The British Museum has an unsurpassed collection of precious metal treasures which were discovered or collected during past centuries, either in the British Isles or around the world. Some of the most spectacular of these are illustrated in the book Gold by Susan La Niece, published by the Museum in 2009.
Armlet from the Oxus Treasure; © The Trustees of the British Museum
LBMA’s Wonders of Gold online exhibition also includes descriptions of some of these wonderful objects, one of our favourites being the Oxus Chariot shown here. It was discovered near the Oxus River in what is now Tajikistan around 1880, along with nearly 200 other, mostly small objects, almost all of which were acquired by the British Museum.
The Chariot, which is small enough to fit on the palm of a hand, was created around the fourth or fifth century BCE in the Achaemenid (or Persian) empire. It can be seen in a major new exhibition at the British Museum, Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece, which runs from 4 May until 13 August 2023, and is supported by BullionVault.
The Oxus Chariot; © The Trustees of the British Museum
The exhibition focuses on the production and importance of precious metal works of art in Persia from the fifth century BCE onwards and how the ancient Greeks, who initially regarded such works as decadent, eventually began to produce similar objects in many parts of the Hellenistic world. One of the most outstanding examples of this was discovered as recently as 1949 by three brothers digging up clay for industrial use in the small Bulgarian town of Panagyurishte. The treasure, named after the town, consists of nine vessels, all related to wine and made of pure gold, with a total weight of 6kg. These are thought to have been produced in the fourth century BCE in what was then the Hellenistic kingdom of Thrace. Thanks to its co-operation with the National Museum of History in Sofia, Bulgaria, the British Museum has managed to include this unique collection in the exhibition.
Among the many other gold items being exhibited, two stand-outs are the oak-leaf wreath from the Dardanelles region which forms the frontispiece of La Niece’s book; and another beautiful object from the Oxus treasure – an armlet with Griffin-head terminals [shown above].
You can find out more about the exhibition here: Britishmuseum.org/luxuryandpower
Oak-leaf Wreath with Bee and Cicadas; © The Trustees of the British Museum