The Archaic and Afterward

The most important reference to amber from around 600 B.C. may be only apocryphal. It concerns the early Greek philosopher Thales of Miletos, the first to recognize amber’s magnetism, which he argued was proof of a soul or life, even in inanimate objects. Did he observe this property at home when watching women spinning Miletos’s famous wool with an amber spindle and distaff?

After about 600 B.C., the record shows a change in amber use. Individual pieces and long strings of worked amber became much rarer throughout the Mediterranean, perhaps owing to relative scarcity or to fluctuations in trade or even its interruption (perhaps by the Celts). Thus, amber finds from the next decades take on a particular importance. Most are very small pieces used for inlay, in multimedia fibulae, in small ivory and bone boxes, or in furnishings. Four composite ivory or bone and amber figured objects dating to the first half of the sixth century are of considerable iconographic importance: a pair of plaques from the Picene territory, from Tomb 83, that of an elite woman, at Belmonte Piceno; and a pair from a late Hallstattian Celtic tomb of an elite woman at Asperg, Germany. The two Picene plaques each represent a winged female figure flanked by two smaller female figures. The winged female is represented in the schema of Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals) or perhaps another (now unknown) divinity of protection and fertility. The carving is on all sides; the faces (now lost) were inlays of amber. Giulia Rocco attributes the reliefs to Picenum, noting the Greco-Orientalizing character of the figures and their relationship to portrayals of Artemis in the Laconian world.210 The Halstattian furniture plaques with amber-faced sphinxes are generally believed to be Laconian.211

The figured ambers of the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. range in size from the tiny (20 mm) to the very large (250 mm) and are formed in a range of subjects, some traditional and some new to the material. They are mainly pendants and fibulae bow decorations. Not only is there a wide distribution of finds on the peninsula, but many of the individual pieces are of exceptional size. This is the third great flourishing of archaeologically evidenced amber importation in the Mediterranean-rim area before the time of the Flavian emperors.

Most large sixth-to-fourth-century figured works demonstrate a new respect for the original shape of the raw material in its naturally occurring forms—rods, drops, or sheets—and figural subjects accommodate the ancient resin’s form. Italian figured ambers of the eighth and seventh centuries continued ancient traditions, but new kinds of amuletic figuration developed during the sixth century B.C. in response to changing local and contemporary magical, medicinal, and sacral needs. The multifarious seventh-century fertility and hunting divinities began to be replaced by Olympian subjects and hitherto unknown faunal and fabulous subjects. Rams, lions, and boars (figure 43) take the place of frogs, monkeys, dogs,212 and sphinxes. Sirens now proliferate, and dancers appear. Pendants in the form of detached heads, of either specific female divinities or other figures, are among the few traditional subjects that retain their important place right through to the beginning of the fourth century B.C. Yet despite the change in iconography, the categories of appropriate subjects do not appreciably change: they are still the protective and regenerative subjects of tradition, the subjects that could enhance or focus the powerful properties of amber.

Foreparts of a Recumbent Boar pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, L: 5 cm (1910 in.), D: 1.3 cm (12 in.), H: 2.4 cm (910 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 76.AO.84. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 37.
Figure 43
Foreparts of a Recumbent Boar pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, L: 5 cm (1910 in.), D: 1.3 cm (12 in.), H: 2.4 cm (910 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 76.AO.84. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 37.

A number of exceptional (unprovenanced) ambers can be dated to the sixth century based on their style and iconography. Among them are the Getty Divinity Holding Hares group (figure 44), the Getty Ship with Figures pendant (see figure 6), a two-figure group in London, Satyr and Maenad (see figure 17, which is perhaps instead a dancing male and female),213 and a group of four pendant figures, possibly from Ascoli Piceno, now in Philadelphia: two crouching nude males and an addorsed pair of draped female figures.214 A recumbent lion, found in a circa 560–550 B.C. tomb at Taranto, is a rare example of a piece from a Greek colonial city.215 These are “contemporary” works for their time, but they also evince artistic connections to older central Italic and Etruscan art, to the eastern Mediterranean, and to East Greek and Peloponnesian art. This wide range of influences might suggest simple explanations: itinerant carvers with a rich artistic vocabulary or a workshop in the ambient of a great crossroads. While both may be accurate, this line of thought underemphasizes the magical aspects of the imagery. Alongside such evocative and wide-ranging explanations should be considered the fact that the figured ambers were made as amulets, or objects following a “prototype” or recipe, or modeled according to tradition and prescription, which required the practitioner to absorb various symbol systems and modes of representation. There must have been persistent types, and a long-lived oral tradition behind them. Because precision of execution is essential to efficacy, “magical practices have little potential for modification, change, and interpretation and thus tend to be slower to change than most other aspects of culture.”216 What Jaś Elsner queries from the starting point of a large-scale offering at Delphi is relevant here:

In what sense is an image identical with the deity or activity it represents? The magical and theological properties of images, as well as the way the offering of the Orneatai could actually substitute as a ritual, hint at a much more dynamic interpenetration of image and referent, representation and prototype, than we usually allow for in discussions of mimesis.… Here … the context of the image asserts the actual presence of its prototype.217

Divinity Holding Hares pendant, Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H: 9.7 cm (345 in.), W: 6.4 cm (212 in.), D: 2.4 cm (910 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.82. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 4.
Figure 44
Divinity Holding Hares pendant, Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H: 9.7 cm (345 in.), W: 6.4 cm (212 in.), D: 2.4 cm (910 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.82. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 4.

