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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hellenistic Jewelry & the Commoditization of Elite Greek Women

  • Author(s): Contestabile, Haley
  • et al.

The paper concentrates on Hellenistic jewelry, which dates from the fourth to first century BCE, and strives to answer the question: how do the different decorative functions of Hellenistic jewelry represent the various roles and social obligations of its elite Greek female wearers? Four thematic parallels exist between jewelry and women, including beauty, sexuality, fertility, and wealth. To examine these connections, this paper studies classical literary sources that focus on female sexuality and the social expectations of women. Examples include segments taken from the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, the poetry of Sappho and Ibycus, an epithalamium, and Plutarch’s Life of Demetrius. The content of these sources are extracted and compared to the decorative functions of four Hellenistic jewelry pieces, which include an embellished necklace, pair of Eros earrings, diadem, and jewelry set. Based upon the research, physical attributes of Hellenistic jewelry reflect the responsibilities of elite Greek women to groom their appearance, be sexually desirable, produce legitimate heirs, and demonstrate wealth and prestige. By analyzing these similarities, one becomes aware of the extreme commoditization of ancient Greek women.

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