Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
1986.384
Title
Engraved Belt
Classification
Jewelry
Work Type
jewelry
Date
late 8th-early 7th century BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Thessaly
Period
Geometric period to Orientalizing
Culture
Greek
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/303706
Location
Level 3, Room 3620, University Study Gallery
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Bronze
Technique
Cast, lost-wax process
Dimensions
5.3 x 87.5 cm (2 1/16 x 34 7/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron, silver, antimony, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is green with areas of brown and black. In areas where the green has cracked off due to bending, underlying red corrosion products are exposed. Three breaks have been repaired with adhesive and brass clips at the edges. Areas of distortion and cracking are concentrated at the narrower areas. The original and intended spring temper from hammering is retained.

As with the Geometric fibulae, the cast decorations at the two ends are connected by a large bar segment, which was part of the same casting, that has been hammered out and trimmed to form the main portion of the belt. No joins are present. The hammered segment tapers in width from 5.2 cm at the middle to 1.2 cm near the ends. The thickness is relatively uniform, ranging from 0.9 to 1.2 mm.

The tools and techniques used to produce the incised decoration are identical to those used on the Geometric fibulae (see, for example, 1986.655). The lines on the interior side are slightly less carefully drawn than those on the exterior. On the interior, occasional incomplete semicircles and fine hatched lines overshoot their boundaries. The front and back are otherwise very similar. The deepest lines run along the edges and appear to have been made even with the aid of a guide. The circular lines are also quite precise due to the use of a compass. All other lines show irregularities that indicate they were drawn freehand. Except for the larger lines at the edges, all the lines rise slightly above the bronze surface at their sides, indicating they were pressed and drawn into the metal with metal points, rather than cut out with an engraving tool. The deeper and wider edge lines show less of a burm at their sides. In those cases, metal may have been cut or scraped out of the trough, making the technique closer to an engraving process.

A tremolo pattern (a fine zigzag pattern made by rocking a curved chisel point back and forth over the surface) was used mostly for borders on this object. The tool would have been pushed forward across the surface perpendicular to the rocking motion to “walk” it forward, creating successive diagonal impressions. In some cases, when the curved tip was slightly concave at the center, the marks appeared as two distinct rows with a gap in the middle.


Henry Lie (submitted 2005)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Robert A. Kagan
Accession Year
1986
Object Number
1986.384
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The belt is a thin band, widest at its center and tapering toward cast terminals, which are in the form of two beads separated by two serrated cylinders (1). The front and back surfaces are completely covered by incised decoration. The decoration on both surfaces consists of a series of nine framed zones containing representations of animals and wheels. Incised decorative elements are repeated throughout, including concentric semicircles, herringbone patterns, rows of hooks, closely spaced parallel lines, and diamond chains.

While the zones on the front and back differ both in their arrangement and in the subjects represented, they were intended to fit together into one grand composition. The front features images from the world of human affairs: two sections with domesticated horses and companion water birds in the center and a four-spoked wheel (kuklos) on either side, all separated by zones containing vertical divisions. The sequence runs in an order forming a linear ring: a-b-c-d-e-d-c-b-a. The zones on the back have a different arrangement and contain creatures from the natural world—two pairs of lions and a pair of deer in the central portion, with a pair of fish at each end—also separated by vertically banded zones. Similar to the elemental divisions seen on the double-sided catchplates of Greek bronze incised fibulae, the belt juxtaposes the sphere of untamed nature on the back with the world as shaped by human intelligence on the front, making a statement about mankind’s place in a larger cosmic order (2). Moreover, the four representational zones on the front align with the vertically banded zones on the back. As a result, all the representational zones on the front and back merge together in an integrated whole. This structural integration is a visual diagram of the way similes are integrated into the narrative structure of the Iliad.

The belt’s symbolic meaning and its integrated double-sided decorative program can be associated with an Iliad tradition that may have existed in Thessaly c. 700 BCE. In terms of the decoration, this association is both structural and thematic. The pattern and number of framed zones on the front precisely matches a plot outline of the Iliad expressed in days, four before, and four after the night embassy to visit Achilles (3). The zones on the back containing pairs of lions, deer, and fish, all subjects of similes in the Iliad, fit into the ring composition of the front, if all vertically banded zones present on the front and back of the belt are ignored (4).

The alternation of the compositional structures on the front and back interweaves specific days of narrative action represented on the front with the framed animal similes on the back, all enclosed within the bounds of Okeanos, which is represented by the pairs of fish. This integration closely mirrors compositional techniques of epic poetry, in which similes from the natural world are integrated into the ring-composition of the narrative, outlined as a paratactic chronology, or time signature (5). The belt’s decorative syntax represents several key structural characteristics of epic poetry in a visual way, such as parataxis, similarity contrasted with antithesis, hysteron proteron, and ring composition (6). The unified schema of the incised decoration represents a worldview, or cosmography, of balanced opposites. In the design, culture is opposed to nature, society to wilderness, reason to instinct, and order to chaos.

