By Natalija Ristovska
Intelligible Beauty: recent research on Byzantine jewellery, edited by Chris Entwistle and Noël Adams (British Museum, 2010)
Introduction: In Byzantium, as in other medieval societies, ear ornaments represented one of the most prominent and certainly most ubiquitous elements of the female attire. Although numerous Byzantine ornaments falling into this category have been published to date, little attention has been dedicated to tackling the problem of how such objects were actually worn. This is particularly true for the ornaments which, based on certain criteria, are believed not to have been worn by threading through the earlobe, but to have been suspended by various means from the hair or headdress; for better or worse, these are generally referred to by scholars as ‘temple pendants’, or ‘headdress rings’.
A useful contribution towards the understanding of the wearing practices of Byzantine and other medieval ear ornaments is supplied by archaeological evidence from the territory of medieval Rus’, which has accumulated in the course of the past century or so. Recent studies by scholars such as M. A. Saburova, A.S. Agapov and T.G. Saračeva have put such evidence to good use and introduced fascinating new insights into the old debate of how such ornaments were worn in Rus’. It is the aim of the present paper to provide a brief review of the Rus’ evidence and of the recent developments on the subject, in view of the implications this material may have for the study of Byzantine and other contemporary ear ornaments. The discussion will focus on those ornaments which were worn suspended from the hair or headdress (rather than being worn through the earlobe), since I believe that the latter objects have been poorly understood in past scholarship on Byzantine jewellery.