In contrast to these “international style” works are a scattering of amber carvings, markedly Ionian in style, that date to the second half of the sixth century B.C. Where they were carved is not known for sure, but some have old provenances: Falconara, in the mid-Adriatic, for the amber in New York; Sala Consilina, for the flying-figure ambers in the Petit Palais, Paris; Armento, for the London kouros. Another tiny kouros in Paris,218 two of the Getty Heads of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figures 18 and 45), and the Getty Kore (figure 46) and her animal companions, the ram and boar pendants (see figures 29, 39, and 43), if from the Italian peninsula, would be additional evidence of the presence of Ionians (or Ionian models).

Figure 45
Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx pendant, Etruscan, 550–520 B.C. Amber, H: 3.4 cm (1310 in.), W: 2.4 cm (910 in.), D: 1.6 cm (35 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 76.AO.79. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 11.
Figure 46
Standing Female Figure (Kore) pendant, Etruscan, 525–500 B.C. Amber, H: 6.7 cm (258 in.), W: 2 cm (710 in.), D: 0.9 cm (38 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 76.AO.77. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 8.

Three burials, rich in amber objects that date to the end of the sixth century B.C., demonstrate the tradition (extending back to the Bronze Age) of burying strings of ambers in elite females’ tombs: at Sala Consilina, with three necklaces totaling a minimum of 114 pieces; in Tomb 102 at Braida di Vaglio, with nearly 300; and at the “princely” tombs at Novi Pazar (Serbia), with over 8,000 individual amber beads, pendants, and related objects. In the Braida di Vaglio tomb, the skeleton is that of a young girl.219

Fifth-century finds are more concentrated outside coastal sites in Latium, Etruria, and Magna Graecia. They are dispersed at the fringes of Etruria and the mid-Adriatic area and in Campania and the Basilicata. A very large number of surviving figured ambers, mainly pendants, can be dated by context or style to the period of about the mid-fifth to the early fourth century B.C. They range in subject from the now-traditional rams’ heads, female figures, detached heads and faces, and satyrs to whole animals and mythological creatures in repose to more innovative images. The new subjects reflect the plurality of cultural and commercial relations established among Greeks, Etruscans, and other indigenous peoples, and many show the incorporation of new ways of attracting the good, averting the dangerous, or picturing the voyage to the afterworld and its guides. New to amber, but already established by this date in vase and wall painting, bronzework, and gold, all of which have come from graves, are action figures: Dionysian revelers vintaging or dancing,220 a charioteer, a swaying Danaid, and figures in flight, sirens especially.221 Athena, with lionskin, shield, and lance, is in movement: the Pyrrhic dance?222 Aggressive subjects, of rape, imminent or active combat, or triumph over death, emerge: Eos and Kephalos (or Tithonos), Herakles killing the Nemean lion, Ajax, or Achilles lying in wait.223 Only in a few cases, such as these, can heroes and divinities be surely identified.

The style and iconography of the ambers of this period come out of the artistic traditions of Greece (including Magna Graecia), Etruria, and other Italic areas. Some heads have old-fashioned “divine” hairstyles and large, severe faces, conjuring up Near Eastern divinities. Most wear old-fashioned Etruscan dress, the significance of which deserves more attention. Generally speaking, the Archaic style has a secure hold throughout the fifth century B.C. and well into the fourth. Some works are very like other sculptural works and compare well with the corpora of ivories, bronzes, and terracottas. Others, significantly, are old-fashioned in style: many have the oversized eyes of much earlier art, kept alive in the millennia-old schemata of divine and heroic representations of the Near East; some are remarkably like Hittite sculptures. The huge eyes signify the figure’s identity and the characteristic keenness of sight of the supernatural. Wide-open and exaggerated, the eyes of the amber heads project a dazzling gaze, emphasizing the efficacy of their role as apotropaia, or devices of protection and danger aversion (figure 47).224

Female Head pendant, Italic or Campanian, 500–480 B.C. Amber, H: 3 cm (115 in.), W: 2.6 cm (1 in.), D: 0.4 cm (110 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 83.AO.202.12. Gift of Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 21.
Figure 47
Female Head pendant, Italic or Campanian, 500–480 B.C. Amber, H: 3 cm (115 in.), W: 2.6 cm (1 in.), D: 0.4 cm (110 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 83.AO.202.12. Gift of Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 21.

Nearly every subject represented in amber during this period has counterparts in other media found in Italy, namely sculpture, vases, and gems, as well as in Greek, Etruscan, and Italic architectural decoration. In some cases, individual objects or monuments have been related to ancestors or clan, as well as to place or cult.225

Rather than coming from Etruria proper, almost all fifth-to-fourth-century B.C. ambers are documented as coming from (or are believed to have been found in) areas with significant Etruscan connections: at sites north of the Po; in Campania; on the Italian mid-Adriatic seacoast; farther inland in the Basilicata, Lucania, and Calabria; at Aleria (Corsica); and at Kompolje (Croatia). As is true for the earlier figured ambers from nonpeninsular finds (at Novi Pazar, most importantly), those from Aleria and Kompolje are closely related to Italian finds. Unfortunately, as is the case with the ambers from the eighth to sixth centuries, only a few ambers of fifth-to-fourth-century date have been included in the study or, in some cases, publication of the graves’ skeletal material. None of the significant amber objects from chance finds, problematic excavations, or illicit undertakings are able to yield information about the sex of the inhabitant(s) or other critical contextual information. The admirable exceptions, including many recent excavations in the Basilicata, show that tombs with figured amber of the sixth to fourth centuries were female burials, with one anomaly: the man buried in Tomb 43 at Melfi-Pisciolo. All the others belonged to women and girls. Figured pendants, in almost every case, were found on the upper torso, once the elements of neck and chest adornments, or in the pelvic area, once girdle pendants.226

