In ancient Greece, foliate wreaths fashioned from gold, mimicking natural forms such as laurel, myrtle, olive, ivy, and, as here, oak, were given as prizes, worn in processions or in the symposia, dedicated at sanctuaries and buried with the dead. Sanctuary dedications are mentioned in temple treasury lists from as early as the 5th century B.C., but surviving examples are few prior to the 4th century B.C. (see pp. 123-124 in R. Higgins, Greek and Roman Jewellery). The meaning of the different plant species employed for these wreaths is uncertain, but in the case of oak, there is at least a clear association with Zeus.
Elaborate gold oak wreaths have been found in the Royal tombs at Vergina, including one placed within the gold larnax thought to have enclosed the remains of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great (see pl. 137 in M. Andronicos, Vergina, The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City), and another found in situ on the shoulders of a silver funerary hydria in the nearby so-called “Prince’s Tomb” (pl. 184 in Andronicos, op. cit.). The large amount of gold that flowed into Macedonia and Greece following Alexander’s eastern campaigns led to a dramatic increase in jewelry production, and high quality works were now accessible to wider strata of society. As P. Adams-Veleni notes (pp. 102-103 in C.A. Picon and S. Hemingway, eds., Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World), “Indeed, rather than a privilege of the gods, such wreaths were common among wealthy mortals, whom they accompanied after death to the eternal symposium in the beyond.”
Oak wreaths dated to the later 4th century B.C. have been found throughout the Hellenistic world, east and west. See for example the splendid example from the Dardanelles, now in the British Museum (no. 60 in D. Williams and J. Ogden, Greek Gold: Jewelry of the Classical World) and one from Armento in South Italy, now in Munich (pl. 23 in Higgins, op. cit.). Wreaths are also to be found on depictions of victorious athletes, including statues, coins and gems, although depending on the scale of the image, it is not always possible to identify the type of wreath intended (see pp. 145-162, and especially no. 156, a Hellenistic carnelian ring stone with an athlete holding a wreath, and fig. 9, a bronze figure of an athlete wearing a wreath, in J.J. Herrmann and C. Kondoleon, Games for the Gods, The Greek Athlete and The Olympic Spirit).
The present example is composed of cut-out sheet-gold leaves, 104 in total, each on spiral-twisted wire and joined to ten stems radiating outward from a central ring. Four acorns are preserved on four of the stems.