an enigmatic amulet
Seven Eyes/Saba Uyun
What is that blue disc with holes from the Arab world? It exists in a wide region, also outside the Arab world, and is a common sight in Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, Palestine, Jordan and Syria, but also in Egypt. You’ll find these blue pierced discs in jewellery, as separate pendants, and in large sizes on walls of homes. They are called saba ‘uyun, or ‘seven eyes’. But what are they?
First, here is what we do know. Saba ‘uyun amulets are considered powerful against the evil eye. They are pinned with regular glass eye beads on children’s caps and clothing, or strung with alum to protect both children and animals. That combination with alum is also often seen in Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and reinforces the power of the blue disc against the evil eye: eye beads among the Bedouin of the Negev desert are often strung with alum and the idea is that alum attracts the glance of the evil eye before it can look at the child. 
Older amulets of this type are made of faience. This is created from a mixture of sand, soda, lime, and water. Copper oxide is added to produce the green-blue colour, and all of this is then formed into a paste, from which beads and other amulets could be made. The amulets would then be heated, which created the brilliant blue glaze. More recent variations of the discs however have been made of plastic, and even blue buttons have been used in jewellery.
There is some confusion over its name: why are they even called saba uyun, when they don’t always have 7 holes…? That is most likely because of the importance of the number 7 and its association with the planetary spheres. More on the relevance of numbers is here, and if you’d like to explore the symbolism of the heavens, I wrote a little about that here.
And then there is what we don’t know. That is quite a lot!  Although this amulet is widely used throughout large parts of Southwest Asia, there is surprisingly little written about it. You’ll find them depicted in many jewellery books, as they are very common elements in jewellery, but with very little to no text of their own. Peter W. Schienerl is one of the very few who discussed them at length in his article on Roman pendants from Egypt, and he believed this amulet to be a descendant from a Roman amulet in the form of a faience disc with seven coloured dots. . He called it a Lochscheibe (which is German for a disc with holes in it), and never mentioned its vernacular name. I am working on a hypothesis that these derive from Late Period Egyptian Eye of Horus-amulets, a notion I elaborate on in my book Desert Silver and in the e-course on amulets. Other suggestions for its origin are that it stems from ancient Mesopotamia, but so far no one who told me this has been able to back this up with actual evidence (if you have real facts to share on that, I’d love to hear more! Thank you in advance!).
So far, I have traced archaeological examples of this blue amulet in the collection of Egyptian antiquities in Bonn, but these are undated , and in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York . This last one [see it here] is said to have been excavated between 1935 and 1948 in Nishapur, Iran. That would make it date back to the 8th-13th century. But I can’t help but wonder….how certain can we be that this is actually that old? According to the description, hundreds of Iranian workers excavated at the site: could one of them perhaps have lost it? However, another example, dating to ca 800 BCE, is in the Yale Peabody Museum, where it can be seen on the far right of this bead timeline. According to the description (which is available to read when clicking on the bead – fantastic), this is one of a group of beads that has been said to come from Zagros Mountains: ‘said to come’, so again, uncertain.
What are they called? In fact, there is so little known about this amulet that you’ll have a hard time searching for older examples online. Looking for Lochscheibe gets you lots of German industrial sites, searching for saba ‘uyun gets you nothing, although sebaa does come back with a few results. In the Quai Branly museum, one is labeled as ‘baby amulet’ and described as a ‘blue button’  Two amulets from Jordan in the same collection, sporting the saba ‘uyun amulets, are labeled as ‘amulet’ and described as ‘blue bead’: they were used to protect home and cribs.  In Farsi they are called chasm-more , and they are also known as ‘donkey beads’ in English.  Every collection has a different name for these, and those names can vary even within the same registration system. So here you see why using correct names for things is so incredibly important: I am sure there is lots of information on these amulets somewhere, but because their vernacular name is not used, its history and cultural meaning have become scattered across several languages and descriptions. That makes them pretty much untraceable, and that brings me to my other point: collecting things is one thing, but if we fail to collect and share the information that goes with them, we’re stuck with a pile of things we can’t really place.
Modern-day productions in enamel, plastic and other materials can be found by searching for ‘Iraqi blue amulet’, or ‘seven eyes amulet’. It is an old, and slightly enigmatic piece of jewellery, but it is still incredibly popular!
 Abu Rabia 2005, p. 248
 Kriss, R. & H. Kriss-Heinrich, 1962. Volksglaube im Bereich des Islam. Band II. Amulette, Zauberformeln und Beschwörungen. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.
 Schienerl, P.W. 1982. Crescent to Cross. Roman and Byzantine Glass Pendants from Egypt, in: Ornament Magazine 6 (2). This is also the explanation Alfred Janata uses in his book Schmuck in Afghanistan, p. 62. Janata includes a mention of ‘a medieval work on magic that describes a similar item, called kawkab (planet)’, but without reference.
 There are two on display in the Agyptisches Museum der Universität Bonn when I last visited a few years ago, but they do not have any other provenance than Egypt and are not dated.
 Accession number 184.108.40.206
 Inventory number 71.1967.100.113
 Inventory number 71.1967.100.5 and 71.1967.100.4
 A. Janata, Schmuck in Afghanistan, p. 62
 As explained to me by Patricia Deany in 2023
Sigrid van Roode
Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.