Early Romano-British Jewelry Part 4: Rings With the Ability to Drive Away Serpents

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Bracelets and armlets, usually of bronze, have survived in large numbers. They consist generally of a simple narrow ring, such as could be slipped over the wrist. Some are pennanular with tapering ends, others are closed with a hook and eye, while a few have their ends so twisted together that they can slide over one another and so be taken on and off. Armlets of glass, chiefly of a deep transparent blue, have also been found.

Most of the varieties of finger rings already recorded appear to have been worn in Britain. The extent of the Roman civilization can be measured by the number of engraved stones enclosed in their settings or found apart, the majority of which must have been executed by lapidaries on the spot.

Many articles, such as rings, armlets, beads, buttons, and amulets, were formed of jet or Kimmeridge shale, turned on a lathe.

In the Island of Purbeck round flat pieces of jet have been found pierced with holes, which are clearly refuse pieces of the turner—the nuclei of rings and other articles. This material appears to be the same as that termed by Pliny gigates. According to him, it was supposed to possess the virtue of driving away serpents; and personal ornaments made of it were particularly prized.

There seems little doubt that the use of ornaments of Kimmeridge coal or shale by the Romano-Britons was nothing more than a survival of the Neolithic or Stone Age. ” Great Britain,” writes M. Fontenay in 1887, with reference to the ancient practice of wearing ornaments of jet, “remains faithful to its early customs; for at the present day English ladies delight in adorning themselves with jet jewelry.” Fashion changes rapidly, but it will be long, one hopes, before it again decrees the general use of ornaments of this unattractive material.

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Early Romano-British Jewelry Part 3: Hair Jewelry, Pins and Necklaces

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Whatever races settled under the banner of Rome, they accepted unreservedly its ornaments, dress, and manners, as well as its language and its laws. Hence the jewelry which dates from the Roman occupation of Britain (i.e. from about 43 a.d. to about 410 a.d.) follows for the most part the Italian designs, and at the same time differs but little from that brought to light among the remains of Roman colonization elsewhere.

The majority of Romano-British personal ornaments are of bronze—in most cases probably once gilt. Comparatively few objects of gold have been found. Among the articles of female adornment that occur in the greatest abundance are pins, which were used for fixing the hair in a knot behind the head, though some may have been employed as dress-pins. They range from 3 to 9 inches in length, and have heads of various designs, terminating in some instances in a bust or in a figure. The majority are of bone, many are of bronze, and a few are composed of colored glass or jet.

A few necklaces of gold and bronze have been found, but by far the greater number appear to have been composed of beads of glass—in the manufacture of which the Romans displayed remarkable skill. These necklaces differ considerably in form and color.

The commonest beads are spherical and pierced with a large hole. They are usually of one color, generally blue, but some are of compound colors exquisitely blended, and a few have a serpentine ornament fused into the glass. Beads of amber, pearls, and glazed earthenware have also been found.

A characteristic of Roman jewels executed in Britain is their ornamentation with enamels. The metal employed is generally bronze, the surface of which is ornamented by the champlev6 process; that is to say, it is incised or grooved out (though sometimes stamped or cast) in such a manner as to leave floral or geometrical patterns in relief, and into the sunk spaces thus formed are fused opaque enamels, principally red, yellow, green, blue, and white.

This enameling is generally found upon brooches both of the circular and of the bow-shaped type. The fronts of the circular brooches are flat, or raised like a shield into several compartments of different colors. The pin, which is hidden, moves freely on a pivot, and its point is held by a catch. The finest specimen, discovered in London, was formerly in the collection of Lord Hastings, from whom it was acquired by the British Museum. It is a circular flat plaque, the pattern on which consists of four qua trefoils with blue centers on a red ground, and four small circles of yellow enamel between them.

In the center is the revolving figure of a dolphin. Brooches enameled in a somewhat similar manner have been found in France at Mont Beuvray, near Autun, and are preserved in the Mus(fe des Antiquits Nationales at St. Germain. Quite different are certain ornaments set with slices cut from rods of millefiori glass, which were executed for the most part during the decline of the Roman power.

One of the most elaborate is a brooch found at Pont-y-Saison, near Chepstow, Monmouthshire, in 1861, and preserved among other Romano-British antiquities in the British Museum. It has an elaborate pattern of checker d squares of red, white, and blue.