Many of the (well-published) fifth-century B.C. tombs with figured ambers from southern Italy are critical evidence for amber’s importance to the inhabitants and to the funeral customs of elite women of the populations, which reveals the continuation of certain late Bronze Age (indigenous) traditions and the impact of Magna Graecian and Etruscan culture in the interior through interaction with more recent settlers of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts. The link between amber and ritual, elite status and salvation, is undeniable. Two exemplary tombs of elite Italic females might be singled out: the aforementioned late-sixth-century Tomb 102 from Braida di Vaglio, and the late-fifth-to-early-fourth-century Tomb 955 from Lavello-Casino. Both contain not only significant pieces of figured amber, but also gold (a grape-cluster necklace in Tomb 955) and a selection of vessels and utensils for banqueting, mixing and drinking wine (Italic and Greek traditions are both represented), and roasting and eating meat.227 The contents reveal a climate welcoming the worship of Dionysos in Italy, and perhaps the impact of Orphism.

Dionysian subjects had come into prominence in figured amber by the sixth century, satyrs first and then other imagery, and some ambers probably were prepared expressly for funeral rituals. They are powerful evidence for the importance of the resurrection divinity in folk religion and cult in Italy.228 They, like the evidence of banquet practices and sacrifice in indigenous graves, denote an afterlife condition of beatitude, and the mysteries of Dionysos constituted one path to salvation.229 Amber could have illuminated the way.

Dionysos (figure 48) watched over Italy, as we hear from the chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone: “God of many names … you who watch over far-famed Italy.”230 Dionysos, the god not only of wine but of dance and drama, who promised experiences outside the corporeal (ecstacies), was an obvious focus for individuals worried about the afterworld.231 By the fifth century B.C., as Susan Guettel Cole has observed, “the rituals of his cult were clearly associated with themes of life and death. Dionysus was a god whose myths about a double birth, death and rebirth, and a journey to the underworld made him a figure attractive to those who wished to find a way to escape the anxieties of death.”232

Head from the Statue of the Young Bacchus (Dionysos), Roman, A.D. 1–50. Bronze with silver, H: 21.6 cm (812 in.), W: 18 cm (7116 in.), D: 19 cm (712 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 96.AB.52.
Figure 48
Head from the Statue of the Young Bacchus (Dionysos), Roman, A.D. 1–50. Bronze with silver, H: 21.6 cm (812 in.), W: 18 cm (7116 in.), D: 19 cm (712 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 96.AB.52.

Dionysos also knew the great sea, into which he plunged to avoid Lycurgus and from which he was rescued by Thetis, and where he showed his powers as he transformed his Tyrrhenian pirate captors into dolphins. The liquid, winelike optical characteristics of amber may have created a natural connection between Dionysos and the ancient resin. As E. R. Dodds writes in his edition of Euripides’ Bacchae, “[Dionysos’s] domain is, in Plutarch’s words, the whole of hugra phusis [the principle of moisture], not only the liquid fire of the grape, but the sap thrusting in a young tree, the blood pounding in the veins of a young animal, all the mysterious and uncontrollable tides that ebb and flow in the life of nature.”233

Satyrs (figure 49), nymphs, Bacchic revelers, heads of the god, and other Dionysian subjects are among the most numerous of the fifth-century B.C. funerary figured ambers. And Dionysian subjects would be the most common of Roman-period figured ambers.234

Satyr Head in Profile pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, H: 6.5 cm (212 in.), W: 6.8 cm (2710 in.), D: 3.5 cm (138 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 83.AO.202.1. Gift of Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 12.
Figure 49
Satyr Head in Profile pendant, Etruscan, 525–480 B.C. Amber, H: 6.5 cm (212 in.), W: 6.8 cm (2710 in.), D: 3.5 cm (138 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 83.AO.202.1. Gift of Vasek Polak. See cat. no. 12.

Herakles (figure 50) in Greece and Italy (in Etruscan, Hercle) was another powerful apotropaic figure, because of his cultic roles as danger averter, healer, and death dealer.235 His polyvalent cult functions in Etruria and much of the Italian peninsula were also associated with trade, triumph, transhumance, and initiation, and he was worshipped in his oracular and mantic roles.236 The representation of the hero-god in amber is derived from various schemata—Greek, Etruscan, and Cypriot. Two amber amulets of the Cypriot type of Herakles show him wearing a lionskin helmet: these pendants were doubly potent, for the lionskin itself was a standard protective device.

Votive Statuette of Hercle, Etruscan, 320–280 B.C. Bronze, H: 24.3 cm (958 in.), W: 7 cm (234 in.), D: 8.7 cm (3716 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 96.AB.36.
Figure 50
Votive Statuette of Hercle, Etruscan, 320–280 B.C. Bronze, H: 24.3 cm (958 in.), W: 7 cm (234 in.), D: 8.7 cm (3716 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 96.AB.36.

The Homeric heroes Achilles and Ajax, both represented in amber, also had longstanding danger-averting, protective, and propitious roles in Greek and Greek-influenced culture. Achilles triumphed in arms; Achillean sharp-subject amulets “cut” pain. An amulet with Ajax—heroic rescuer of the fallen body of Achilles—who committed suicide by falling on his sword but was said to live after death on the island of Leuke, might also “cut” pain or offer protection.

