Lingua-Visual Luxuries

Given the fragmentary nature of the archaeological record, and the fact that organic materials rarely survive, much of our understanding of ancient luxuries is derived from literary and visual evidence.

Visual sources include vase paintings, wall paintings and wall reliefs. However, recognising which luxury objects they depict can sometimes be a matter of interpretation.

Textual evidence can sometimes shed light on aspects that are not preserved materially or visually, such as processing methods to extract pigments from minerals, molluscs or mites, and how those who undertook such extraction were regarded as skilled experts.

This project, supported by the Getty Research Institute, collates visual and textual evidence from Levantine, Mesopotamian and Classical sources pertaining to luxury production and distribution during the first millennium BCE.

6th C BCE chalice from Chios depicting an ornate red garment. Image credit: The Trustees of the British Museum
Text of Tiglath Pileser III (reign 745-727 BCE) that discusses his conquests of various Levantine kingdoms, which made tribute payments to him of precious metals and sumptuous textiles, amongst other goods of value Image credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum
Looting of the Elamite city of Hamanu after defeat by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, c. 645-635 BCE. Spoils include elaborate furniture. From the North Palace, Nineveh (Iraq). Image credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum
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