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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