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People’s desire to decorate themselves comes from our natural aspiration to stand out among other people. Ornaments also serve as signifiers of social status, the bravery of a soldier and the success of a hunter. Ornaments also include amulets, which are supposed to ward off various evil influences, and talismans, which are supposed to bring happiness and success.

Already from the Stone Age, more than four thousand years ago, parts of neck ornaments – charms – have been found. They were usually pierced pieces of amber, stones and animal teeth for hanging. Only with the first centuries AD, when metal culture began to develop, did the necessary prerequisites for the creation of magnificent forms of jewelry appeared.

The materials for making jewelry were originally bronze, silver and amber. Beginning in the second century, the graves are rich in bronze ornaments of various kinds. Craftsmen of that time already knew the techniques of bronze casting. The ornament, if it could not be produced during casting, was engraved and struck. Although at this time each Baltic tribe had its own peculiarities of the type and character of ornaments, all tribes still had many common traditions of form and style. Therefore, the entire Baltic territory up to the Vistula river can be considered a single region of Baltic decorative forms.

The main types of jewelry in the Early Iron Age, covering the first four centuries AD, were neck jewelry, bracelets, jewelry pins, and brooches to fasten clothing. In Courland, neck ornaments were relatively massive rings with cone-shaped ends, horn-shaped ends, as well as with a wrap and a loop and braid at the ends. Glass and amber beads were also a popular neck ornament. Different types of hoop and round brooches were used to fasten the dress. There were also several types of jewelry needles – needles with round heads, with profiled heads and with wheel heads. Bracelets were also different, both massive with a round or hexagonal cross-section, and also with a triangular cross-section. Ribbon-like bracelets with tapered ends were very common. Fingers were decorated with rings.

The economic basis of the culture of that time was agriculture. The metal required for forging the ornaments was not found here, so it had to be imported. Along with the metal, the culture of other regions as well as ideas for the forms of jewelry were also acquired. At that time, the dominant cultural factor in Europe was the Roman Empire. In the Roman provinces along the Rhine, Danube and Black Sea, there was a lively metal industry, which largely supplied the Northern nations with its products. Amber from the sea coast, which was in great demand in Rome, played an important role in commercial relations at that time. Comparing some typical ornaments made in the Roman provinces with ornaments from the early Iron Age of Courland, similar ornament motifs, composition and techniques can be found.

The next period of development of our material culture, the so-called Middle Iron Age (400 – 800), partly derived the forms of ornaments from the forms of previous centuries, further developing the style traditions contained there. During this time, the large movements of Germanic and other peoples in Central and Southern Europe led to the disintegration of the Roman state and severing of commercial ties with the former cultural centers. Cultural connections shifted more from the southern direction to the western (Scandinavian) and southeastern (Gothic culture) direction. During this time, more and more silver was used for making jewelry. Less often, but gold also appeared. The jewelry style was determined by an increased desire for luxury, which was expressed in the weight and size of jewelry.

This period was characterized by deposits of silver jewelry. However, it was not always possible to forge jewelry in massive, expensive silver, so a new popular method of adorning jewelry appeared – silver plating. The surface of the heads of bronze brooches and ornamental needles was covered with soldered thin silver plates with an incised ornament, in this way partially creating the impression of silver ornaments. They tried to enliven the decorative areas by heavy ornaments in shiny metal with ornamentation techniques. The surface of the objects was divided into relatively sharp triangular and rhombic facets, achieving strong contrasts of shadows and light areas. The surface of the objects was decorated with relief-shaped ornaments in the so-called oblique carving technique. Silver-plated ornaments, for which ornamentation in relief is difficult to apply, were sometimes inlaid with blue glasses.

New characteristic forms of jewelry were jewelry needles with triangular heads, cross needles, various types of brooches, neck rings with elongated pointed ends and those with saddle and tassel ends. Of the cuffs, cuffs with furrowed ends, as well as cuffs with a high middle facet, were distinctive. In the second half of the era, a woman’s head ornament appeared for the first time – a crown made of strung rows of bronze coils, divided into sections with bronze rod-like intermediate members. Belts, which had received very little attention in the previous period, were now very ornate with neatly designed buckles and various types of belt straps with bronze inlays. At the end of the era, horseshoe brooches also appeared for the first time, which later became the dominant form of brooch, gradually eradicating other types of brooches. Also, beast heads were used for the first time. But this element borrowed from Scandinavian animal ornamentation was soon so restylized and geometrized that it completely lost its zoomorphic character and was incorporated into the abstract forms of local ornament.

In the late Iron Age (800 – 1200), the already observed desire for splendor further increased. At the end of the period, there was a tendency to flatten the forms of the ornaments, creating flat, very rich graphically wrought ornament favorable areas. Derived from earlier, but now flattened, forms affected neck rings with flattened ends, embellished with trapezoidal pendants. The massive cuffs with a middle facet were now made especially wide, tin-like hollow. The earlier brooches were gradually replaced by the more popular horseshoe brooches, were also completely flattened and tin-shaped. The characteristic tendency of the style – to flatten the forms and make them lighter, tin-like, cannot be explained by the economy of materials, because it was at this time that the greatest wealth and extravagance in bronze jewelry was found. The tendency to flatten the ornaments was a contemporary style direction that sought large decorative areas, thanks to which the optical impact of the shiny metal was greater than in the earlier massive forms.

Very magnificently, in various forms, now appeared the bronze crown of a woman with a rich garland of ornaments and charms on the back. Twisted jewelry was very common: twisted massive neck rings, twisted bracelets with stylized animal heads at the ends, twisted and twisted bronze and silver rings. Also characteristic are richly ornamented ribbon-like bracelets, which were worn up to 12 bracelets on each hand. Rich bronze inlays and ring-shaped charms decorated the leather belts. Bronze ornamentation was abundantly used to decorate leather and dress fabric. Luxurious, women’s shawls decorated with folded bronze rings and strung strings of bronze twine. The leather scabbards of the daggers were decorated with spiral motifs in elaborate bronze inlay.

Luxury items were also made from bone: combs, needles, paddles and bird and animal charms cut from bone. Beads, crosses, miniature representations of axes, moons, etc. were made from amber.

The further development of jewelry stopped with the arrival of the Germans. Gradually, Gothic ornament forms also appeared, adapting them to the local taste and sense of style, while, at the same time, preserving the traditions of antiquity. In the 17th century, when affluence and cultural prosperity in Courland alternated with the danger and misery of war, wealthy farmers were often forced to bury their jewelry in the ground. Deposits associated with this period were characterized by gorgeous silver brooches, rings, charms and belts. All 18th and 19th century ornaments were derived from 17th century forms. The large silver, often gold-plated bubble brooches show elements of Gothic style and are derived from brooch forms imported from Germany in the 13th and 14th centuries. In addition to the large and luxurious brooches intended for fastening the headdresses, various types of smaller circles and heart-shaped brooches were also used to fasten shirts.

In the Late Iron Age, horseshoe brooches were used alongside wheel brooches until the end of the 17th century. Likewise, until the 18th century, the prehistoric ring form with the large central shield was still present. Starting from the 17th century, rings were made according to Renaissance and Baroque European models. The first silver and bronze chain belts also appeared in the 17th century. It is a type of belt popular throughout Europe in the 16th century, from which the Alšvanga buckles with their large buckle plates evolved. The ancient metal crown tradition also continued in wrought, richly ornamented crowns made of tin brass of various widths, the last descendant of which is the narrow Alšvanga hoop crown. Small brooches, pendants and beads were also made of amber.