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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Roman Jewelry Part 3: Rings

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The Romans appear to have been more extravagant in their rings than any other people. Very few ornamental rings are earlier in date than the time of the Empire, when the passion for gold rings adorned with precious stones and engraved gems seems to have pervaded all classes ; and it reached such extravagance that Martial speaks of a man who wore six on every finger, and recommends another who had one of monstrous size to wear it on his leg instead of his hand.

Some individuals, we learn, had different sets of rings for summer and winter, those for the latter season being too heavy for hot weather. Their weight was sometimes very great, and it is not to be wondered that complaint was made of their liability to slip off when the finger was greasy at a meal.

Even until the latest times the ring retained its original purpose as a means of distinction or of recognition, and was used by its wearer to impress his seal on documents and private property. It continued also to be associated with the idea of power and privilege especially bestowed upon the individual. Thus the Roman paterfamilias wore on his finger a ring with a small key attached.

Every Roman appears to have chosen at pleasure the subject or device for his signet— a portrait of a friend or an ancestor, or some subject from poetry or mythology. Each of these devices became associated with a particular person, and served, like the coat-of-arms of later centuries, as a mark of identification.

The commonest variety of ring is formed of a plain band of gold which widens and thickens towards the bezel, and is set with a small stone. The latter is generally engraved, but is often quite plain. The similarity of the convex sardonyx to an eye often struck the ancients, and may account for this stone being frequently found not engraved in rings, and set in a collet, itself shaped into the form of a human eye. Such rings were no doubt worn as amulets.

Rings containing stones set in this manner have sometimes a flattened hoop and open-work shoulders. Other distinctly ornamental rings, known by the Romans as polypscpiii, are formed of two or more rings united together. A large number of Roman rings are of bronze, and the key rings referred to are, with a very few exceptions, of this material.

Iron and bronze rings were not infrequently gilded. Such rings, according to Pliny, were called Samothracian. Rings in the form of snakes were very popular, as were those shaped like a Herculean knot. Like other articles of jewelry, rings are sometimes set with gold coins of the late Empire.

A few ornamental rings have high pyramidal bezels which were sometimes hollow, and were made to contain poison. Hannibal killed himself with a dose of poison which he carried about with him in his ring; so did the officer in charge of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. ” Being arrested,” says Pliny, ” he broke the stone of his ring between his teeth and expired on the spot.”

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Etruscan Jewelry Part 3: Necklaces, Bracelets, Brooches and Rings

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In examining the very primitive necklaces and other ornaments that have been discovered in various tombs in Italy, especially in Etruria and Latium, the extraordinary abundance of amber at once attracts attention. The amber of this ancient jewelry of Italy has accessories, sometimes of gold, and more frequently of silver, or else of an alloy of gold and silver termed electritm.

A noteworthy early necklace of these materials found at Praeneste, and now in the British Museum, is composed of amber cylinders, and pendent vases alternately of amber and electrum. Though the majority of Etruscan necklaces aim at largeness of display, some are as delicate and refined as the best Greek ornaments.

From a round plaited chain in the British Museum hangs a single ornament—the mask of a faun whose hair, eyebrows, and wavy beard are worked with fine granulation; another pendant is a Negro’s head on which the granules are disposed with exquisite skill to represent the short woolly hair.

Finer even than either of these—and a remarkable example of the combination of the two processes of filigree and granulation—is a neck pendant in the form of a mask of Dionysos (Bacchus) in the Campana Collection in the Louvre. On this the curls of hair over the forehead are represented by filigree spirals, while the beard is worked .entirely in the granulated method.

A large number of necklaces have evidently been produced simply for sepulchral purposes, for they are composed, like the majority of crowns, of the thinnest bracteate gold in the shape of rosettes and studs strung together. The chief characteristic of Etruscan necklaces is their ornamentation with pendent bullce. The bulla, from the Latin word meaning a bubble, was usually made of two concave plates of gold fastened together so as to form a globe—lentoid or vase-shaped which an amulet was contained.

In Etruscan art both men and women are represented wearing necklaces and even bracelets formed of bullae. Occasionally, instead of a bulla, is some such object as the tooth or claw of an animal, or a small primitive flint arrow-head, which served as an amulet.

Of bracelets of primitive work are a famous pair in the British Museum, which were discovered in a tomb at Cervetri (Caere). They are composed of thin plates of gold measuring 8 inches in length by 2 inches in width, divided into six sections, ornamented with scenes thoroughly Assyrian in character, indicated by lines of microscopic granulations.

Etruscan fibulae of gold are generally formed of a short arc-shaped bow and a long sheath for the pin decorated with minute granular work. Upon the upper surface are often rows of small models of animals.

Upon the sheath of a large early fibula found at Cervetri (Caere), and now in the British Museum, is a double row of twenty-four standing lions. The bow of the later fibulae is sometimes in the form of a single figure, as that of a crouching lion.

A considerable number of small fibulae of this type appear to have been worn in rows down the seam of the dress. Two series of these, the one numbering twenty-one and the other thirty-nine, both found in a tomb at Vulci, are in the Louvre.

The Etruscans appear to have had a special love for rings; every finger, including the thumb, was covered with them, and a considerable number have been discovered in the tombs. The majority are composed of scarabs mounted much in the same style as those of the Egyptians.

