Adornments: jewelry and more

According to the Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, the art of jewelry making can be observed under the word toreutikē, the art of ornamental works in metal.

(τορευτική – toreutikē). Both the Greek and the Roman name come from the words denoting in the two languages “the graver’s tool” (τορεύς – toreus); and in its general sense caelatura may be taken as meaning the arts employed in the production of ornamental works in metal, both in relief and in intaglio, including repoussé work, chasing, and engraving, but excluding statuary.

We produced a Gallery about jewels several years ago to show the amazing ornamental work of the artists. The English word jewelry does not derive from ancient Greek, but from Latin. The Greek word translated sometimes as “jewel” or “jewelry,” or more often as “adornment” or “ornament,” is κόσμος [kosmos]. There is a Core Vocabulary post exploring different aspects of this word including jewelry.

Another word is also used once in the Iliad 24.192: γλῆνος [glēnos], translated as “jewel” by A. T. Murray, while A Homeric Dictionary by Georg Autenrieth glosses glēnos as “jewelry.”

The word glēnos also appears in the passage describing Hera adorning herself to seduce Zeus; she wears special earrings, τρίγληνα [triglēna], translated as “three brilliant pendants.” Modern Greek has kept the kosmos root for jewel: the word for jewelry in modern Greek is κοσμήματα [kosmimata].

There are specific words for pieces of jewelry, for example ἕρματα [hérmata] for earrings, ζώνη [zōnē] for belt or girdle, and ἐνετή [enetē] for pin or brooch.

One of the most amazing treasures comprising pieces of jewelry was excavated on the island of Aegina, although the jewelry may have originally come from the Minoans, from Crete. The treasure can be admired in the British Museum and on their website

Master of the Animals
A nature god, he holds two geese and stands among lotus flowers. The pendant is made of sheet gold, the whole backed with a plain sheet of gold.

Among the gods, Hephaistos is the finest artist in metal working. He says that he was very grateful to Thetis and Eurynome for taking care of him, and he showed his gratitude by producing beautiful pieces for them. Can we say he is the patron god for all the jewelry makers?

[395] she (Thetis) it was that took care of me when I was suffering from the heavy fall which I had through my cruel mother’s anger—for she would have got rid of me because I was lame. It would have gone hardly with me had not Eurynome, daughter of the ever-encircling waters of Okeanos, and Thetis, taken me to their bosom. [400] Nine years did I stay with them, and many beautiful works in bronze, brooches, spiral armlets, cups, and chains, did I make for them in their cave, with the roaring waters of Okeanos foaming as they rushed ever past it; and no one knew, neither of gods nor men, [405] save only Thetis and Eurynome who took care of me. 

Iliad 18.395–404, Sourcebook

Schliemann found many ornamental gold pieces. His wife modeled for him. According to Harpers Dictionary, these pieces are the earliest ornamental metalwork discovered.

The earliest specimens of ornamental metalwork discovered on Greek soil are those found by Dr. Schliemann at Hissarlik in the Troad, consisting of a large number of objects in gold, such as bracelets, ear-rings, and diadems. Among the specimens, may be mentioned the following: bracelets, consisting of a thick gold plate piped with wire and adorned with spiral ornaments of gold wire soldered on the plate; a diadem, composed principally of hexagonal leaves of gold; hair-pins, consisting of a quadrangular plate ornamented with spirals of gold wires soldered on like the bracelets just mentioned; gold disks, of which one represents a flower of star form, in repoussé work.

Adapted from Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)

Sophia Schliemann wearing gold head pice and gold necklace, gold earrings
Sophia Schliemann wearing treasure excavated by her husband

Aphrodite likes her jewelry. Anchises, the poor lover of hers, didn’t stand a chance!

She had twisted brooches, and shiny earrings in the shape of flowers. Around her tender throat were the most beautiful necklaces. It [her robe] was a thing of beauty, golden, decorated with every sort of design. Like the moon 90 it glowed all around her tender breasts, a marvel to behold. …

And when they went up into the sturdy bed, he first took off the jewelry shining on the surface of her body the twisted brooches and the shiny earrings in the shape of flowers.

Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 87–90, 161–163, Sourcebook

When Hera was getting ready to seduce Zeus, beautiful jewels adorned her body too:

She (Hera) put on the wondrous robe which Athena had worked for her with consummate art, and had set on it many embellishments; [180] she fastened it about her bosom with golden clasps, and she girded herself with a girdle that had a hundred tassels: then she fastened her earrings, three brilliant pendants with much charm radiating from them, through the pierced lobes of her ears, [185] and threw a lovely new veil over her head. She bound her sandals on to her feet, and when she had finished making herself up in perfect order, she left her room and called Aphrodite to come aside and speak to her.

Iliad 14.178-190 Sourcebook

Pendant earrings c 420–400 BCE
Large gold earrings, c 420–400 BCE, British Museum

The suitors of Penelope showered her with many precious gifts. Some of them were jewelry.

[290] The others applauded what Antinoos had said, and each one sent his servant to bring his present. Antinoos’ man returned with a large and lovely dress most exquisitely pattern-woven. It had twelve beautifully made brooch pins of pure gold with which to fasten it. [295] Eurymakhos immediately brought her a magnificent chain of gold and amber beads that gleamed like sunlight. Eurydamas’ two men returned with some earrings fashioned into three radiant pendants which glistened in beauty [kharis]; while King Peisandros, [300] son of Polyktor, gave her a necklace of the rarest workmanship, and every one else brought her a beautiful present of some kind.

Odyssey 18.290-301, Sourcebook

Within a hoop in the form of a two-headed snake are two hounds and two monkeys. Pendants of alternating discs and owls hang from the hoop.

A piece of jewelry was one of the clues that helped Penelope to recognize Odysseus. In the guise of a beggar he describes having seen Odysseus on his way to Troy:

[220] “My Lady,” answered resourceful Odysseus, “it is such a long time ago that I can hardly say. Twenty years are come and gone since he left my home, and went elsewhere; but I will tell you as well as I can recollect. [225] Great Odysseus wore a mantle of purple wool, double lined, and it was fastened by a gold brooch with two catches for the pin. On the face of this there was a device that showed a dog holding a spotted fawn between his fore paws, and watching it as it lay panting upon the ground. Every one marveled [230] at the way in which these things had been done in gold, the dog looking at the fawn, and strangling it, while the fawn was struggling convulsively to escape.

Odyssey 19.220-232 Sourcebook

An adornment can say more about a person. He is not a Greek, the one described as having gold and silver in his hair, but an ally of the Trojans!!!

With blood bedewed was his hair, looking like myrtle-blossoms [kharites], 52 with the curls and all so deftly bound in bands of silver and gold. 

Iliad 17.51–52, Sourcebook

Homeric epic also shows a different kind of adornment for men; they like their protection to have style.

[330] First he covered his legs with greaves of good make and fitted with ankle-clasps of silver; after this he donned the cuirass of his brother Lykaon, and fitted it to his own body; he hung his silver-studded sword [335] of bronze about his shoulders, and then his mighty shield. On his comely head he set his helmet, well-wrought, with a crest of horse.

Iliad 3.330-336 Sourcebook

Warrior’s departure (460–450BCE) Louvre

Plato is in jewelry but his jewelry is not in gold. In Phaedo, he has jewels of virtues.

Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his psūkhē, [114e] who has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him, and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after the pleasures of knowledge in this life; who has adorned the psūkhē in its own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and [115a] courage, and nobility, and truth—in these arrayed it is ready to go on its journey to the world below, when its time comes.

Plato Phaedo 114d–115a, Sourcebook

What else can be considered jewelry? Do you have a favorite scene with adornments? Please join in the discussion on the Forums.

Related posts


Harry Thurston Peck. 1898 Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers.
Online at Perseus

Autenrieth: Georg Autenrieth. 1891. A Homeric Dictionary for Schools and Colleges. New York. Harper and Brothers.
Online at Perseus

LSJ: Liddell, Henry George, and Scott, Robert. A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. 1940. Oxford. Clarendon Press.
Online at Perseus

Sourcebook: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook: Sourcebook of Original Greek Texts Translated into English. Gregory Nagy. 2013.
Iliad Translated by Samuel Butler. Revised by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power.
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies

Sourcebook: Odyssey Translated by Samuel Butler. Revised by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power.
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies

Sourcebook: Plato’s Phaedo Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Adapted by Gregory Nagy, Miriam Carlisle, and Soo-Young Kim
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies

Image Credits

Master of Animals: Kosmos Media Library

Sophia Schliemann treasure available on Wikipedia

Large gold earring: Kosmos Media Library

Gold earrings: Kosmos Media Library

Warriors departure: Kosmos Media Library

Note: Images have been selected from pictures that are freely available with open source or Creative Commons licenses or from photographs sent in by community members for the purpose. The images in this post are intended to suggest the subject, rather than illustrate exactly—as such, they may be from other periods, subjects, or cultures. Attributions are based where possible by those shown by museums, or on Wikimedia Commons, at the time of publication on this website.

Images accessed  August 2022


Hélène Emeriaud and Janet M. Ozsolak are members of  Kosmos Society