Gold and Silver in Ancient Civilizations

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Since ancient times, gold and silver have always been considered precious metals. To this day, gold and silver still hold a niche as two very precious metals that are commonly used to create objects of beauty and personal adornment. The use of gold and silver dates back to the early periods of recorded history, with many civilizations sporting personal adornments made from such metals even prior to the dawn of recorded history. The earliest examples of gold and silver used as a means to beautify the self and the objects made for daily use can be found in the Assyrian and Mesopotamian civilizations, where the use of gold is very common. Due to the fact that gold does not tarnish, the ancients considered gold not only a precious metal, but a mysterious one that is replete with magical properties. This idea of gold possessing properties that are well beyond the capacity for human reason to comprehend would later be carried on into the Age of Enlightenment, as it became the seeming ‘monarch’ of all metals.

While the Mesopotamians and Assyrians used gold to create objects for daily use, they also incorporated gold and its undeniable beauty into the creation of materials that were expressly sacred in use. Today, whatever remnants of items created by these ancient civilizations usually come in the form of ritual cups, daggers, and personal jewelry believed to be donned by priests of the time for special ceremonies. This express use of gold as a metal reserved for only the most sacred of items would be carried on to further civilizations that followed in the Mesopotamian and Assyrian footsteps – the most famous being that of Ancient Egypt.

No other civilization other than Ancient Egypt is as notorious for its use of gold and silver in its objets-d’art. Along with its sister civilization in Sumeria, Egypt achieved a very fine reputation for being masters in the skillful working of gold and silver as is evidenced by their funereal masks, gilded furniture, and dazzling jewelry replete with precious and semi-precious stones. To the ancient Egyptians, gold and silver were considered the perfect metal to honor their god Ra or Amun-Ra and goddess Bast or Bastet and being sun-and-moon worshippers, the colors of gold and silver were then given mystical properties representing some of their gods. Along with their metalworking mastery, the Egyptians were also famed for creating wonderful examples of silver jewelry and bric-a-brac, usually in the form of rings, earrings, and amulets. Both gold and silver held a place in their ancient superstitions and beliefs as metals that could confer protection unto the wearer, and, accompanied by certain stones such as jet, amber, or turquoise, the donning of such jewelry was said to ward off evil spirits so much so in fact that such jewelry was often incorporated into the wrappings of mummies to help guide it through the Underworld. It is due to this mystical belief in these metals’ properties that many examples of Egyptian metallurgical workmanship and painstaking craft can still be seen in tiny amulets, pendants and accessories that are inlaid with precious gems or that are tooled in extremely delicate ways. The most wonderful examples of Egyptian metalworking can be found in the jewelry worn by their royalty – a feat of metalworking that was the pinnacle of perfection for their time and would remain unrivalled for many centuries, even long before the fall of their empire. Ancient Egypt’s use of gold and silver wasn’t only something that they cherished in life; it was also something they did to honor their dead, making these metals not only precious commodities, but a part of a deeper and more meaningful culture of art, faith and refinement that can only be marveled at today.

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