The history of jewellery resembles that of archaeology; layer after layer of culture has overlapped and intertwined as the centuries have passed, culminating in the artifacts worn by the last generation of nomads and traditional communities.The most remote layers of influence in the Middle East are the early civilizations, the cultures of the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians.
With the rise of the Greek empire under Alexander the Great, and the subsequent Roman empire, the Middle East saw large-scale and permanent occupation by other cultures for the first time. Some elements of Graeco-Roman adornments are still very much present in traditional jewelry.
Stylized animal heads are often found on bracelet and anklets. This decoration dates from antiquity and is continued until today. In traditional silver jewelry, mostly serpent’s heads are used in bracelets and anklets to ward off evil. Even though Islam forbids the depiction of living things, this tradition is still very much alive and can be seen from Morocco to Iran.
The use of fibulas or clothing fasteners stems from Roman times. The tradition has, after traveling through Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, survived in the Maghreb, where clothing is fastened in much the same in way in which it was done around 1500 years ago. The style of fibulas has evolved and changed over time: nowadays each region or even village has its own distinct style of fibulas.
Beads in the shape of an eye, or with decoration in the shape of an eye, have been in use since Ancient Egypt. They are still available on every market from Istanbul to Marrakech. Their decoration of blue eyes with darker pupils has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries. For more information on the protective aspects of eye beads, see Eyes and Hands. Rings with decorated gemstones, also known as intaglios, are still in use in Central Asia. The decoration on traditional silver rings sometimes consists of watered-down classical themes. Also depictions of the warrior god Mars and the goddess Athena can still be found in Central Asian rings, along with later decorations.
A bronze Roman ring with blue glass intaglio next to two of its later versions in gold and silver from Central Asia
Palmyrene bust showing a lady in all her finery. Many items are also found in traditional jewelry
Learn more about the relation between Migration Period jewelry and traditional jewelry of the Maghreb.
Stylized animal heads on an upper arm bracelet as seen on a statue in Beirut National Museum