Most importantly, Homer’s very words were magical. “Quotations from his work could heal people when whispered in their ears or hung around their necks written on amulets, which should be preferably of gold.” Not only could Homer cure disease; he could also make fruit trees grow and favor people’s relations with one another.237

Heroic and martial figures could play important roles in what is called aggressive magic.238 Subject, material, and actions (such as attachment and incantation) were likely combined in the use of potent objects for healing. The large amber pendant of Herakles stabbing the Nemean lion (with blood spurting from the wound) in the Bibliothèque nationale de France might be explicated by the recipe of the physician Alexander of Tralles (circa A.D. 525–circa 605) for abdominal pain or colic. It was to be given if a patient “would not follow a regimen or could not endure drugs.” It reads: “On a Median stone, engrave Herakles standing upright and throttling a lion; set it in a gold ring and give it to the patient to wear.”239

The last moment in the pre-Roman period for the interment of amber is toward the end of the fourth century B.C. This is documented by a concentration of finds on the central Adriatic coast and in southern Campania. Villalfonsina,240 Paestum, and Timmari have three exceptional finds: the subjects of the pendants are female heads or faces, joined into necklaces with spacer beads of various shapes. The finds at Paestum date after the Lucanian takeover of the site, as Angela Pontrandolfo Greco points out—critical evidence for the earlier appreciation of amber among the Lucanians.241 One of the latest examples of these necklaces was found at Timmari and dates to circa 330–320 B.C.242 From the late fourth century B.C. until the first century A.D., amber was a scarce grave good in Italy. The exceptions are a number of gold earrings in the shape of helmeted heads (the negroid heads are of amber) of the third century B.C., many of them from Etruria.243 Just like the earliest Etruscan and Greek ambers, these late manifestations of funereal figured amber objects are tiny. Yet their functions are still to protect, to avert danger, and, as fertile subjects, to promise rebirth. It was not until the revival of trade by the Romans that amber again became abundant in Italy. Figured amber objects, necklaces, rings, small vessels, and small, independent carvings once again were significant grave goods, particularly for women and children. Danger-averting gorgons, Dionysian and marine subjects, and other time-honored images of protection and regeneration dominated, continuing what was now a peninsular vocabulary for efficacious objects of amber.


  1. Ancona, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 1154 (from Tomb 83, Belmonte Piceno): , pp. 82–85, nos. 135–36, pls. 44–45.
  2. C. Rolley, “Sculpture in Magna Graecia,” in , p. 389.
  3. On the dog as a subject of early figured ambers in Italy, see (cat. no. 27). As N. Winter, Greek Architectural Terracottas: From the Prehistoric to the End of the Archaic Period (Oxford, 1993), has shown, the Temple of Artemis in Epidauros employed dog protome waterspouts, and this usage was widely followed in Campania and Latium in the second and first centuries B.C., particularly in private residences. She attributes this popularity to the dog’s symbolism in the Greco-Roman world. Originally valued primarily as a hunter and, as such, the indispensable companion of gods and particularly of Artemis, the dog eventually assumed the role of guardian and companion and obtained apotropaic powers. Ancient authors attributed to dogs the power to forewarn of danger, and thus recommended their use as temple guardians.
  4. British Museum 43: , pp. 61–62, no. 35, pl. XV.
  5. . The draped female figures of the Philadelphia group may represent the same type as the female figures of a group in the Getty: (cat. no. 1), (cat. no. 2), (cat. no. 3), and (cat. no. 4). The kneeling figures in Philadelphia are close enough in form to a type of Egyptian alabaster magical or medical vessel, imitated in “Rhodian” faïence, in the form of a kneeling woman to invite further investigation, especially if E. Brunner-Traut, “Gravidenflasche,” in Archaeologie und Altes Testament: Festschrift für Kurt Galling (Tübingen, 1970), pp. 35–48, is correct: that women used the ingredients of such vessels in magic, and rubbed the contents on the body during pregnancy. Such a faïence vessel was found in the Circolo dei Leoncini d’Argento III Tomb at Vetulonia (Vetulonia, Museo Civico Archeologico “Isidoro Falchi” 116483: , p. 3012, no. 413 [L. Pagnini], with earlier bibl.).

    The Philadelphia ambers are formally and stylistically comparable to an amber pendant from an early-fifth-century B.C. female grave at Tolve-Magritiello, which is in the form of a short-chiton-wearing, front-facing, seated figure whose knees are close to the body and whose arms are crossed on the chest, illustrated in . A. Russo (p. 114) suggests that it could be the work of an artisan from a Greco-Oriental culture and compares it to the sculpture of Samos. She suggests that the amber was made in Magna Graecia and compares it to a small alabaster of Helen emerging from the egg, excavated at Metaponto.

    The Tolve-Magritiello figure can also be compared to an Egyptian-derived kourotrophos-demon type of ancient Greece: see U. Sinn, “Zur wirkung des ägyptischen ‘Bes’ auf die griechische Volksreligion,” in Antidoron: Festschrift für Jürgen Thimme, ed. D. Metzler, B. Otto, and C. Müller-Wirth (Stuttgart, 1989), pp. 87–94. (For Bes, see also n. 204, above.)