Pairing of opposites is a fundamental feature of early Greek thought, expressed in both epic poetry and in art of the Geometric Period (7). A similar interest in balanced opposition is seen in the symbolic meanings assigned to waist belts in the Iliad and Odyssey (8). Similarities between descriptions of warriors’ belts in Homeric poetry and excavated Phrygian belts suggest that these belts inspired Ionian epic singers to weave them into their songs (9). In the epic poems, a man’s zoster (heroic warrior’s belt) symbolizes kingship, war prowess, guest-friendship, and military and ethnic affiliations. On the other hand, Homeric poetry invests a woman’s belt, or zone, with notions of domesticity, passivity, chastity, and purity, clearly distinguishing gender-appropriate ideals as contrasting polarities. These ideals persist on belted figures in Greek art of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE (10). Around the middle of the seventh century BCE, the Homeric ideal of the belted hero begins to be replaced by the cooperative ethos of the hoplite, as the bell-corslet supersedes the zoster, as seen by changes in the belts dedicated at Olympia (11). Significant numbers of belt dedications at Olympia dating from the second half of the ninth century to the middle of the seventh century BCE demonstrate the value of belts as votive dedications in early Greece (12).

NOTES:

1. The form of the belt resembles smaller armbands with incised decoration found in Boeotia and Thessaly; see M. Bennett, Belted Heroes and Bound Women: The Myth of the Homeric Warrior-King (Lanham, 1997) 14 nn.10-12.

2. Similar cosmological divisions are seen on other incised fibulae at Harvard, such as 1965.27, 1985.35, 1986.580, 1986.581, 1986.582, 1986.583, 1986.588, 1986.655, and perhaps 1986.589. See M. Bennett, “Engraved Plate Fibula” and “Engraved Bow Fibula,” in From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer, exh. cat., Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia; University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. S. Langdon (Columbia, MO, 1993) 78-80 and 208-10; Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 31-41. For Okeanos as the boundary of the mortal world in epic poetry, and on the shields of Achilles and Herakles, see Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 13-14 n. 7.

3. Ibid., 18; C. H. Whitman, Homer and the Homeric Tradition (Cambridge, MA, 1958) 257. Day divisions are fundamental for Homeric narrative structure; see Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 19 n. 23.

4. See Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 11-13 and 17-30.

5. Compare fibula 1986.655. For the coordination of simile and narrative in Geometric art, see R. Hampe, Die Gleichnisse Homers und die Bildkunst seiner Zeit (Tübingen, 1952) 33. Proof that visual artists integrated similes into narrative, parallel to what is observed in epic poetry, calls for an artifact with features very much like specific decorative features of the Harvard belt; see W. C. Scott, The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile (Leiden, 1974) 173; and H. Fränkel, Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy, transl. M. Hades and J. Willis (New York, 1973) 41.

6. For a discussion of these compositional structures, see W. G. Thalmann, Conventions of Form and Thought in Early Greek Epic Poetry (Baltimore, 1984) 1-32.

7. Thalmann 1984 (supra 6) 24. For the early Greek tendency to think in terms of paired opposites, see G. E. R. Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in Early Greek Thought (Cambridge, 1966).

8. Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 61-184.

9. Ibid., 43-51.

10. Ibid., 185-87; id., “The Belted Hero Figurine: New Evidence,” in Classical Archaeology towards the Third Millennium: Reflections and Perspectives. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Amsterdam, July 12-17, 1998, eds. R. F. Docter and E. M. Moormann, Allard Pierson Series 12 (Amsterdam, 1999) 68-70, pl. 5.c-d

11. Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 56-57. A painted Cretan statuette dated c. 670-660 BCE in the Cleveland Museum of Art, inv. no. 1998.172, represents a pre-hoplite, Homeric warrior wearing a zoster, breastplates, and a helmet, clearly distinguishing the belted hero from the hoplite wearing a bell-corslet. See M. Bennett, “A Daedalic Kriophoros,” in Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Boston, Aug. 23-26, 2003, eds. C. C. Mattusch, A. A. Donohue, and A. Brauer (Oxford, 2006) 531-34.

12. Bennett 1997 (supra 1) 51-57.


Michael Bennett

Publication History

Gisela Schneider-Herrmann, The Samnites of the Fourth Century BC as Depicted on Campanian Vases and in Other Sources, ed. Edward Herring, Institute of Classical Studies (London, 1986), p. 16, pl. 39.

Susan Langdon, ed., From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer, exh. cat., University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO, 1993), p. 161-163, no. 60, pl. 10.

Michael J. Bennett, "The Shape of Epic Time: Geometric Diagrams", Minerva (1996), Vol. 7, No. 5, 54-56, figs. 1-2.

Michael J. Bennett, Belted Heroes and Bound Women, Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group (Lanham, MD, 1997), p. 3-30, figs. 3-4, pls. 1-3.

Michael J. Bennett, "Cosmic Diagrams: Incised Geometric Personal Ornaments at Harvard", Teaching with Objects: The Curatorial Legacy of David Gordon Mitten, ed. Amy Brauer, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2010), pp. 148-59, fig. 4-5

Exhibition History

From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri, Columbia, 10/09/1993 - 12/05/1993

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/02/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu