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History of Syria

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 Syrian Folk jewelry 

 

Jewellery worn on the top of the head

The jewellery of the region, as in the rest of the Islamic world, has a marked emphasis on the head. This is not only governed by aesthetic criteria but also has to do with averting the evil eye from the face of the wearer.

 

Head jewellery

These are round discs worn sewn onto a fez or head-cloth. This form of jewellery is found among the Kurds. According to Berliner and Borchardt, round discs were worn on the headdresses of boys and women. For women's headdresses round, chased plates of sheet-metal, coins or almond-shaped pendants with "eyes" were sewn onto the discs with chains. Boys' jewellery of this type has no pendants. The decoration was either chased in pousse-repousse or it consisted of very coarse filigree wire and glass stones applied in box settings. One fragment, which can be dated with certainty to the eighteenth century, lias floral ornaments and a representation of an eagle in an oval medallion. In terms of quality it can" stand comparison with the best pieces of chased Ottoman work of the period. The 

skullcap-shaped chased metal tops were probably also boys' jewellery and were meant to be sewn onto a fez. They too are noteworthy For their extraordinarily meticu­lous chasing and should with certainty be dated to the nine­teenth century. I know of only one headdress disc with nielloed decoration.

The head-discs of the Druzes are finished with excep­tionally fine openwork filigree. They were only worn by women and, as our example shows, were sewn onto their fezes. A row of coins could be attached at the front. On most Druze head-discs one or two rows of glass stones are arranged in circles around a central dome.

The most unusual form of head jewellery is worn by peasant women in the Syrian and Jordanian Hauran, and by bedouin women in the adjoining regions east of Damascus. It consists of heavy articulated chains, which start at the forehead, pass around the whole head and are joined over the head again by another chain. Two further chains are attached to them, hanging down from the temples. At the back a long chain covers the plait. A string of glass beads with silver or gold coins can be attached to ae- the chain around the head. The head chain also has coins, or round metal discs in imitation of coins. The parts along the temples and the pendant on the plait at the back are finished off with larger coins at the end. The coins preferred for this purpose are Maria Theresa dollars. This sort of head jewellery is made in Damascus as bridal jewellery. An example in our collection bears a stamp with the reference Sham (i.e. Damascus) and a workshop stamp ofYosefAbu Adal. As a substitute for this sort of head jewellery poor bedouins sewed gilded copper coins - or imitation coins -onto cotton ribbons.

 

   Bedouins and peasants all over Syria wear chains or articulated diadems with one to five rows of chains .These have fringes made of discs, crescents or almond leaves, and are held in triangular ends. They are either attached to the head-cloths by hooks or are sewn onto them. The ends (and the subdividing middle part, if there is one) are set with blue and red glass beads. A combination of blue and red beads is generally preferred for the headdress. Chains and articulated diadems very similar to these are found in the jewellery of the Turcomans, who call them sunsule. In Syria they are occasionally referred to as sinsal. Most prob­ably they are derived from Turcoman jewellery. Some other very similar types of jewellery should also be noted in this connection, terminating at one end with an acute triangle with a hook, and at the other with a more obtuse triangle with a ring. They were worn in pairs, attached at the temples and joined at the back of the headdress.

A combination of frontal and head jewellery is repre­sented by triangles terminating in hooks and hangings with slender chains and almond-shaped pendants attached about half way up. This type of jewellery is hung on the side of the head-cloth, and the narrow chains are brought to the middle of the forehead.

One very unusual form of combined jewellery is said to originate among the bedouins near Deir ez-Zor. It consists of triangular temple pendants, from which longer plait hangings emerge at the side, and are linked by a chain, creating the effect of a necklace. To my knowledge this type of combined jewellery is only worn elsewhere by the Uzbek Khivas.

 

Another type of temple pendant consists of triangles attached to chains or cotton ribbons mounted with chased silver applique. Older gilded work'with filigree and glass stones have pendant chains with coins attached to the trian­gles in such a way that they end at a slant and so emphasize the outline of the face. The most striking effect, however is created by silver plates from which nine chains consisting of chased elements hang in staggered formation. These are extremely rare. They were probably made in Aleppo and recall temple pendants in Egyptian paintings of the Middle Kingdom.

 

On the other hand the temple pendants in the shape of a qabba (tomb) are clearly in the Islamic tradition. A hexagonal silver fire-gilded plate with a chased decoration of cypresses, most probably is also a temple pendant and not, as its later mount might suggest, the centre of a necklace.

Tear-shaped elements set with glass beads, and round and crescent- shaped pendants with spherical attachments were worn as amulets in the middle of the lore head. They are generally gilded and particularly well- crafted. Some pieces were made of gold with filigree and granulated orna­ments. The centre is always marked by a blue turquoise of blue glass paste called the "eye" or "counter-eye". They were associated with the idea of the evil eye.

The concept of the evil eye goes back to ancient times and originated in the Mediterranean region. It is wide-spread throughout Islamic world.Believer in the evil eye maintain that some people are able to cause sickness,misfortune or damage to property merder by an envious or resentful look .Much of Islamic amulet lore is based on the need to use all possible means to protect oneself against this evil eye.

    

Earrings and False Earrings

 

The Touma Collection contains only a few earrings. The stirrup earrings, which are almost circular in shape, with balls and tear-shapes in the lower part, terminating in coin pendants, are part of a general Islamic tradition. Other forms, which are reminiscent of padlocks, go back even further, to Byzantine prototypes. They have a movable clip attached by a cotter to the cast part, and are always gilded and set with blue stones, which are sometimes framed with red stones. On earlier pieces these are turquoises and coral, but in more recent examples glass beads are substituted. Hemispherical, partly gilded earrings with fine filigree are a type found among the Kurds of northern Syria, and are very uniform in style. They generally have almond-shaped pendants and may be set with glass stones or turquoises. A similar craft tradition, although with extremely fine work­manship, is represented by a pair of earrings supposed to have been made at Deir ez-Zor about forty years ago. As Berliner and 13orchardt noted, this similarity may be due to the fact that filigree work for the Kurds was made by Jews. The same is said of the silversmiths in Deir ez-Zor. The most unusual form of earring is represented by a pair with slender, raised cups, made of two chased parts joined together, with a very curved clip. In the middle of the cup is a vertical rhombus, which at first sight seems to be filigreed, but in fact is made of sheet metal decorated with chiselled holes. The centre of the rhombus holds a blue stone. This pair should be dated to the nineteenth century, possibly even to the eighteenth.

 

Neck and Pectoral Jewellery

Close-fitting, twisted neck-rings with S-hook clasps and five to seven chain pendants with crescents or coins at the ends are common only among the bedouins of the Jezira. They have disappeared from Syrian folk jewellery today. One particularly interesting example with a simple cast cross as the middle pendant, was worn by women of the Chaldaean (Christian) bedouin women, who had migrated to Syria from Iraq in the last century. Closely related to the form of these neck-rings are metal neck bands made of interlaced silver rings with a large clasp plate at the front, held together by a cotter-fastener. They also have chain pendants. The middle chain pendant in our example, which was collected by Euting in Syria in the 1860s, is shaped like a Koran table.

They represent the most common form of Syrian neck jewellery and were worn by city-dwellers, peasants and nomads alike. Individual elements, suggesting the larvae of beetles or butterflies, are chased in matrices. Rings, coins, crescent- or almond-shaped pendants are attached to these elements by means of eyes. The centre is always empha­sized. The individual parts were purchased directly from the silversmith by the women, who themselves sewed them onto the velvet or cotton bands. The parts were made in both Damascus and Aleppo. Pieces made for the various population groups mentioned above can be distinguished by the quality of execution or the type of material used.