Brooches of the Gallo-Roman and early Merovingian period appear to have been also decorated in this manner. Of bow-shaped brooches, or fibulae, there exists a considerable number of varieties. Among these we may distinguish the T-shaped fibula with long cylindrical head, and a wide flat bow with sunk designs filled with enamel. In another variety the.bow passes through a horizontal disc in its center and assumes a form resembling a tassel.

Another common variety is the crossbow form, either with a spiral or hinged head. In many Roman fibulae the pin works on a hinge, but in the variety known as the harp-shaped, the sheath of the pin is filled in with a triangular plate, pierced or solid, and the head is slightly expanded to suit the coils of a spring.

In addition to the more formal types of brooches, many fancy devices, probably of Celtic origin, appear to have been in vogue among the Roman colonists of Great Britain. These are in the shape of birds, fish, and all kinds of animals, brilliant with various colored enamels, which are often so disposed as to indicate the spots or markings of the animals. A remarkable series of brooches of this kind is in the possession of Sir John Evans.

Continued in Part 4

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Early Romano-British Jewelry Part 2: If You Read One Article About Irish Torques, Read This One

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For the most extensive representation of the prehistoric gold ornaments of the British Isles one must look, not to England, whose inhabitants generally assumed the types of ornament in use among their Roman conquerors, but to Ireland, where the Celtic traditions were continued, and which has revealed vast hoards of golden treasure.

In Celtic England during the Bronze and Early Iron Ages the majority of personal ornaments are of bronze; in Ireland, however, at the same periods the greater number are of gold. The objects belonging to the Royal Irish Academy in the Dublin Museum—perhaps the largest collection in Europe of prehistoric gold ornaments—represent merely a fraction of what, during the last few hundred years, has been discovered and consigned to the crucible.

Usually described as head-ornaments are certain crescent or moon-shaped plates of thin gold, generally decorated with engraved designs in parallel lines, with angular lines between them, and having their extremities formed into small flat circular discs.

These gold lunettes or lunulce are considered to have been worn upright on the head and held in position by the terminal plates set behind the ears,’ but they were very probably worn round the neck. The finest at Dublin is of pure gold, weighing upwards of sixteen ounces, and is richly ornamented with rows of conical studs.

Torques are the most frequent of ancient Irish ornaments. The largest known, over 5 feet long and upwards of 27 ounces in weight, is supposed to have been worn over the shoulder and across the breast. It is the property of the Royal Irish Academy.

In addition to torques and gorgets, neck-ornaments were also formed of beads of gold, and some of these have been found accompanied by beads of amber. Besides torque-shaped armlets, are bracelets composed of perfect rings; but the penannular type, terminating mostly with bulbous or cup-like ends, is commonest.

A considerable number of the prehistoric dress-fasteners, known as mammillary Fibonacci, have been discovered in Ireland. A slight enlargement of the ends of the penannular ring develops into a cup-like which increases to such a size that the ring becomes simply the connecting link between the terminations. The latter when flat are generally plain, and when cup-shaped are often highly ornamented.

The finest of these fibulae at Dublin is 8f inches long, and is of the extraordinary weight of 33 ounces. Among other gold ornaments are certain circular flat plates of thin gold, usually about 2i inches in diameter, somewhat similar to the plates discovered at Mycenae, in that they were evidently employed for sewing upon the dress.

In the middle of the plates are small holes as if for attachment. As regards “ring-money,” and similar rings employed possibly as ornaments for the ears or fingers, nothing more need be said, as they usually follow the designs of those in use among the Celts of Britain.

In a country like Ireland, which is famed for its golden treasures, many strange stories of discoveries have been recorded; yet few have excited greater interest than the famous Limavady treasure, which in the year 1896 was plowed up at Broighter, near Limavady, in the county of Londonderry, in a field not far from the shores of Lough Foyle.

This hoard— probably the most important which has ever been unearthed of objects of this period—has been fully described by Dr. A. J. Evans in Vol. LV of Archceo-logia. It includes the following personal ornaments: two gold chains, a torque formed of thick twisted wires, and collar of very remarkable workmanship. This collar consists of a hollow cylinder formed of two plates soldered together, and fastened at the end by a T-shaped projection and slot. The ornament is repousse work, in the trumpet pattern of the Late Celtic period. The style of work upon these ornaments, particularly that of the collar, associates them with an artistic period which probably dates from the first century a.d.

The year following its discovery the whole find was purchased by the British Museum, where its presence at once figured as ” another injustice to Ireland “; while through the Press and in Parliament numerous attempts were made to obtain its removal to Dublin.

