A silver pectoral from the Armenian kingdom of Urartu – a gem of the Oriental collection of the Miho Museum, Japan

A silver pectoral from the Armenian kingdom of Urartu – a gem of the Oriental collection of the Miho Museum, Japan

The Miho Museum, located in Kyoto, Japan, hosts a collection of remarkable artifacts from the Urartian culture. Among them is the Urartian silver pectoral, featuring repoussé decoration, which dates back to the 8th-7th century B.C.E. This crescent-shaped silver pectoral is thought to have been worn around the neck of a high-ranking official, with gold, silver, and bronze pectorals symbolizing varying degrees of official rank in Urartian society.
The imagery of this pectoral is complex and intricate, showcasing three sacred trees inhabited by fantastic, winged quadrupeds. Two sets of two-legged winged creatures are symmetrically arranged, approaching the central tree with drawn bows. Two winged genii kneel on opposite sides of the crescent-shaped artifact between pairs of raised rosettes. These motifs are believed to have had amuletic significance. Urartian imagery such as that on display here is commonly found on metal articles of personal use and chariot fittings, as well as featuring repetitive arrangements of individual elements that cannot be easily related to one another. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether the creatures with drawn bows are protecting or attacking the central sacred tree or if they are simply placed symmetrically with no specific relation to it.
Urartu, also known as the Ararat kingdom or Van kingdom, was an Iron Age kingdom centered around Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands. This kingdom emerged in the mid-9th century BC and dominated the Armenian Highlands in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Urartu frequently engaged in warfare with Assyria and became, for a time, the most powerful state in the Near East. It is known for its large fortresses and sophisticated metalwork. Its kings left behind cuneiform inscriptions in the Urartian language, which is a member of the Hurro-Urartian language family. Since its rediscovery in the 19th century, Urartu has been commonly believed to have been at least partially Armenian-speaking. It was recognized as the center of a vibrant metalworking industry, utilizing bronze, iron, and, to a lesser extent, silver and gold. Its metal artifacts were exported to distant lands, including Italy.

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