mercoledì 6 dicembre 2023

Treasures at the National Archaeological Museum of Aquileia

The city of amber

Paolo Mastazza - 18/03/2022
The large quantity and variety of Roman amber finds found in Aquileia has been known for some time. The National Archaeological Museum of Aquileia has an extraordinary collection of them. Among the objects of particular value are undoubtedly the rings that have the particularity of being carved in a single amber pebble.
The collection of Aquileia ambers was born around an original nucleus of pieces that belonged to the Austrian industrialist Eugen Ritter von Záhony who was also one of the founding members of the museum, and has gradually been enriched with numerous artifacts over the years. Today it boasts over 150 rings made of the precious material.
Other collections are now kept at the Civic Museums of Udine and at the Civic Museums of History and Art of Trieste.
The fortunate position of Aquileia, terminal of two of the main routes of the numerous "Amber roads" that crossed Europe - the western one from the North Sea and the easternmost one from the Sea of ​​Gdansk on the Baltic Sea - had allowed the development of a resin processing center, a very expensive material at the time.
Aquileia was teeming with shops where amber was processed and a great variety of objects for different uses were made. The numerous rough and semi-finished amber pebbles that were found in the excavation areas testify to this.

According to the mythological tradition, the tears shed by the Eliadi water lilies were nothing more than the drops of amber. Amber, widespread in the Mediterranean since the Neolithic period, is not a hard stone, but a fossil resin of conifers that lived in prehistoric times in Fennoscandia, a region that corresponds to the current Scandinavian peninsula.

It was during the excavation operations started between the mid-nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century in the various Aquileian necropolises that numerous amber objects were found.

Among the rings kept in the Museum, one in particular has a very high relief decoration on the bezel, almost a full-relief representation. It is a jewel that most likely belonged to a woman. The decorations of the bezel could have been the most varied, but in many cases, as in this one, they feature women's bustiers that in the extreme miniaturization replicate with extreme care and attention to detail the characters of the face and the fashionable hairstyle between the middle of the 1st century B.C. and the middle of the second century. A.D . From the great refinement with which the details were executed, it is clear that the ring belonged to a very wealthy woman.
Also of rare value is the very refined amber box intended to contain make-up and beauty ointments with sliding lid, kept at the museum. On the surface decorated in high relief we recognize the head of the god Dionysus or a bacchant, adorned with vine shoots and bunches of grapes.


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