• Northeastern Anatolia
  • Urartian period
  • 8th to 7th centuries B.C.
  • Silver
  • H-14.2 W-18.4
Catalogue Entry

The kingdom of Urartu that had spread east and south from the region of Lake Van in what is now eastern Turkey was known above all as the center of a vigorous metalworking industry. It utilized bronze, iron, and to a lesser extent silver and gold. Its metal artifacts were exported to lands as far away as Italy.

This crescent-shaped silver pectoral may have been worn around the neck of a high official. It has been suggested that gold, silver, and bronze pectorals connoted degrees of official rank in Urartian society.1 Two bronze statuettes in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, depict male figures with crescent-shaped pectorals.2 Two bronze winged sphinxes, one in the British Museum and one in the Hermitage Museum, are shown wearing similar ornaments.3 A small couchant sphinx on a bronze candelabrum bearing an inscription naming an Urartian king as its owner also wears one.4 It would appear that both humans and non-human supernatural beings could be represented with this type of pectoral in Urartian art.

This pectoral's imagery is complex, featuring three sacred trees, so called, inhabited by striding fantastic winged quadrupeds. Two identical rows of two-legged winged creatures approach the central tree with drawn bows while two winged genii kneel on opposite sides of the crescent between pairs of raised rosettes. These motifs are most likely amuletic in function. Urartian imagery such as that seen here is found mainly on metal articles of personal use and chariot fittings, and seems to favor repetitive arrangements of individual elements that cannot be easily related to one another.5 Thus, we cannot tell with certainty whether the creatures with drawn bows are protecting or attacking the central sacred tree, or whether they are simply placed symmetrically with no specific relation to it.
A magnificent gold pectoral from Ziwiye in northwest Iran, dated to the seventh century B.C., is thought to have been inspired by the Urartian type in both shape and decoration.6 Distinctive but possibly derivative pectorals in precious metals have been found in Etruscan tombs; and it has been suggested that this type of ornament passed from the Etruscans to the Roman army.7 Other possibly related lunate pectorals dated to the mid-first millennium B.C. have been found in Eastern Europe.8 Also worth mentioning is a superb gold openwork crescent pectoral in the State Historical Museum in Kiev, clearly Greek in its artisanship and style, found in a South Russian Scythian tomb of the fourth century B.C.9 Richly decorated crescent pectorals are sometimes represented in Gandharan art. One notable example can be seen on a statue of the Buddhist goddess Hariti from Skarah Dheri.10 Similarly ornate pectorals of silver and brass appear to have been popular items of modern jewelry in the Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan and may be descended from this ancient tradition.11

1. Merhav 1991, p. 164. This is the opinion of Hans-J. Kellner in one section of the catalogue. Merhav (p. 172) is not convinced.
2. Ghirshman 1964, p. 308, fig. 370; Merhav 1991, pp. 171-72, figs. 4-5.
3. British Museum: Merhav 1991 pp. 282-83, nos. a-b; also Ghirshman 1964, p. 309, fig. 371; Hermitage Museum: Piotrovsky 1967, pl. 3; also Merhav 1991, p. 173, fig. 7.
4. Merhav 1991, p. 173 , fig. 8, p. 262, no. 10a. This is in the Museum f Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg.
5. Ibid., pp. 312-14. This is the opinion of Peter Calmeyer, who wrote a section on Urartian iconography in the catalogue.
6. Ghirshman 1964, p. 311, fig. 376a-c.
7. Ibid., p. 310.
8. Ibid., figs. 374, 375.
9. Rolle 1980, pls. 14-18.
10. Ingholt 1957, pl. II.3; Dobbins 1967, pp. 268-72.
11. Kalter 1989, pp. 142-43, p. 98, figs. 131-33, p. 99, fig. 134, p. 100, fig. 137.