    Corinthian and Rhodian terracotta vessels in the form of squatting comasts offer parallels to many figured ambers. See, for example, V. Dasen, “Squatting Comasts and Scarab-Beetles,” in , p. 132:

    Like kourotrophic demons or the Cypriote forms of Bes and Ptah-Pataikos, the figures seem to have conveyed the Egyptian notion of dwarfs as healing gods and family guardians: their scaraboid features may also have translated into Greek idiom the Egyptian concept of scarab-beetles as regenerative and life-giving symbols.… Several … were found in tombs, and probably had a specific funerary meaning; one vessel in particular was found with two small silver bracelets and one Corinthian aryballos in a child’s tomb from Ialysus. Others come from sanctuaries of female deities, such as that of Hera at Perachora or of Demeter at Gela; it is revealing that two vases were found with three statuettes of kourotrophic dwarfs in a votive deposit dedicated to Demeter at Catania. The association of squatting demons with the protection of fecundity is also suggested by the decoration of the comast from Isthmia: the figure has pendulous breasts, like Bes or Egyptian personifications of fecundity, and his belly is painted with a large phallus surrounded by phallic padded dancers.… The influence of Egyptian dwarf-gods is also perceptible in the iconography of Corinthian padded dancers, with bandy legs, protruding abdomens and buttocks like Bes figures, and likewise associated with music, wine and powers of fecundity.

    On the importance of musicmaking in danger aversion, especially in birthing and early childhood, see . The antiquity of such figures is suggested by the existence of dancing figures from before the fourth millennium; see Y. Garfinkel, Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture (Austin, TX, 2003), who connects them to early agricultural ritual.

    On the child-killing demons, see . She cites the significant work by J. A. Scurlock, “Baby-Snatching Demons, Restless Souls, and the Dangers of Childbirth: Medico-Magical Means of Dealing with Some of the Perils of Motherhood in Mesopotamia,” Incognita 2 (1991): 1–112. See also Maternité et petite enfance 2003 (in n. 170, above).

    The bent-under feet may have magical significance. The gesture may refer to reversed feet, to bent or bound legs, or to a deformed fetus. All three are known in ancient magical practice as ways to harness the dangerous potency of a particular demon or agency: see ; ; and C. Faraone, “Binding and Burying the Forces of Evil: The Defensive Use of ‘Voodoo Dolls’ in Ancient Greece,” Classical Antiquity 10, no. 2 (October 1991): 165–220. Two extraordinary ancient bound figures are the inscribed Etruscan lead figures of a nude woman and man from the late fourth or early third century that were inserted into a much older tomb at Sovana, now in Florence (Museo Archeologico Nazionale): , p. 282, figs. 228–29; and . If the subject of the amber alludes to a deformed fetus, it would function magically as “like banishing like.” Alternatively, the twisted feet could refer to the anger of Artemis. , p. 31, citing Callimachus’s famous hymn to the goddess, lists the dangers, including “their women either die in childbirth or, if they do survive, give birth to infants unable to stand ‘on upright ankle’[Hymn to Artemis 128].”

  6. See F. G. Lo Porto, “Ceramica arcaica dalle necropoli di Taranto,” Annuario della Scuola archeologica di Atene e delle Missioni italiane in Oriente, n.s., 21–22 (1959/60): 213, n. 7, fig. 183d. Tomb 116 (Acclavio Str.) is dated to 560–550 B.C.
  7. D. Schmandt-Besserat, “Animal Symbols at ‘Ain Ghazal,” Expedition 39, no. 1 (1997): 52, quoting D. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics and Power (New Haven, 1988), p. 12.
  8. J. Elsner, Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text (Princeton, 2007), p. 44.
  9. For the amber kouros in London (British Museum 41), see , pp. 65–66, no. 41, pl. XIX. For the amber kouros pendant in Paris, Bj 2343 – MNE 967, see M. C. D’Ercole, Ambres graves: La collection du département des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines du Museé du Louvre (Paris, 2013), pp. 36–38. A comparable amber kouros from Arezzo is now lost. Two nearly identical kouroi in ivory, from a comb, are published by K. A. Neugebauer, Antiken im deutschen Privatbesitz (Berlin, 1938), no. 255.
  10. The ambers of a grave context excavated in 1896 at Sala Consilina (the finds are now in the Petit Palais, Paris) are still not fully published. The amber of the tomb included three long necklaces and 113 beads and pendants. For some of the Sala Consilina ambers, see Le arti di Efesto: Capolavori in metallo dalla Magna Grecia, exh. cat., ed. A. Giumilia-Mair (Trieste, 2002), no. 51; ; , p. 203; and , p. 76. Among the published figured ambers are Dut 1600 (5), a flying figure carrying an amphora; Dut 1600 (6), a bee-divinity; Dut 1600 (2–4), unencumbered “sirens”; Dut 1600 (1), a lion; and Dut 1600 (2), a ram’s head. , pp. 114–17, figs. 44–47, illustrates the four fliers. Independently, both this author (public lecture, Washington, DC, 1997) and A. Bottini, in , p. 232, have proposed that the bee-divinity with child pendant may represent the Archaic Cretan myth of the nourishment of Zeus by Ideo.

    For Tomb 102 at Braida di Vaglio, see n. 276. Among the animate subjects are a crouching sphinx, a tiny vase with crouching felines, a scallop shell, two rams’ heads, two female faces, and the foreparts of a boar. There are also three compressed-composition subjects: a feline, a bovine, and an “Achelous.” The largest pendant, a crouching sphinx with reverted head, is exquisite (and then-recent) Etrusco-Ionian work, the surfaces still exhibiting great subtlety in carving, the engraved lines crisp. Given its chthonic associations, a sphinx (especially a recumbent one) might be interpreted as a permanent amulet expressly made for the rituals of death.

    For the Novi Pazar material, see ; ; and , pp. 66–68, figs. 288–329 (with earlier bibl. including and B. Jovanović, “Les bijoux en ambre dans les tombes princières de Novi Pazar et d’Atenica,” in Hommages à D. Mano-Zisi [Belgrade, 1975]). Novi Pazar was a complicated excavation. A. Palavestra’s studies of the Balkan burial underscore what is not known. As he writes in , p. 110, nothing can be inferred conclusively about the number of the bodies buried in Novi Pazar, or of their sex, or of whether the chest found under the church is the primary or secondary archaeological context. Palavestra considers the ambers’ style to point to production centers in South Italy. While some works can be linked to ambers from southern Italy, the burial seemingly represents the work of many different artisans, traditions, and object types, and it draws on a variety of sources for subject, style, and type. The other figured ambers in the Novi Pazar burial include part of a vessel, well-worn plain beads, and pendants, as well as figured pendants, korai, rams’ heads, and acorns. In addition, there are two large plaques, part of larger, more complex ornaments. One plaque is engraved with Herakles carrying the Cecropes on one side and with two hoplites on the other; the second is engraved with a rider and horse on one side and facing sphinxes on the other.

  11. Satyrs in action include the London Vintaging Satyr (British Museum 36): , pp. 62–63, no. 36, pl. XIV. A parallel, now lost, was in the de Jorio collection: , pp. 62–63. The Eos and Kephalos (possibly) amber in the Steinhardt collection, New York (, pp. 150–51; , pp. 290–92, fig. 7), is said to have been found with the large winged female head in the collection (, pp. 151, 289–90, fig. 5), as well as with a third large head of a Cypriot-type Herakles in a Swiss private collection (unpublished). Eos as kourotrophos with Kephalos is the subject of a pendant from Tomb 60 at Tricarico–Serra del Cedro, dated to the mid-fourth century B.C. (see n. 173, above).
  12. Why a bird-woman composite as the subject of an amber pendant? The variant subjects—some must be sirens, while others may represent harpies, chthonic beings, or the soul, or be related to the Egyptian ba-bird—may augment or focus certain aspects of amber. Without doubt, the composites all represent beings with some connection to death and the afterworld, and it is likely that the amber bird-woman carvings have magic in them. In amber are found most of the bird-woman composite creatures of Orientalizing–Archaic-period art; they belong to several types of “siren” imagery, one close to the form of Rhodian terracotta vessels and probably related to the Egyptian ba-bird type, and others that are more like various Near Eastern–derived bird-female composites. Some are more like Oriental and early Greek sphinx types, others more like flying birds in an as-seen-from-below schema; some are more human than bird, and others more bird than human. As J. Leclercq-Marx, La Sirène dans la pensée et dans l’art de l’Antiquité et du Moyen Âge: Du mythe païen au symbole chrétien, Classe des beaux-arts, Académie royale de Belgique (Brussels, 1997), pp. 1–42, superbly sets out, “siren” encompasses many different things and beings, and a range of beliefs about them. Homer’s sirens may not be Hesiod’s. However, by the seventh century B.C., an undoubtedly magical power is associated with them, and sometimes they are invoked as protective divinities for the deceased. Some are undoubtedly related to the sirens of the Odyssey; others must be linked more closely to the ba-bird, representing “the freedom and mobility of the spirit of the deceased”: S. Quirke, Ancient Egyptian Religion (London, 1992), p. 106. In Egypt, as , p. 76, points out, the ba-bird functioned as an agent to reintegrate a dead person: the ba could mediate between the living and the dead, bringing the sustenance of funeral gifts from the earth’s surface to the deep tomb. In Homer’s Odyssey (12.158–200), the sirens are “endowed with omniscient memory, including complete knowledge of the Trojan War.… In Greek literature, their presence foreshadows, accompanies, or otherwise refers to death”: M. J. Bennett in , p. 285. Essential was the siren’s association with transport to the afterlife and with the underworld and the task of the spiritural nourishment of the dead. See also D. Tsiafakos, “Life and Death at the Hands of a Siren,” Studia Varia from the J. Paul Getty Museum 2 (Malibu, 2001): 7–24; 8, 1, Thespiades-Zodiacus: Supplementum (1997), s.v. “Seirenes” (E. Hostetter and I. Krauskopf), pp. 1093–104; and 4 (1988), s.v. “Harpyiai” (L. Kahil and A. Jacquemin), pp. 445–50. For the confusion surrounding the Harpies and other winged creatures, including their interchangeability, see B. Cohen, “Red-Figure Vases Take Wing,” in Athenian Potters and Painters: The Copenhagen Proceedings, ed. Oakley et al. (Oxford, 1997), pp. 143–55. That the sirens ranged along the coast of Italy, and that Parthenope was traditionally buried at Naples, may provide some explanation for the impressive number of amber sirens from documented Italian finds of the sixth to fourth centuries, a number of them from Campania. The sirens’ watery origins (they are daughters of either Achelous, the river god, or of Phorkys and Ceto, sea divinities) must also have added to their powers. Since amber, too, was of water (originating in, hardened by, or borne by ocean, sea, rivers, or streams), material and subject reiterated each other.
  13. This amber pendant is from Tomb 9, Rutigliano-Purgatorio Necropolis: see , p. 199, fig. 7.
  14. On Eos and Kephalos see n. 220, above. The amber of Herakles slaying the Nemean lion (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet des Médailles Fröhner 1146) shows the slaying on the pendant’s main side and a coiled, bearded snake on its secondary side, although the figures wrap around the lump: , pp. 52–61, figs. I–II; and , p. 302, figs. 7–8. The Ajax in New York (Ajax Carrying the Body of Achilles) is Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.267.2, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan P. Rosen, 1992. The Achilles from the “Tomb of Amber” at Ruvo di Puglia (Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 113643) was found with at least six other figured ambers, including an equine head and three female heads: A. C. Montanaro, Ruvo di Puglia e il suo territorio: Le necropoli; I corredi funerari tra la documentazione del XIX secolo e gli scavi moderni (Rome, 2007), pp. 917–18, no. 325.3 (with important bibl., including , pp. 246–47, ill. 280); G. Prisco, “La tomba delle ambre,” in I Greci in Occidente: La Magna Grecia nelle collezioni del Museo Archeologico di Napoli, exh. cat. (Naples, 1996), pp. 115–16; and , p. 132, no. 560.

