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Jewellery Around the World - Turkish Byzantine and Ottoman Jewellery
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Jewellery Around the World - Turkish Byzantine and Ottoman Jewellery

Jewellery Around the World - Turkish Byzantine and Ottoman Jewellery

Ready for our next instalment in our popular jewellery around the world series? 

Today, we focus specifically on Turkey’s illustrious jewellery history, especially Byzantine and Ottoman jewellery. A fascinating insight into Middle-Eastern jewellery, Turkish jewellery is similar to ancient and antique Persian and Indian jewellery, as Turkey is geographically well-placed for these trade routes.

Due to Turkey’s close proximity to Greece, the ancient jewellery techniques overlapped with Christian Roman and Hellenistic designs, yet as Turkey was predominantly an Islamic country throughout history, these two distinct cultural influences moulded into one.  

 From as far back as Neolithic Turkey, archaeological discoveries have found a plethora of gorgeous Gold pieces. Not to mention, at this current moment in time, Turkey is one of the top 5 countries globally in Gold jewellery production - how incredible! 

Little History of the Byzantine (330AD-1453) and Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) in Turkey

Ancient Turkey was part of Anatolia (Asia Minor), which was a combination of the Assyrian, Hittite, Akkadian, and Hattian empires. This was also then incorporated into the Achaemenid Persian empire, which in itself is deserving of another fascinating blog post. We will certainly do both an Assyrian and Persian jewellery blog post soon!

Yet, the period spanning the Byzantine and Ottoman empires was when Turkey's jewellery identity blossomed. 

The Byzantine period encompassed a large portion of both Eastern and Western Europe, this was when the Persian Achaemenid empire fell to Alexander the Great in 334BC. The region became not only “Christianised” but also Hellenistic in style. However, there was still a presence of cultural homogeneity between ancient Islamic and ancient Christian designs. You can find out more about Hellenistic jewellery in our Archaeological revival blog!

Istanbul was the centre of the Byzantine Empire, known as Byzantium and was proclaimed to be the “new Rome”. Istanbul was chosen for its strategic placement between the trade routes of Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The Byzantine Empire was an amalgamation of Romano-Hellenistic traditions, as it certainly had a strong Greek influence. Yet, the ancient Muslim tradition pervaded. Surviving Byzantine art is heavily Christian in nature, including fresco paintings, illuminated manuscripts and glittering mosaics. 

Yet by the 15th century, Turkey was slowly and surely becoming part of the Ottoman Empire, with the first Ottoman conquest in the North Turkish region of Bursa. The first Ottoman king was Osman I.  

The Ottoman Empire expanded throughout Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, and was often at war with Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England and parts of Persia. The Ottoman Empire was at its most famous under Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century and still remained a large cultural power until the 20th century, with Istanbul as its capital. Plus, Suleiman the Magnificent was integral to the birth of Turkey’s beautiful jewellery history and prestigious craftsmanship. 

Portrait of Suleiman the Magnificent, Titian, c.1530, Source - Wikimedia Commons

 Interestingly, the Ottoman Empire officially ended in the 1920s, after WWI and the Armenian genocide becoming the Republic of Turkey, making it one of the longest empires in history and shaping the cultural identity of Turkey that we recognise today.

The Ottoman Empire was known for its economic and military prestige, which lends itself the wealth of jewellery that circulated amongst the Ottoman court. Plus, it was known for being a religious and cultural homogeneous of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, creating a distinct Ottoman identity. 

Historians deem this Ottoman artistic identity as “Persianised”. Ottoman literature, decorative arts and architecture is especially revered in history. With the latter being highly ornamental and in tandem with the western Baroque and Rococo architecture. 

Turkish Jewellery History

Born in the depths of Anatolia, Turkish jewellery has a long history, evolving to the sophisticated and revered art form that it is today. Neolithic Turkish jewellery was first discovered within the south-east region of Turkey, which geographically was a fertile landscape. This meant that many surviving remnants were crafted from stone, bone, shell, malachite and chalcedony. Plus many early Turkish jewellery was crafted from Copper, with decorative Copper beads the norm. 

Jewellery historians and archaeologists believe that it was 5,000 BCE when extractive metallurgy was developed in ancient Turkey. This was where smelted copper was extracted from the metal’s ore and allowed the metal to be poured, liquefied, recycled and reshaped - owing to a greater wealth of distinctive designs. It was also during this time that dress fasteners first appeared, which shows that further attention was paid to dress. 

