Greek gold on display

ONE OF the world's greatest exhibitions of ancient gold work is due to open in London today.

Three hundred items of 2,300-year-old Greek gold jewellery - much of it from the Hermitage, in St Petersburg, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York - will be on display at the British Museum for the next four months. It is the first time that such an array of classical gold has been seen in Britain .

The exhibition illustrates the high level of craftsmanship throughout the Greek Mediterranean, but also reveals that the classical world's gold capital was, for a time, not in the Greek heartland but 600 miles north-east in what is now Ukraine.

The most spectacular items were made in or around the Greek city of Pantikapaion and the Crimea, for extremely wealthy (and at least partly Hellenised) Barbarian chiefs living near by.

Most of these masterpieces were probably paid for out of the ill-gotten gains of the slave trade. Pantikapaion, on the north coast of the Black Sea, was an important port for the export of slaves.

Barbarian tribes - mostly Scythians, from Ukraine - were a major source of slaves for the classical world. Indeed, Scythian slaves were purchased by democratic Athens for its state police to enforce its democracy.

Pantikapaion, on the very edge of the Greek world, was also favoured as a haven for Greek draft-dodgers. During the Peloponnesian Wars of the fifth century BC, Athens's chattering classes used to send their sons to the Crimea to avoid the fighting.

The major period for gold working in and around Pantikapaion appears to have been 350-250BC. Some of the Crimean gold jewellery also gives a rare insight into the life of the Barbarians (through images of warfare and horse-riding) but not of the Crimean Greeks.

Greek gold exhibition; British Museum; admission pounds 3.50 (concessions pounds 2).

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