    Martial subjects have a long history as protective objects, beginning in the third millennium and continuing through to the present. In Rome, martial subjects in red stones were especially popular; see M. Henig, “Roman Seals,” in , p. 99: “It is not surprising that Mars and warrior heroes such as Theseus, Achilles or Alexander the Great were often shown on red stones, carnelians and jaspers, for red is the colour of blood and life.” In late antiquity, hematite was chosen for magical amulets, as notes G. Vikan, “Magic and Visual Culture,” in Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, ed. J. C. B. Petropoulos (Abingdon and New York, 2008), p. 55, because of its “persuasive parallel”: as an iron oxide, it can hold its red “blood” within its shiny black skin. Perhaps amber that was more red than yellow was selected for martial subjects. If the amber was not red enough, it could be colored, as Pliny relates (Natural History 37.12): “tinted, as desired, with kid suet and the root of alkanet. Indeed, it is now stained even with purple dye.” In discussing the making of artificial transparent stones (ibid.), he mentions this possibility again: “It can be dyed any color.” D. E. Eichholz’s gloss (, p. 200, n. a) explains: “The modern technique is to open a fissure, introduce colouring matter and heat the amber. The root of the alkanet, which was commonly used for rouge in antiquity, would have reddened it.”

  15. On the large and animated eye, see , pp. 171–81; , pp. 45, 58–59, 119; and . See also . On the startling eyes of Mesopotamia, see .
  16. Archaic Etruscan gemstones are a case in point; see I. Krauskopf, “Interesse private nel mito: Il caso degli scarabei etruschi,” in Le Mythe grec dans l’Italie antique: Fonction et imag; Actes du colloque international organisé par l’École française de Rome, l’Istituto italiano per gli studi filosofici (Naples) et l’UMR 126 du CNRS (Archéologies d’Orient et d’Occident), Rome, 14–16 novembre 1996, ed. F. H. Massa-Pairault (Rome, 1999), pp. 405–21.
  17. .
  18. Melfi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale “Massimo Pallottino” (from Lavello-Casino, Tomb 955): the female head is inv. 337381; the pendant, in the form of the foreparts of a rearing horse, is inv. 337832. I do not know the inventory numbers of the other ambers from the tomb. For the tomb, see , pp. 82–83; , pp. 63–69, 97–158; and .
  19. A. Bottini, “Le ambre nella Basilicata settentrionale,” in , p. 233, cites the British Museum Satyr and Maenad pendant (, pp. 61–62, no. 35) as another example of the identification of a deceased person with Dionysos in Italic Italy. The London pendant is perhaps the most complex of the “Orphic” ambers, as this author outlined in “Dionysos in Amber” at the College Art Association Annual Meeting (New York, 1996). See also A. Bottini, “The Impact of the Greek Colonies on the Indigenous Peoples of Lucania,” in , p. 546.
  20. Garnered from essays by A. M. Nava, S. Bianco, A. Bottini, and M. Tagliente in The Wine of Dionysos 2000 (in n. 79, above).
  21. Sophocles: The Plays and Fragments, part 3, Antigone, trans. R. C. Jebb (Cambridge, 1900), 115s.
  22. The literature on Dionysos in Italy is vast. Especially important for this study, in addition to the sections on the god in , were D. Paleothodoros, “Dionysiac Imagery in Archaic Etruria,” Etruscans Now: The British Museum Twenty-Sixth Classical Colloquium; An International Conference Hosted by the British Museum, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities and the British Museum Friends, 9–11 December 2002, (accessed April 28, 2004); ; S. G. Cole, “Voices from Beyond the Grave: Dionysus and the Dead,” in Masks of Dionysus, ed. T. H. Carpenter and C. A. Faraone (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1993), pp. 276–96 (with earlier bibl.); L. Bonfante, “Fufluns Pacha: The Etruscan Dionsyus,” in Masks of Dionysus; A. Bottini, “Appunti sulla presenza di Dionysos nel mondo italico,” in Dionysos: Mito e Mistero; Atti del convegno internazionale, Comacchio, 3–5 novembre 1989, ed. F. Berti (Ferrara, 1991), pp. 157–70; G. Colonna, “Riflessioni sul dionismo in Etruria,” in Dionysos: Mito e Mistero, pp. 117–55; W. Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. J. Raffan (Cambridge, MA, 1985); E. Richardson, “The Story of Ariadne in Italy,” in Studies in Classical Art and Archaeology: A Tribute to Peter Heinrich von Blanckenhagen, ed. G. Kopke and B. Moore (Locust Valley, NY, 1979), pp. 189–96; and J. D. Beazley, Etruscan Vase Painting (Oxford, 1947). , pp. 162–63, summarizes: “In Etruscan religion, Dionysos (Fufluns) is also god of the dead. Satyrs are images of Dionysos’ power as well as creatures of the world of the dead.… The connection of sexual or scatological activity with the circle of Fufluns in Etruscan tombs seems to urge a connection between sexuality and death that can present apotropaic meanings as well as notions of fertility and continuity between life and death.” The representations of male figures disguised as satyrs on funerary objects, such as in the dance of a woman and a man disguised as a satyr on the funerary cippus from Chiusi (Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 2284), may shed light on amber imagery and the role of amulets in the grave. , pp. 246–47, discusses the Etruscan staged funerary performances “with satyrs or silenoi; the pairs of women (maenads?) with tall, draped headdresses; nude boys dancing with castanets.” These are the same subjects that are found in fifth- and early-fourth-century amber carvings, the same subjects that are found on vases painted by the Micali Painter and his followers.

