Although pearls are as old as the earth itself, pearls and pearl shells apparently were first valued by ancient Middle Eastern cultures. It didn’t take long for interest in pearls to spread across cultures, first spilling over into the Mediterranean, where, in Persia, these gorgeous gemstones were said to be worth their weight in gold.
Interest in pearls from peoples in the Roman and Byzantine Empires is well-documented. Pearl-adorned objects have been found at various archaeological dig sites across the Roman Empire, from North Africa to Syria and even northern France. These discoveries have led historians to classify the Mediterranean enthusiasm for pearls as having become a craze by 100 B.C. In fact, according to some historians, one of the reasons Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 B.C. was to get his hands on Britain’s supply of freshwater pearls. Given the way that even modern cultures attempt to exploit one another for natural resources, it seems that not much has changed since ancient times in this regard.
It is interesting to think about how changes to access to pearls across classes will affect future conclusions about our own modern society. As pearl ownership was previously restricted to royalty and the extremely wealthy, the discovery of pearls at an ancient burial site usually serves as a confirmation that the deceased was of the upper echelon of his or her society. Today, however, pearls are owned by a variety of people across a number of social classes, securing their place as one of the world’s most universally-cherished gems. Given their popularity, pearls are likely to continue to be treasured for years to come.