'there are chased parts in gold, silver gilt and silver of various qualities. Since the 1930s close- fitting neck bands of this type for bedouin women have sometimes been replaced by bead embroideries.

 

Neck jewellery elements consisting of two round discs,each mounted with symmetrically placed crescents and usually gilded with filigree, are derived, I believe, from the Ottoman craft tradition and are influenced by forms of European costume jewellery. They too have chains with coin pendants, or, in simpler versions, with round plates of sheet silver used as imitation coins. Here again there is a striking recurrence of the numbers three and five (and of no others). These silver parts are worn attached to cotton or silk cords around the neck. Close-fitting chains with trian-gular and rectangular elements with coarse filigree are in the same craft tradition. Their central piece was in the shape of a crescent moon pointing upwards and surmounted by a triangle. Chains with blossom- shaped elements and triangular pendants at the ends hang from

these neck bands. : Longer neck chains, which may be worn over the breast, are characterized by a wide variety of different chains. These range from large interlaced rings to chain

links suggesting clematis blossom. Pieces of jewellery of this type always have the function o( amulets. They end in triangular pendants with blue glass beads or stones. Attached to the sides may be a large number of individual elements, each of which is acquired in a particular situation in life and is supposed to protect the woman wearing it from specific dangers.

 

Necklaces consisting of three to five rows, articulated with rectangles and terminating in triangles, are in the tradi- tion of European Baroque jewellery. Their only oriental features are details such as the crescents and holed-disc amulets hanging from the bottom row, the preference for blue glass beads or highly stylized hand pendants on the chains. These complex forms of pectoral jewellery are  worn by women in the cities as well as in the villages. Among bedouin women necklaces with coins, usually consisting of a single row, predominate. Glass beads may be strung between the coins.

 

  More ambitious craftsmanship than is usually found in Syrian neck jewellery can be seen in articulated chains with fastened cast openwork balls, which are occasionally silvered. They were produced during the last century 'in Aleppo.

Typical examples of bedouin jewellery are the necklaces with one or two rows strung with glass beads, amber beads or coral. They are also very popular in Jordan. The amber was either imported from the Caspian Sea or found at the Yarmuk, while most of the coral probably comes from the Indian Ocean. Besides having an ornamental function, neck jewellery in particular always possesses specific properties as an amulet. The significance of colours, shapes and the connection between number symbolism and amulets will be- discussed below. Here I shall only mention one particu­larly striking example of this type of pectoral jewellery amulets. These are pectorals worn by peasant women in Sarakeb in northern Syria, and have three rows and end in triangles. In the middle is a large round disc with chased ornaments. The centre of this disc is formed of an unusually large, luminous blue glass bead, which is surrounded by a garland of small glass beads in the chased bosses.

 

Arm and Ankle Jewellery

It may seem surprising to deal with jewellery worn on arms and ankles in a single section, but this is justified because those wearing Syrian folk jewellery have never conformed to the systematic approach of ethnologists or jewellery collectors. In principle, anything that can be worn on the arms can also be worn around the ankles. Indications are given by the diameter of the individual pieces. This too is relative, since what fits a strong wrist can also fit a slender ankle.

Strong armlets cast in copper, bronze or silver with inte­gral relief decoration, ranging from bosses (three to five in number) to diagonal fluting, are worn by bedouins all over the region extending from Negev, through Palestine, Jordan and Syria, as far as Iraq. Their shape can be traced ;;;back to the Ayubid period. One of the production centres was Damascus. The stamp on a silver armlet in the Touma Collection gives the silver content as 80 per cent and names the place of production as Sham (i.e. Damascus), while the silversmith is identified by his stamp as Fara. The most important consideration for purchasing these armlets was probably capital investment, so their weight and silver content were of greatest importance.

