Diameter: 77.800 mm (large
Diameter: 77.800 mm (large medallion)
Length: 720.000 mm (chain)
Weight: 643.200 g
Gift of Mrs Burns
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Gold breast chain
Early Byzantine, about AD
Found in Egypt
A body ornament composed of two medallions and four openwork chains
This body chain is the largest piece of jewellery to have survived from the Early Byzantine period. It was part of a treasure of thirty-six objects said to have been found either near Assiut or at ancient Antinoë on the east bank of the Nile. J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), the American millionaire philanthropist, purchased ten objects from the treasure. His sister subsequently gave six of them, including this chain, to The British Museum.
The tradition of wearing body chains goes back to the Hellenistic period. Contemporary terracotta figurines show the large medallions centred on the breast and middle of the back. The longer of the two chains fit over the shoulders and the two shorter ran beneath the arms.
The large medallions are composed of seven smaller openwork discs. The pierced designs in the form of quatrefoils and octofoils are repeated on the chain of ninety-two small discs. The style of openwork on the body chain discs can be compared to other objects made in the early seventh century AD. This dating is supported by gold coins of the emperor Maurice Tiberius (AD 582-602) that were mounted on a gold pectoral (ornament worn on the chest) from the treasure.
J.P.C. Kent and K.S. Painter (eds.), Wealth of the Roman world, AD (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)
D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
K. Brown, The gold breast chain from the (Mainz, 1984)