Essay by Yoon Onshik
Different types of Silla artifacts—including crowns, belts, and even horse harnesses—were sometimes adorned with dangling pendants for decorative effect. Most gold dangling pendants were attached to the bands of Silla crowns, but they could also be used to decorate other accessories. For example, excavations of Seobongchong Tomb revealed a dangling pendant shaped like a thick-ringed earring, which once hung from a gold belt. This article focuses specifically on dangling pendants that were hung from Silla crowns.
During the Maripgan period of Silla, members of the royal family or other elite leaders were sometimes buried with crowns. Those crowns often featured dangling pendants, which varied in terms of number and the type of decoration, depending on the person’s social status. For instance, individuals with the highest status (i.e., the Maripgan and his family) were often interred wearing gold crowns that were opulently decorated with several gold dangling pendants. But people with lower status wore crowns made from leather or linen, which might be decorated with a single pair of simple dangling pendants, or might have no dangling pendants at all.
The presence of a gold crown or gold belt (or both) in a Silla tomb is the first indicator that the deceased had a high social status. Individuals with the highest status were buried wearing gold crowns, belts, and earrings, along with swords, necklaces, and bracelets. Those of lower status, on the other hand, might be buried wearing gilt-bronze versions of all or some of these ornaments. Although dangling pendants were secondary decorations for these items, they can make it possible to infer the status of the deceased in cases where the crown or other accessory has disintegrated.
Pinnacle of crown decorations
The most opulent dangling pendants ever found are the three pairs of pendants on the gold crown (National Treasure 191) from the North Mound of Hwangnamdaechong Tomb (late fifth century). Significantly, this crown is the only one ever found with three pairs of dangling pendants attached. The crown and dangling pendants clearly demonstrate the elite social status of the deceased. It is known that she was the wife of the Maripgan, but the extravagance of her burial seems to indicate that she was revered even beyond her status as the royal spouse. The outer strand of pendants (31 cm) is about twice as long as the two inner strands (14.5 and 13.4 cm, respectively), so that the pendants seem to frame the face of the person wearing the crown. The two innermost strands have a bluish curved jade at the end.
Most Silla dangling pendants have a three-part structure, consisting of (from top to bottom) the upper ring, connecting ornaments, and the main pendant. For thick-ringed earrings, the upper ring was made by bending a gold cylinder into a ring, while the connecting ornaments consist of dumbbell-shaped pieces with hooks at each end, to which gold spangles were attached via coils of gold wire. The main pendants were usually nib-shaped gold pieces and curved jades attached to a hemispheric piece. The edges of the hemispheric piece were decorated with an embossed pattern, demonstrating highly advanced metalworking techniques.
The gold crown (National Treasure 87) from Geumgwanchong Tomb had only one pair of dangling pendants, which are shorter (27.3 cm) and less elaborate than those on the crown from Hwangnamdaechong Tomb. Notably, these pendants were also manufactured by different methods than those from Hwangnamdaechong Tomb. The upper rings of the pendants from Geumgwanchong Tomb are thin, which is believed to represent that the wearer was a male. The connecting ornaments consist of links of gold wire, to which umbrella-shaped ornaments were attached with rings, followed by numerous spangles. The main pendant consists of a curved jade capped with a gold piece incised with the head of a dragon.
Geumgwanchong Tomb was constructed around the same time or slightly after the North Mound of Hwangnamdaechong Tomb. Given that Geumgwanchong Tomb contained a gold crown, one might think that it contains someone from the Maripgan’s direct family, but the characteristics of the tomb (e.g., its size and grave goods) do not support this theory. Indeed, the individual buried in Geumgwanchong Tomb appears to have had a lower status than the queen buried in the North Mound of Hwangnamdaechong Tomb.
Dangling pendants of leather or linen crowns
In some Silla tombs, gold dangling pendants have been found alone near the head of the deceased, with no accompanying crown. In such cases, it is estimated that the pendants were originally attached to a crown made from organic materials, such as leather or linen, which has since rotted away.
The earliest example of such pendants, which date from the late fourth century, was found in Wolseong-ro Ga-district Tomb 13, excavated in 1985. The pendants have a thick upper ring, with connecting ornaments formed by twisting thirteen pieces of gold wire into dumbbell-shaped pieces, to which spangles were densely attached. The main pendant consists of a hollow conical piece attached to a bead and a hemispheric piece. The pendant was also decorated with embossed patterns and pieces of blue glass. In terms of their length (26.4 cm) and opulence, these pendants are comparable to the ones from Geumgwanchong Tomb.
Thus, the person buried in this tomb must have had a social status similar or even equivalent to royalty. The person’s high status is further evidenced by the presence of a gold vessel and an imported glass cup in the tomb, as well as the fact that four other burials (believed to be sacrificial burials) are located in the vicinity of the tomb. The lack of gold accessories (e.g., a gold crown or belt) in the tomb may indicate that the individual died before the tradition of interring the deceased with such accessories began. This practice is estimated to have been firmly established by the late fifth century.
These two gold hanging pendants (Treasure 633) were excavated in 1974 from Michuwangryung District C Tomb 4. In terms of their form, these pendants are distinctive in many ways. For example, they do not have an upper ring, they are considerably shorter (16.8 cm) than other dangling pendants, and their connecting ornaments consist of gold beads (rather than gold wire) adorned with spangles. Gold beads, more commonly found in Silla necklaces and chestlaces, were made by connecting two hemispheric pieces, leaving a small hole in the top and bottom. The main pendant consists of a curved jade piece, with no accompanying gold decorations.
No crown was found in the tomb with these pendants, but the person was wearing a pair of thick-ringed earrings, indicating that she was female. The tomb also contained various other grave goods, including an inlaid glass bead that has attracted great scholarly interest. There is no record of glass beads like this being produced on the Korean peninsula, but it is known that glass beads inlaid with various images (including a human face) were produced in places such as the Mediterranean coast and in Java Island of Indonesia. Hence, although the occupant of the tomb was not wearing a crown, she seems to have been a person of the upper class with an elite social status.
Read the essay and learn more on The National Museum of Korea’s website.