All women wore armlets consisting of two silver rods, either angular or round, twisted together and terminating either in cast polygons (usually with fourteen sides) or forged silver triangles. A blue glass bead is applied at one of the triangular ends, and a red one at the other. The models for this type of armlet, which is called "the twisted" most probably came from the Egyptian jewellery tradition, although the armlets are said to have been made in Damascus. These armlets normally have a very high silver content, and the women usually bought them by weight.  The anklets are similar in form. The collection includes hollow bangles with a round cross-section and polygonal 7 ends. Particularly interesting is an example with unusually (, fine niello work. The basic shape of this type of anklet is found throughout almost all the Arabian Peninsula, among the Muslim population of the East African coast, in the Islamic part of Ethiopia, as well as among the Tuareg of the central Sahara. An interesting variant is a heavy gilded

- anklet, which looks as if it is twisted but is in fact cast in this shape

A closed anklet with a cotter fastener and a safety chain, is moreclosely related to Indian jewllery , while a gilded, anklet cast with snake heads at the ends should be dated to the early Ottoman, if not to the Timurid period.

Narrow, flat armbands with hinges, elaborately concealed cotter fasteners, and niello decoration originate in the Caucasian or East Anatolian jewellery tradition. They were generally made by Armenian or Circassian silversmiths. In the niello decoration simple rinceaux and flower motifs predominate, and occasionally the areas without niello decoration have gilded flowers cut from sheet metal attached with rivets. The cotters may have rings attached to prevent them from being lost. The eye of the cotter often contains a turquoise. One example acquired in Syria has a stamp indicating that it was made in the eastern Anatolian city of Van, but armlets of tills type are also supposed to have been made in Aleppo and Damascus, and at Kerak in Jordan. The edges of earlier armlets are formed of silver beading, chased in matrices and soldered to the piece. A very recent variant (probably not produced before the 1950s) consists of very narrow armlets with simple hook fasteners and niello decoration.

Cuffs are also common, following the same principles of production but in a broader version. The earliest examples are still in the classic Ottoman tradition and are character­ized by a meticulous filigree application in the centre of rectangular fields. The corners of the fields are then marked by small turquoises. Armlets of tints type are supposed to have been made in Damascus. A variant produced in Deir ez-Zor for bedouins has coarser workmanship but follows the same principles of design. At first sight the most striking difference is that the individual fields of ornament are framed by alternating blue and red beads. Nielloed cuffs of the same basic form were made in Deir ez-Zor in recent times. Their decoration is divided in two by a hinge and cotter. The favourite designs are simple blossom motifs or naive representations of mosques flanked by trees. The ridges concealing the cotter fastening bear workshop stamps, such as that of Abdel Jaffer el Muslawi, one of the three silversmiths in Deir ez-Zor still producing nielloed armlets. Another type of cuff Grafted at Deir ez-Zor lias no hinge, only a cotter fastener, which is passed through inter­locking eyes. The decoration of these armlets consists of applied rows of beads and undecorated sheet silver cut in hexagonal or polygonal shapes. This type is supposed to have been produced in Deir ez-Zor between 1880 and 1930 for bedouins of the surrounding countryside.

Armlets with hinge-and-cotter fastenings and a trian­gular cross-section come from Deir ez-Zor as well. The body of the armlet is wrought into shape. Triangles with three cast hemispheres are applied and the armlet is closed with a clasp plate. The joints are concealed with strips of beaded wire. The rhomboid cover of cotter is subdivided by five glass beads arranged in a cross shape.

More ambitious craftsmanship is evident in armlets of a similar basic shape with hemispheres decorated with either applied filigree or false granulation. In tins case the rectangular cotter fastening is embellished with blossoms. This can also be made of false granulation, with only a single turquoise in its centre or blossoms made of turquoises in box settings. Narrow armlets with cotter fastenings and hinges, sometimes only sparsely decorated, seem to be worn by all sections of the population. They have irregular sheet-metal applique cut-outs and blossoms, which may be dated with chiselled openwork, or else have simple filigree of gallery wire on a metal ground, or openwork filigree. The form of fastening of the more complex versions, which presumably were worn in cities, follow European models probably adopted from Ottoman Turkey.

