Biconical bead, Egypt or Syria, 10th/11th century. Gold, with filigree, granulation, and “rope” wire, length 7.2 cm. Photograph © The Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, AKM610
The wealthy and powerful Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171), which ruled across North Africa, Egypt, and Syria, was active in Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and trans-Saharan trade networks. They vied with the Umayyads of Spain for access to West African gold and for control of major trading cities like Sijilmasa. This large and elaborate Fatimid bead is composed of two filigree cones that are joined along a central seam, a distinctive bead shape that has its origins in antiquity. During the medieval period, Jewish metalsmiths dominated gold working for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clients across the Mediterranean.