Bronze Age Jewelry: Torc & Gorget

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Bronze Age people used their new technologies to create important things out of metal...things like jewelry! In this lesson, we'll see what Bronze Age jewelry looked like and how it was made.

Bronze Age Life

Imagine living in a society where the most reliable metal you have is copper. Copper is great for some things, but it's also not very durable and tends to quickly wear or break. Now, imagine that some innovative person decides to melt the copper, mix in a little tin, and cool it. What just happened? That person just invented bronze, a stronger and more reliable metal that your society can use for a number of things.

Across the world, we use the term Bronze Age to describe the era in which societies developed greater metallurgical skills. This is generally considered to be the first time when metals really became ubiquitous features of human communities, and they used them for all sorts of things. Many people immediately imagine the growth in weapons technology, but that's a very limited scope of what was done with bronze. They also made nails and other basic items for home building, as well as pots and pans for cooking. Metal turned out to be pretty useful, and Bronze Age societies were excited to explore all its uses.

Jewelry in the Bronze Age

Jewelry has been a part of human societies for as long as we can tell. After all, people today find that accessorizing makes them feel more attractive, so why shouldn't this be true thousands of years ago? It's not like vanity is a modern invention. First, humans used shells, stones, and even bones to make jewelry. The Bronze Age brought with it not only the ability to work bronze, but other metals as well. Metal jewelry is one of the most salient features of Bronze Age life; it has been discovered as valued grave goods, interred with men and women alike. It was a very important part of most Bronze Age societies, and something they clearly upheld as a major part of their identities.

The Torc

Every society that entered the Bronze Age did so in its own unique ways and with its own unique priorities and sense of style. So, everyone's jewelry was different. That being said, with the technologies available to these societies (as well as increasingly expansive trade networks), some commonalities appeared throughout Bronze Age fashions.

A bronze, necklace-sized torc
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One of the most ubiquitous types of Bronze Age jewelry was something called the torc, also spelled torque. A torc was a loop of metal, twisted into a decorative pattern. Most commonly, they were made of gold and reflected more sophisticated gold-working techniques that emerged with the Bronze Age. Torcs could be made in a variety of lengths and styles, and were worn as bracelets, necklaces, and even belt-like ornamentations around the waist.

To many Bronze Age societies, the torc was the height of fashion. In Europe, this style was especially associated with Celtic peoples of Western Europe and the British isles. The torc survived long beyond the Bronze Age, and in fact the Romans even labeled these as the most definitive attribute of Celtic fashion.

A bracelet torc, made of gold
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The Gorget

Torcs tended to be thin, a result of the twisting and pulling of the gold into that shape. So, what if you wanted to wear something with a little more visual weight? Consider the gorget, a Bronze Age decorative metal collar, worn like a necklace. Gorgets were sophisticated pieces of jewelry that required advanced craftsmanship and know-how.

Reproduction of a Celtic gorget
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