Roman Jewelry Part 2 Necklaces, Pendants, Amulets, Bracelets

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It is especially to be noticed that the shapes of all ancient jewellery and ornaments, particularly those of the Romans, were in a great measure decided by a belief in their magical efficiency. The wearing of amulets was most frequent among the Romans of all classes.

They were generally enclosed in a bulla, and suspended from the neck. A remarkable specimen of a bulla, found at Herculaneum, and presented by the Court of Naples to the Empress Josephine, is now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. The lentoid-shaped bulla was worn almost entirely by children, but other pendants, shaped like pendent vases, or in the form of a square or cylindrical box, were a not unusual ornament of the necklace of Roman ladies. They probably always possessed a symbolical meaning.

The simple neck-chain, whether supplied with the appendage or not, was called a monile ; the luxury of latter times doubled or trebled the rows of chains. These were often of finely plaited gold or else of links.

Other necklaces were composed of mounted precious stones, the fashion for which appears to date from the Oriental conquests of Pompey in the first century B.C. Vast quantities of precious stones were brought into Rome at that date; for the treasury of Mithridates, captured at Talaura, contained, besides many other precious objects, “jewels for the breast and neck all set with gems.”

The Romans also wore necklaces composed of beads of various materials, both precious stones and glass, of many colors and various shapes. Amber was largely employed for the purpose, and held in high estimation by Roman ladies, who regarded it not only as an ornament, but as a talisman for protection against danger, especially witchcraft.

Amber in which small insects were enclosed was particularly prized : ” the price,” says Pliny, ” of a small figure in it, however diminutive, exceeds that of a living healthy slave.” Both cameos and large intaglios were in frequent use as pendent ornaments, and in the most recent pieces of Roman jewellery imperial gold coins were employed for rings, bracelets, and especially for pendants to necklaces.

For the latter purpose they are not infrequently found set in opus interrasile —the openwork characteristic of late Roman jewellery. The best example of cameos and coins mounted thus is a necklace in the Cabinet des M6dailles at Paris.’ In the case of bracelets, which were favorite ornaments among the Romans, two kinds have to be noticed.

The first, termed dextrocherium, was meant to be worn round the right wrist, and follows the same rules of formation as the necklace, but no pendent motives are introduced. Other bracelets are formed of two rounded halves of solid character, hinged, and closed by a snap. The second kind of bracelet or armlet, worn on the upper arm, was the brachiale or torques bracJiialis; another was the spinther, which kept its place on the arm by its own elasticity. The difference, however, between the different Latin terms for the armlet is somewhat obscure.

Originally of pure gold, bracelets were subsequently set with precious stones and engraved gems, and, like the specimen in the Imperial Cabinet at Vienna, with coins dating from the third century a.d. The serpent form appears to have been a favorite one among Roman ladies, and a fine pair of armlets of this design are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Continued in Part 3

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Development of Bracelets, Armlets, and Finger Rings

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In Southern Europe circular plates have been found fitted with a pin. These plates appear’ to have been developed by the conversion of a primitive disc of spiral concentric wire into a circular plate. From the brooch of this type sprang the circular brooch of the Roman period, often inlaid with enamel, as well as the splendid circular brooches of Anglo-Saxon times, and all other disc-shaped brooches. In all early periods, and even in Roman times, the bow or safety-pin type of brooch was commoner than the disc and also more practical, as it offered room for the gathered folds of the garment. In modern times the disc-shaped brooch fitted with a hinged or sometimes with a spring pin has been principally used.

The two remaining groups of brooches—(3) the Celtic brooch and (4) the ring-brooch—are both developments of the simple pin in combination with a ring—in the former case pen annular and in the latter annular. The Celtic brooch, with pen annular ring and long pin, is apparently the result of fitting a pin to a prehistoric form of fastening for the dress—a pen-annular ring terminating with knobs, known as a mammillary fibula. The ring-brooch with complete ring, and pin of the same length as the diameter of the ring, which was popular in medieval times, is the outcome of fitting a complete ring of wire to a pin to prevent the head of the pin from slipping through the material—which ring in course of time became the more important member. It is improbable that the Celtic brooch originated in the same way, from the union of a long pin with a small ring. Nor is it likely that these two forms of brooches were evolved the one out of the other by the shortening or lengthening of the pins. As a matter of fact the two appear to have arisen independently side by side.

Bracelets and armlets may be considered together^ for though the bracelet is properly only a decoration for the wrist, the term has become descriptive of any ornament worn upon the arm. The bracelet, together with the necklace, were the earliest ornaments used for the decoration of mankind. Amongst savage tribes both were worn in some form or another—the necklace as an ornament pure and simple, but the bracelet serving frequently a practical purpose, sometimes as a shield for the arm in combat, sometimes covered with spikes, and used for offensive purposes. While used universally by women in the form of a ba^id, closed, or open on one side, or else in the shape of a spiral, or fashioned like a chain, the bracelet has been worn from the earliest times in the East by men also, especially by princes as one of the insignia of royalty, and by distinguished persons in general.

Of all jewels the simplest and at the same time perhaps the most interesting and important is the finger ring. It is universally employed as an article of personal ornament, and has been worn by both sexes at almost all times, and in nearly every country. Sometimes it is an object of use as the signet ring, or a token of dignity as the bishop’s ring. Sometimes it has a symbolical significance, as the wedding-ring. Sometimes it is purely ornamental.

Most finger rings may be said to be formed of two parts—the circular portion which surrounds the finger, known as the hoop or shank, and the enlarged or upper portion which is called the bezel. This latter term, applied to the upper side of the ring, which is broadened to receive an ornament of some kind, generally a stone, seems to have originally designated the basil or projecting flange, that retained the stone in its setting. The term collet, also used for the whole top including the stone or seal, is similarly derived from the flange or collet in which the stone is set. From its box-like shape this part of the ring is also called the chat on.

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