Dress ornaments

Date: ca. 5th century B.C.

Geography: Northern Black Sea region, possibly from Maikop

Culture: Scythian

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: Each H. 1 in. (2.5 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Ornaments

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1924

Accession Number: 24.97.50–.51


When the nomads of the Eurasian steppes entered the region bordering on the ancient Near East, they brought with them a highly mobile lifestyle, including a sophisticated horse-riding military and a tradition of wealth display in the form of gold ornaments for their clothing, equipment, and animal trappings. By the fifth century B.C., when these gold plaques were probably made, the art of the nomads was influenced by arts from nearby settled populations, including the Greeks and the Achaemenid Persians.

These ornaments, with small loops on the back meant for attachment to clothing, are from a large group of gold plaques acquired by Western museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the first decades of the twentieth century. They are thought to come from the area in the northern part of the Black Sea, reportedly from the site of Maikop in the Northern Caucasus. The plaques from this group include images of stags, floral and geometric designs, and griffins like these.

Griffins are composite animals—made up of elements of more than one animal—that were popular in nomadic art of the first millennium B.C. in the Black Sea region. The griffins on these rather small dress ornaments have a feline body with heads and wings of birds. They stand in an alert pose holding their heads high and are balanced by the wing tips of their backward-curving tails. The planes of their bodies would have reflected the light and sparkled in the sun, enhancing the wearer's status and power.