Ægean Metal Work

By: Dr. Eleanor E. Rambo

Originally Published in 1920

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The Ægeans were cunning workers in metal. Especially the lords of Mycenae, “rich in gold,” gathered about them fine specimens of gold and bronze work. Of these many treasures were found buried in tombs which Schliemann uncovered in his search for traces of the Homeric heroes. Reproductions of some of these famous Mycenaean treasures are displayed in cases I and II.


The bronze swords and daggers with ornate gold (No. 4) and inset hilts (No. 5), and blades inlaid with gold and silver justify the statement that these craftsmen could not only carve, but could also paint in metal. The dagger (No. 10) showing cats stalking ducks in a thicket of papyrus is especially effective. Scarcely less good is the dagger (No. 12) bearing on its blade on one side a lion hunt and on the other a lion stalking a herd of deer. The swords are long of blade, very long as compared with swords used in classical Greek times. The length is necessitated by the fact that a bronze sword must be used for thrusting like a spear, for the blade will not take a cutting edge. The sword blades, like the dagger blades, are ornamented, generally engraved, some with geometric patterns (No. 3), others with figures of animals, wild asses (No. 2), or griffins (No. 8). This last example is especially interesting as showing the condition in which the blades were found; the other reproductions are also restorations, showing how the weapons looked when new.

A dagger blade from Crete now owned by a private collector in Boston, is reproduced in No. 13. The original was found in the Dictaean Cave, the legendary birthplace of Zeus. The sides are engraved respectively with a boar hunt and a bull fight.


Other sorts of gold treasure are reproduced in case II. Gold masks (No. 1) were laid over the faces of the dead, and diadems (No. 2) on their heads. In the tombs were found many thin plaques of gold incised with beautiful linear designs of stylized animal and plant forms and spirals. The spiral is an especial development of Ægean art and is its chief legacy to the repertory of design. These small plaques may have been used as ornament on the clothing of the dead, or, as Hall in his Ægean Archeology suggests, as ornaments tacked on the outside of the long vanished wooden coffins in which the dead were laid.

The most important objects in the gold treasure of Mycenae are the cups. These are of great beauty both in shape and decoration. The characteristic shape is well represented in No. 10, a broad bowl on a high foot. The decoration is either linear (No. 10) or naturalistic (No. 6), and may be hammered (No. 6) or inlaid (No. 12). Probably the most famous of the Mycenaean cups is reproduced in No. 4, a cup on a high foot. It has two handles, on each of which is perched a dove. In publishing this cup, Schliemann, obsessed with the idea of finding traces of definite Homeric heroes in the tombs discovered at Mycenae, pressed hard on the Homeric analogy of Nestor’s cup, but that must have been larger than this, and it had four handles, with two doves on each handle. Notwithstanding, the cup will probably always be known as Nestor’s cup.

The popularity of such metal cups and vases was so great that they were imitated in cut stone covered with gilt paint. Reproductions of some of these imitative vases are displayed in case IV in alcove C.

Cite This Article

Rambo, Dr. Eleanor E.. "Ægean Metal Work." The Museum Journal XI, no. 2 (June, 1920): 41-42. Accessed June 20, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/810/

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