April 23, 2024

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Ancient Gold Jewelry As Status Symbol

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Gold has traditionally been a sign of rank and its use and possession was often restricted. In Sumerian graves, only royalty were buried with gold ornaments. Initially in Egypt the pharoah and the gods owned all of the gold but the pharaohs dispersed gold pins in different shapes to courageous officers. During the Bronze age in Western Europe, gold was used to reinforce the emerging institution of chieftainship.

In early Roman times there were strict laws governing who could wear gold rings and even high ranking families could own only limited amounts of gold. In the early Christian era gold was used for Church relics but people were discouraged from wearing it. However, these rules were not without exception. Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd century AD explains, “Allowances must sometimes be made in favor of those women who have not been fortunate in falling in with chaste husbands, and who adorn themselves in order to please their husbands.”

From the 14th century sumptuary laws restricted the wearing of gold jewelry in Europe to the wealthier or noble sections of society. Also, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century gifts of gold chains traditionally rewarded loyal service to royal courts.

The Inca associated gold with the solar deity Inti and the Imperial ruler controlled the supply. It was not allowed in widespread trade and commerce. The ruler distributed it himself as insignia to nobles who distinguished themselves in battle or service. Wives wore gold ear flares to distinguish rank. From 1700-1900 the Asante controlled vast gold resources in Africa and used gold dust as currency but gold jewels were restricted to the King, chiefs and senior officials. At one time the Asante king required all gold ornaments to be melted down and recast each year. He then collected a tax on the new items.

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