    Dionysos’s importance in the life of children in ancient Greece is evidenced by the spring festival of Anthesteria, one that celebrated new growth and transformation. His role in healing, magic, and protection (especially of children) deserves greater attention. Dionysos’s own infancy and childhood were significant in myth, and he was a revered father. Might this have contributed, too, to his place in the protection of the young?

  23. Cole 1993 (in n. 231, above), pp. 277–79.
  24. E. R. Dodds, The Bacchae of Euripides (Oxford, 1944), p. xii.
  25. This author was among the first to suggest the continuity of Dionysian subjects in Italian amber objects from the Orientalizing period through Late Antiquity. See also ; and , n. 18.
  26. Herakles’s seminal role in amuletic magic is partly explained by his ability, even as a baby, to overcome dangerous animals and monsters and to conquer Death. In Euripides’ Herakles Furens, the hero repulses the attack of the demonic (Gorgon) and “assumes the same appearance and powers as the invading force: issuing ‘terrifying looks,’ he rolls his Gorgon-like eyes”: , p. 171. Herakles’s survival of Nessus’s deadly poison might have made him a “wounded healer” (similia similibus curantur). His role in spring cults and his sanative aspects relate to his successful cleansing with water of the Augean stables and other exploits. Water was a healing agent, a carrier of omens, and a supporter of fertility. On Classical spring cults, see F. Muthmann, Mutter und Quelle: Studien zur Quellenverehrung im Altertum und im Mittelalter (Basel, 1975).

    In private worship especially, Herakles was commonly appealed to as a defender against evils and a victor over them. See Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford, 1949), s.v. “Herakles” (H. J. Rose), pp. 413–14. As , p. 201, outlines, “Herakles was the first of the heroes to appear with a facing head, and he remained the most prominent throughout Greek coinage.” , n. 6: “The locus classicus for the deadly Herakles is Od. 11.605–12, where he appears glaring about with his bow forever drawn.… He alone shares Ares’ epithet πτολίπορθος as the traditional destroyer of Troy and Oechalea.” , pp. 195, 203, no. 19, fig. 5 (with reference to A. Minto, “Curiosità archeologiche,” 1 [1927]: 475–76, pl. 72a), discusses a magically bound Etruscan bronze figure of a male god or hero wearing a wolf- or dogskin hat and leaning on a knotty club; the head is completely twisted about and the legs broken off below the knees. Faraone (and Minto) tentatively identifies him as the Etruscan Herakles. Alternatively, this figure may represent Suri/Apollo or Aita/Hades, despite his lack of a beard, or Perseus, despite the presence of the club. For a dog-hatted Perseus, see A. Krug, “Eine etruskische Perseusstatuette,” in Festschrift für Frank Brommer, ed. U. Höckmann and A. Krug (Mainz, 1977), pp. 207–17, pls. 57–58.

    The literature on Herakles in Italy is extensive. In addition to 5 and suppl. 1 (2009), s.v. “Herakles/Hercle,” literature consulted includes Le Mythe grec 1999 (in n. 225, above).

    , p. 57, reminds us that elektron and Herakleon, the name given in antiquity to magnetite (the magnetic compound Fe3O5, formed when lightning strikes iron ore) as well as to a plant that could cure wounds made by iron weapons, were first associated by Thales because of their magnetic, animate properties. Might an elektron amulet of Herakles with a sword have incorporated multiple magical manners of animated healing?

  27. As S. J. Schwarz, 5 (1990), pp. 196–253; and suppl. 1 (2009), pp. 244–64, documents, there are few places in Italy where Herakles/Hercle is not evident and not honored.
  28. S. Sande, “Famous Persons as Bringers of Good Luck,” in , p. 233.
  29. , passim.
  30. Alexander of Tralles 2.377, as quoted in , p. 63, nn. 43–44. In n. 45, Bonner cites Abraham Gorleus, Dactylioteca (1695 ed.), as the first modern writer to recognize that the many gems showing Herakles and the lion were medico-magical and corresponded to Alexander’s prescription. Bonner, p. 64, cites two other relevant medico-magical prescriptions.
  31. R. Papi, “Materiali archeologici da Villalfonsina (Chieti),” 31 (1979): 18–95.
  32. .
  33. The Timmari (Basilicata) necklace was found in Tomb 1: see E. Lattanzi, “Attività archeologica in Basilicata,” in Atti del XV Convegno Internazionale di studi sulla Magna Grecia (Naples, 1976), pp. 561–667; and , n. 20.
  34. See , p. 143, n. 477. The documented examples are from Vulci, Volterra, Orvieto, Taranto, and Bettona (Umbria).


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