Iran, the Caucasus and as far away as Asia.

Among the Urartu, jewelry was worn by everybody from the ruling class right down to the common people, either to symbolize their status in society or as an expression of religious significance.