Bronze, cast; Diam. 15⁄16 in. (2.4 cm), D. 3⁄16 in. (0.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1940 (40.170.245)
KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Nishapur, medieval, daily life, jewelry, talisman, zodiac, bronze
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS CHAPTER
This circular metal pendant is a personal accessory discovered during excavations of Nishapur; like other items from the site, it offers a glimpse into the daily lives of the city's inhabitants.
Objects like this one were decorated with symbols believed to have magical powers. Because the meaning of these symbols has been lost over time, we can only speculate about their function. We know that during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was believed that objects depicting zodiac signs like this pendant provided their owners with protection. This pendant, originally suspended from a chain, was likely worn as a talisman.
The center of the circular pendant features an image of a lion and a scorpion with three starlike motifs; these figures are surrounded by a square frame that is enhanced by perpendicular lines reminiscent of writing. The figures may represent the zodiac symbols of Leo and Scorpio, which frequently appear on objects from this period.
The pseudo-writing on the pendant is an important feature. Though illegible, the series of vertical strokes resembles the Arabic phrase known as the shahada, which states, "There is no god but God." This phrase has its own talismanic power, as belief in this concept is one of the basic tenets of Islam.
The inclusion of esoteric symbols and images indicates an early date for this pendant; later Islamic talismans usually feature signs with more obviously Islamic connotations, such as quotations from the Qur'an or letters representing the names of God.