One of the finest Etruscan rings in the British Museum is formed by two lions, whose bodies make up the shank, their heads and fore-paws supporting a bezel in filigree which holds the signet stone—a small scarabasus charged with a lion regardant.

Another remarkable class of Etruscan rings has large oval bezels measuring upwards of an inch and a half across. These are set with an engraved gem, and have wide borders ornamented with various designs. An example in the British Museum shows a pattern formed of dolphins and waves.

Continued in Part 4

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Phoenician Jewelry: Sculptures Part 2

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In addition to the actual ornaments, special value attaches also to Phoenician sculptures, principally busts, both from Phoenicia itself and from its colonies, owing to the care with which personal ornaments and details of dress are represented.

Several striking examples of these are preserved in the galleries set apart for Cyprian and Phoenician antiquities in the British Museum. The most famous of similar works, which include the sculptures from the ” Cerro de los Santos,” near Yecla in the province of Albacete in Spain, now in the museum at Madrid, is the remarkable stone bust of a woman in the Louvre, known as the ” Lady of Elch,” from a town of that name in the province of Alicante, where it was discovered in 1897.

The majestic character of this figure, its sumptuous coiffure with clusters of tassels suspended by ten chains, the wheel-like discs that cover the ears, the triple row of necklaces with their urn-shaped pendants—all unite to produce an effect unequaled by any known statue of antiquity.

Especially noticeable among these ornaments is the diadem which encircles the forehead and hangs down from each side in long pendants upon the shoulders. With this may be compared the chains hung at the ends of the golden fillet at Berlin, discovered by Schliemann at the pre-Mycenaean city of Hissarlik in the Troad, the ornate tasselled appendages at St. Petersburg, found with the famous Greek diadems in the tombs of the Crimea, and the elaborate head ornaments with pendent ends worn by Algerian women at the present day.

The Phoenicians, as seen also by their sculptures, were addicted to the barbaric practice of piercing the upper parts of the ears, as well as the lobes, and attaching to them rings bearing drop-shaped pendants. Rings were also attached to the hair on each side of the face. They consist of a double twist which could be run through a curl of the hair, and are ornamented at one end with a lion’s or gryphon’s head.

Of ordinary earrings worn by the Phoenicians the simplest is a plain ring. In the majority of cases the simple ring was converted into a hook and served to suspend various ornaments, of which baskets or bushels with grain in them afforded favorite motives.

Examples of earrings of this kind, from Tharros in Sardinia, are in the British Museum. Statues, like the Lady of Elch, show that Phoenician women wore three or four necklaces at the same time, one above the other; these vary in the size of their elements, from the small beads about the throat, to the large acorn-shaped pendants which hang low upon the breast. They display a striking admixture of Greek and Egyptian motives.

Gold beads are often intermixed with small carnelian and onyx bugles, to which hang amphorae formed alternately of gold or crystal. The Phoenicians were particularly skilled in the manufacture of glass: occasionally the sole materials of their necklaces are beads of glass. A necklace from Tharros in Sardinia, now in the British Museum, is formed of beads of glass and gold; of its three gold pendants, the centre one is the head of a woman with Egyptian coiffure, and the two others lotus flowers.

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Continued in Part 3

Early Egyptian Jewelry: Bracelets and Rings Part 3

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Sculptures and paintings represent bracelets by bands of red or blue color on the arms, and show that the Egyptians wore four—one on the wrist and one above the elbow of each arm. Some of the earliest are composed of glass and gold beads threaded so as to form various patterns. The more solid forms of bracelet are ornamented with inlaid work. Rings for the arms, as well as the ankles, are generally of plain gold—both solid and hollow—sometimes bordered with plaited chain-work. Bracelets of thick and occasionally twisted wire, found as early as the twelfth dynasty, usually have the ends beaten out into a thin wire, which is lapped round the opposite shank so as to slip easily over the wrist. Bracelets in the form of serpents belong to the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods.

The commonest ornament is the finger ring. The ring was not only an ornament, but an actual necessity, since it served as a signet, the owner’s emblem or badge being engraved either on the metal of the ring or on a scarab or other stone set in it.

There are three main types of Egyptian rings. The first and simplest, composed of a seal stone with a ring attached, is formed of a hoop with flattened ends, each pierced, which grasp the scarab. Through a hole made in the scarab was run a wire, the ends of which, passing through the extremities of the ring, were wound several times round it. The revolving scarab exhibited its back when worn on the finger and the engraved side when necessary to use it as a seal. The general outline of the ring is like a stirrup, a form which of course varied in accordance with the size of the scarab.

In a second type of ring the swivel disappears, and the ring is in one piece. Its outline retains the stirrup form, but the inside of the hoop is round and fits closely to the finger. Of this type are rings, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasty, formed of two hoops united at the top and having the names and titles of the owner deeply sunk in hieroglyphics on oblong gold bezels.

A third type, almost circular in outline, is of similar form to the signet-ring of the present day.

In addition to those which were actually worn in life, are models of real rings employed solely for funeral purposes to ornament the fingers of the wooden model hands which were placed on the coffins of mummies of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties.

The model rings are made of faience with fine glazes of blue, green, and other colors, with various devices, incuse or in intaglio, upon the bezels, which are generally of oval form.

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