Luxury and Conspicuous Consumption

By Owain Williams

The British Museum has announced an upcoming exhibition that will certainly be of interest to fans of ancient history.  

Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece “will explore the relationship between luxury and power in the Middle East and Southeast Europe between 550-30 BC”. Drawing from a variety of archaeological finds from Greece to Afghanistan, the exhibition will demonstrate how different cultures, from Athens to the Achaemenids and Alexander’s empire, interacted with luxury, and how each culture’s values influenced their interaction with luxurious items.

The exhibit promises to have a great display, with a great many different types of luxurious objects, from golden jewellery to intricately decorated rhyta. However, the artefacts that will certainly capture the imagination are the various gold pieces of the Panagyurishte Treasure, on loan from the National Museum of History, Bulgaria, which demonstrate how both Greek and Persian notions of luxury influenced the Thracians.  

A golden armlet © The Trustees of the British Museum

Early-bird adult tickets are currently on sale for £12.

With the British Museum holding an exhibition on luxury, now seems as good a time as ever to announce the theme of issue 45 of Ancient History – Conspicuous Consumption!

Conspicuous consumption is the act of spending significant amounts of wealth, often unnecessarily, in an effort to broadcast one’s wealth and power. In a way, conspicuous consumption is a form of propaganda. 

The ancient world has plenty of examples of this kind of behaviour, and they can range from personal displays, such as expensive clothing and food, to the monumental, such as grand tombs and decorated homes.

If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute to the issue, contact the editor. 

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