Myrtle wreath, c. 330 BCE, Gold
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
Before we leave the late classical period to move to the Hellenistic period proper, I wanted to visit one last artefact, and perhaps one of my favourites from the ancient world – this gorgeous gold-sheet myrtle wreath, found in the antechamber to the tomb of Philip II of Macedon in Vergina, Greece. Thought to have belonged to Meda of Odessus (d. 336 BCE), Philip's fifth (or sixth – the order is contested) wife, it is a stunning example of late classical/early Hellenistic craftsmanship. Myrtle blossoms – a symbol of Aphrodite, goddess of love, in the ancient world – and leaves are formed from hammered sheets of gold, embossed and incised with details, and then attached to the crown itself with gold wire. It forms the counterpart to an equally famous gold oak wreath found at Vergina, thought perhaps to have been Philip's own: just as the myrtle was associated with Aphrodite, the oak was the symbol of Zeus, king of the gods, and thus a particularly appropriate match for the king of Macedon. Whichever of the royal queens of the Macedonian house this myrtle wreath was created to commemorate, its lifelike appearance and detailed treatment is a real testament to the achievement of Macedonian goldsmiths and jewellers.