Greek Rock Crystal Pectoral Featuring a Head of Medusa

SKU SP.428

500 BC to 200 BC


3.25″ (8.3cm) high x 3.25″ (8.3cm) wide


Rock Crystal



Gallery Location



Rock crystal is a variety of clear, colorless quartz that is considered a semiprecious gemstone. Due to both its beauty and ease of cutting, it has frequently been employed in art and jewelry since the earliest days of history. Sometimes it is used to imitate diamonds. In Ancient Egypt, rock crystal was used in jewelry, and rock crystal beads appear quite frequently in tombs finds, laying alongside the remains of the deceased. In the orient, rock crystal is considered the perfect jewel, symbolic of purity, infinity, patience, and perseverance. Throughout history, in every part of the world, man has valued this transparent, colorless quartz for its benevolent power and faultless beauty. As an amulet rock crystal is thought to cure ailments of the glands, the eyes, the intestines and the heart. Its chief appeal has always been its transparent purity, the very personification of virtue, goodness, and innocence. Those who wear it are kept pure in body and spirit.

The ancient region today situated on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan was known in antiquity as Gandhara. Several notable cities flourished in this area between the 6th century B.C. and the 11th century A.D. It saw enormous changes with the ebb and flow of contemporary superpowers. Prior to this in the 6th century B.C. Gandhara was absorbed into the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire. The collapse of this dynasty led to a series of power struggles that ended with the crushing of native armies by Alexander the Great in 327 B.C., ushering in a period of significance Hellenic influence. Following an attack by Demetrius of Bactria, the area became Graeco-Bactrian for some time, although it eventually gained independence under King Menander in the mid 2nd century B.C. The final effects of Greek colonialism were eroded by about 50 B.C. under a fierce campaign headed by the Parthians. While catastrophic to social order at the time, the cultural diversity of the region was greatly enhanced by the appearance of the Greeks, especially in terms of artistic production as this magnificent rock crystal piece demonstrates. Even after the Greeks had gone, their legacy endured in the aesthetics that makes Gandhara art unique.

Today, the name Medusa conjures up images of a hideous, frightening monster with the snarling fangs of a snake and hair consisting of serpents. However, while this representation of Medusa would have been familiar to an Ancient Greek or Roman, they also would have recognized another, more tame depiction of the famous gorgon. As Classical art evolved over time, the horrifying Medusa type slowly transformed into a type whose features recalled those of a beautiful woman. Her hair of snakes gave way to flowing curly locks recalling the wind-swept coiffure of Alexander the Great. Occasionally, she even sports a small pair of winds emerging from her head. This example of Medusa reveals a visage that is more comical than frightful or seductive. She sticks her tongue out at us, framing her two buck teeth. Her large open mouth and upturned lips recall the type associated with comic theatre masks. Her ears are decorated with earrings. She does however retain the curly locks that are so associated with her legend. She gazes out at us with piercing eyes, squinting slightly as if she is straining to peer out from the rock crystal. – (SP.428)

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