Jewelry history in Greater Syria

Jewelry history in Greater Syria

The Mesopotamian, or "Sumerian" culture flourished from the pre-pottery Neolithic (Hassuan) period of around 8,000 BCE, through the Late Bronze Age of around 1,200 BCE, and perhaps one of the greatest surviving treasure-troves of ancient jewelry and artifacts is the so-called “gold of Nimrud”, or Nimroud, which was found in parts of the Sumerian land.

Going forward to later ages in Belad El-Sham, Folk Jewelry can frequently be traced back to the time of the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks, that is, to Syrian and Egyptian jewelry from the tenth to the fifteenth century.

Despite differences in detail, the remarkable uniformity makes it possible to speak of a "Syrian" region in jewelry. This is probably due in part to the fact that this jewelry was only produced at a very few production centers. In Syria these are known to be Damascus, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, in Jordan they are Kerak and Irbid, while the most important production centre in Palestine was Jerusalem. Another reason may be the mobility of the craftsmen. The craftsmen were mainly Christians, with a high percentage of Armenians, who had immigrated from regions outside Syria, and Jews. The Jewish element may explain the evident Yemenite influ¬ence in Syrian folk jewelry. Another important reason for the uniformity of the jewelry most probably is the mobility of the population, particularly of the nomads.

It is extremely difficult to draw the line between Syrian folk Jewelry and the jewelry of the neighboring regions, as traditions of late antiquity and Byzantium are still just as apparent as those of the Near East. Syrian jewelry, however, also shows influences of Egyptian, Palestinian and Yemenite jewelry, as well as of jewelry from present- day Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia. The folk jewelry of the region thus reflects Syria's extensive trading contacts and the very heterogeneous composition of the Syrian population. The armlets and anklets especially show types similar to those found all over the Arabian Peninsula and beyond as far as the Arab-influenced East African coast - but there is no connection with the jewelry of Arab North Africa.

Thus it should have become clear that any classification of jewelry according to particular tribes or local groups is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is more feasible to give information about the places of production, but this by no means indicates that the jewelry was necessarily worn there as well. In most cases it is possible to categorize the jewelry according to the larger economic sectors - urban, agricultural or pastoral- although here too the transitions from one sector to another are as fluid as the transitions between the economic groups themselves. A nomad woman, who had become sedentary, would still wear her nomadic jewelry.

Wajdy moustapha