Rings can be worn on all fingers of both hands (but not on die thumbs). However, nothing distinguishes them from rings worn in the neighbouring regions. There are examples with glass stones or semi- precious stones, semi­precious stones in rectangular or round box settings, coin rings, cast rings with inscriptions and, since the 1930s, also with niello decoration. They are not discussed here.

 

Belt Fasteners and Belts

Under Ottoman and Kurdish influence the use of belts became more widespread in Syria than in other parts of the Arab world. The most impressive belt fasteners consist of two parts; large botehs or almonds joined together at their blunt ends. The hooks are concealed by a boss. Inside the boteh is a smaller botch which has red glass beads in box setting. One example has surface decoration in repousse technique, the other in false granulation. These fasteners were used for Kurdish men's belts made of leather. In a much smaller form, with chain hangings and crescents or coins at the ends, such hoteh-shnped fasteners are found on belts worn by peasants, nomads and town-dwellers throughout Syria. Examples from Deir ez-Zor can be recognized by their very plain wire filigree. Damascene and Aleppine works are characterized by a very small- scale, finely worked open filigree. A coloured foil, usually red, is applied to the ground metal. Variants of these urban clasps with fine filigree ornaments are found in various shapes:

hour-glasses, trefoils reminiscent of diadems, and extended oblongs. The cover of the fastening hook may be topped by a representation of a bird. Two types of birds occur: one has a shape and pose suggesting a dove, the other also resembles a dove except that it has a crest - it may be intended to be a hoopoe. Doves bring haraka, that is, divine blessings, power and luck. Today doves are still released at weddings. In the Islamic tradition the hoopoe is the messenger of love between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The fasteners described here form part of women's belts and are mounted on strips of velvet. Other decora­tions on these belts consist of S-shaped filigree applications, which are held onto the belt with clips. Generally these belts were part of the costume of urban women. Most examples in the collection must have been produced between the first half of the nineteenth century and around 1930. Belts of this type, which were probably always very expensive, were, however, also worn by well-to-do peasant and bedouin women.

Belt fasteners consisting of two round discs linked by a hook, which may be covered with a small boss, also origi­nate in the Kurdish jewellery tradition. Older pieces of this type have integral cast relief decoration with radiating segmentation of the discs and emphasis on the centre. They can certainly be dated to the first half of the nineteenth century. Other discs made of repousse or pousse-repousse silver, or occasionally silver- gilt, are stylistically very similar to the Kurdish headdresses described at the begin­ning of this chapter. They must have been produced from the mid-nineteenth century until the 1920s or 1930s.

Tripartite belt fasteners, with a basic shape recalling diadems, made of fire-gilded silver with openwork decora­tion, filigreed bosses and coloured glass stones, were produced in Deir ez-Zor during the last century. Although this type of fastener is supposed originally to have been worn by Chaldaean Christians who migrated from Iraq, the bedouins of eastern Syria seem to have adopted it. Its general design is in the tradition of Byzantine jewellery.

Quite often filigreed fasteners are found in connection with belts composed of broad articulated chains of a type for which there is evidence among the Jordanian and southern Syrian bedouins. The coin pendants attached to these belts are another indication that they were worn by the bedouins.

A leather belt with octagonal silver plate in the middle, applique chased elements with obtuse angles and glass stones at the ends, all fire- gilded, was probably used by bedouin in eastern Syria as a circumcision belt for boys about twelve years of age.

Belts of very fine woven silver wire with cast fasteners and cast reinforcements around the eyes are derived from the Ottoman jewellery tradition. The relief decoration on the fastener has features typical of the Ottoman period. Belts of this type were only worn in the cities. Our piece can be dated to approximately 1880 and is supposed to have been made in Damascus, where the production of these belts continued until very recent times.

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