The Irish claimed it as treasure-trove, and maintained that its legal home was the National Museum at Dublin. The British Museum authorities replied that Dublin had missed an opportunity of obtaining it in open market; while they themselves, having acquired it in the ordinary course of business, were precluded by statute from parting with it. They further contended that the ornaments were not necessarily of Irish workmanship, but might with equal likelihood have been produced in Britain. Thus for several years the dispute dragged on, until in the summer of 1903 the case came up in the Chancery Division of the Courts of Law.

Notwithstanding the ingenious defense of the British Museum, judgment was given that the ornaments were treasure-trove, and by virtue of the Prerogative Royal must be surrendered to the King. They were accordingly delivered to the Crown authorities, and presented to the Irish National Museum by His Majesty.

Continued in Part 3

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Early Romano-British Jewelry Part 1: Who Really Used Early Roman-British Jewelry and for What Purpose?

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The early ornaments of the greater part of Europe remained until late times entirely untouched by the culture prevalent in Italy and Greece. Though of great archaeological importance, as revealing successive stages of culture, they do not at the present demand very detailed consideration.

The decoration of the earliest jewelry of Europe— that of the Bronze Age, which dates roughly from about a thousand years before the Christian era—is by means of spiral and zigzag patterns. Ornaments have free endings, bent in spiral, snail-shell coils. The earliest were cast, though the hammer was used towards the close of the period ; solder was unknown, and rivets alone employed.

Gold and bronze were the only metals employed, the latter being sometimes gilt by means of thin gold plates, while amber is often found used as a jewel. Some idea of these early ornaments can be formed from the discoveries of objects worn by the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles. They are, however, not very numerous or important until after the Bronze Age, and until the Early Iron Age—known in England as the Late Celtic period—is reached.

The ornaments of the Britons—that is to say the Brythons or iron-using Celts—before they became subject to Rome are somewhat rare, for few objects of value were buried in graves. Such as have been found comprise bronze pins, brooches, torques, and bracelets; beads of amber, jet, bone, and glass, and bracelets also of jet.

Golden ornaments, like those laid bare by Schlie-mann at Mycenae, concealed either as votive offerings or for the sake of security, have been brought to light from time to time, occasionally in England and more frequently in Ireland.

Celtic literature and legend are full of references to these golden ornaments, and classical writers often make mention of them. The simplest types of gold ornaments discovered in England are rings formed of a rounded bar of equal thickness throughout, bent into a circular form, and the extremities left disunited. Their material is gold, .so pure and flexible that the rings can be easily opened to be linked into a chain or strung upon a thin gold wire.

They were very probably employed for barter, and are generally known as “ring-money.” Other rings, crescent-shaped, with ends tapering towards their extremities, may have served both as ornaments and substitutes for money. Others, again, are of gold wire shaped into a sort of rope, or else formed of a simple bar twisted in an ornamental manner.

It has been suggested that the simple penannular rings were nose-ornaments, and when linked or strung together were worn as necklaces ; also that the more decorative rings were earrings. But it is quite impossible to determine their actual use as personal ornaments.

Massive torques employed by the Celts for the purpose of adorning the neck are occasionally found of pure gold. They consist of a long piece of metal twisted and turned into the form of a circle, with its ends either terminating in a knob, or doubled back in the form of a short hook, or swelling out into cup like terminations.

Some are formed of a square bar of gold twisted spirally, others of a flat bar twisted in a lighter manner, or of more than one bar twisted together. Gold ornaments for the arms, known by the term armillce, are sometimes of the same thickness throughout. It is more usual to find them plain, though twisted work was also applied to them. The majority have dilated ends, or ends slightly concave. With others, again, these cavities assume the form of a cup so expanded as to present the appearance of a trumpet or the calyx of a large flower.

On ornaments somewhat resembling the latter the dilated extremities are flat plates, while the connecting part, diminutive in proportion to their exaggerated size, is striated longitudinally. These objects are usually described as dress-fasteners, but the exact purpose for which they were employed is still a matter of doubt.

Advanced skill in the art of enameling is one of the most notable features of the Late Celtic period, which itself extended from the prehistoric Age of Iron and over the period of the Roman occupation. This enamel, executed by the champleve process on copper and bronze, served for the decoration of massive bronze penannular bracelets, and for bronze pins with wheel-shaped heads.

In addition to brooches—all of the safety-pin type—of an immense variety of design, other primitive bronze ornaments, usually of the spiral form characteristic of Celtic work, include torques, armlets, and anklets. The torques are mostly penannular and have enlarged terminals ; the armlets are often complete rings.

Continued in Part 2

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