Byzantine Enamel Medallion, Made in Constantinople c.1100, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Like most civilisations, it was during the Bronze age that ancient jewellery started to become sophisticated, and Turkey was no exception. “Priam’s Treasure” one of Turkey’s greatest archaeological discoveries dates to this period, revealing an abundance of Lapis Lazuli jewellery, magnifying lenses and Gold ingots. From this, historians have deduced that these ancient craftsmen were trained individuals, showing that jewellery making was a trusted and respected profession. 

Byzantine Temple Pendant and Stick, Made in Constantinople ca.1080-1150, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In ancient Anatolia, Assyrian merchants travelled around the country, making this place a centre for both the production of luxury goods and literacy. Both men and women wore jewellery, and the jewellery itself was very decorative, with granulated details and gemstones like Lapis Lazuli and Carnelian.

During the Byzantine period, jewellery became highly "romanised" in style. Ancient surviving Byzantine mosaics from Ravenna, Italy, show just how much jewellery was prized within society and as a consequence, had a major influence and impact on both European and the Middle-Eastern medieval world. Jewellery was used to express one’s social status, and unlike other societies, only some sumptuary legislation was in place. For instance, Pearls, Sapphires and Emeralds were only allowed to be worn by Emperors, but every man was entitled to wear a Gold ring. Istanbul was the centre of this lavish lifestyle, with flourishing trade links between India and Persia bringing a wealth of Garnets, Beryls, Corundum and Pearls to the coffers. 

Byzantine Gold Pearl Sapphire Amethyst Emerald Bracelet, c.6th-8th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Byzantine jewellery styles consisted of a range of jewellery techniques, including embossing, openwork, opus interrasile (specific pierced openwork technique) and cloisonne enamel. The gems were often rounded and polished, set within Gold wire that was used for pendants, necklaces, head-wear, bracelets and earrings. Many of these pieces were larger than life and worn with excess in mind.

Byzantine Gold Sapphire Pearl Cross Necklace, c.6th-7th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ottoman jewellery was similar to Byzantine jewellery, especially in terms of its lavish nature. Historical accounts of estate contents of wealthy members of society reveal just how much jewellery people owned. This was because Gold was not just for personal adornment, but for many it was a way to reserve and hold money. Frankly, the Ottomans were obsessed with jewellery and wealth, and this came hand in hand with the success of the Ottoman empire. 

Unlike other Renaissance and antique western jewellery, the Ottoman empire had a different jewellery style. Jewellery created in Europe was highly symmetrical with faceted gemstones, yet the Ottomans actually valued the original shape and natural contours of a gemstone, and the pieces had a rougher, but nonetheless still beautiful, look to them. Plus, gemstones were chosen for their medicinal and spiritual purposes rather than their alluring look. For example, Emeralds were worn for their wisdom, and Diamonds were displayed as accompanying gemstones, rather than the central piece, for their ability to enhance another gem’s powers. 

Ottoman Gold Pearl Turquoise Ruby Emerald Necklace, Turkey 17th Century, Source - Christie's

The Ottoman Empire was known for its amazing plethora of jewellers. In fact, it is believed that the Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent employed 90 of them within the palace. Most jewellers were Christian Armenians and Jews, and many European Goldsmiths moved to Constantinople to train in jewellery-making. 

This vast, decorative, and lavish jewellery history, significantly shaped how Turkey and the Middle East as a whole was perceived by the west in the 19th century. The Middle East was frequently exoticised by 19th century and 20th-century artists, especially in a sexual guise. Many artists portrayed Turkish and Middle-Eastern women wearing lots of jewellery, flowing diaphanous robes, and in suggestive poses, transforming them into “odalisques”. It is interesting how these perceptions have changed over the centuries, but it is important to note that Turkey’s jewellery history has certainly contributed to this mystery and seduction. 


Grande Odalisque, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, c.1814, Louvre, Source - Wikimedia Commons

After Turkey was made a republic in 1922, it’s opulent jewellery history didn’t reach the same highs, yet Turkey is still big in the Gold market. Today, many Turkish jewellers designers are reinvigorating its heritage, notably, these include Altinbas, Sevan Biçakhiças and Urart. We also have a pair of vintage Turkish Gold Altinbas earrings on our site!

We hope you have enjoyed reading! Which is your favourite antique Turkish piece? We love the Pearl Diamond crescent necklace above! Let us know in the comments below. 

If you loved this instalment in our jewellery around the world series, why not check out our past blogs? 

Portuguese and Spanish Jewellery

Indian Jewellery

Japanese Jewellery

French Jewellery

Mexican Jewellery

Love, Lillicoco xo

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