All About Amber History
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Amber was one of the first commercial products, and has been traded for centuries. It has been found in the form of pendants dating from the Paleolithic Era (c. 12,000 B.C.). Evidence of amber jeweller's workshops has been discovered by archeologists tied to the Neolithic period. It is during this time that caches of amber are also found embedded beneath the foundations of houses- possibly intended to ensure the good fortune of the occupants.
The ancient Amber Way led first from the North by water, from Jutland down the Elbe, from Western Pomerania down the Oder, to Bohemia, through Pomerania down the Vistula, and from the Samland Peninsula to the Black Sea Coast. Then, overland, through the Brenner Pass into Italy, the heart of the Roman Empire.
During the 1st-4th Centuries BC, it was the Celts who re-established what would have been even to them, much more ancient trade roads previously dominated by others, including the Phoenicians. Amber artefacts from various periods have been found in Mycenae shaft graves (Greece) as well as finds in Babylonia and Egypt (Tutenkhamen's tomb) & even in Brighton (UK) where a particularly famous amber cup from a burial mound is housed.
But in the 1st century AD, Rome was next in line to become the undisputed center of the amber industry.
The Romans used amber in a number of different objects, including coinage. They apparently valued amber even more than the fair-haired Baltic slaves, the harvesters of amber, whom often were taken back to Rome as well. Amber has been mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey, and It has been written by Pliny the Elder that the price of a small single piece of amber sculpture was worth more than a healthy slave.
We learn from the Great Book of Amber that in the time of Nero, an expedition was sent by Julianus to the Baltic Coast to procure amber. It was brought back in such abundance that the ' "stage set" for the fight [gladitorial] w[ere] based exclusively on amber. Even the ' "mesh" ' used for restraining wild animals and covering the podium had a piece of amber in every knot.' " --Pliny, Natrualis historia, XXXVII*
The Dark Ages descended and a period of great social unrest and migration began. By the 1100s, Gdansk served as the main center of amber production. The introduction of Christianity resulted in the popularization of the cross as an amber motif.
After the Teutonic Knights returned from the Crusades, in the latter part of 1200 A.D., they became absolute rulers of Prussia and the Baltic sources of amber, as well as the manufacture of amber objects--mostly religious objects such as Paternoster beads (Christian rosaries). The Knights ruled with an unyielding fist. Anyone caught with a piece of amber that was not part of a rosary was subject to severe punishment and, often, hanging. Art prints (lithographs) from that time commonly depict amber fisherman portrayed along with gallows, a grim warning to all who would appropriate amber for themselves.
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