The History Of Roman Jewelry
Ancient Rome is well endowed with a history decked in fame for its complex jewelry designs and their use of a vast variety of materials, specifically gems from all shades of the rainbow and glass beads. This craft was further strengthened in its place by the influence of the different cultures the Romans favored and an assortment of natural resources that were available in all the conquered Mediterranean territories. In addition to this, an extensive trade network of imports guided access to materials that otherwise would not have been available; semiprecious stones and precious stones that would require months of travel and voyaging along the Silk Road of Persia, India and further east.
Ancient Roman Jewelry for Men
Unlike in the present, the Romans had little discrimination of gender in manners of jewelry. Although only men of wealth could collect fine art such as sculptures or silver wares, it was typical enough to wear several rings. Men often wore more than five rings on each hand.
The Anima Roman Ring (pictured) is a reproduction of a 4th century original in private collection. ANIMA DVLCIS VIVAS MECV decorates the band "may you live with me sweet soul"
Additionally, bracelets and collars with pendant were also subject to the romans’ favor. Torcs and bracelets were used as symbols. One such example is that of the Roman Dictator Titus Manlius, who is famous for when, in 361 BC, he challenged a Gaul to single combat, killed him, and took his Torc to wear it ever since , hence his nickname “Titus Manlius Imperiosus “Torquatus” (he who wears a torc). Since then, torcs were awarded to heroes who displayed distinctive feats in battle and during conquests and were further used to distinguish elite units.
Ancient Roman Jewelry for Women
In contrast to the men, Roman women lavished in collections of different jewelry sets and adorned their bodies with rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces all worn at the same time. The exaggeration is nil, as there are many testimonies of husbands complaining how much jewelry their wives wore. Even functional accessories such as brooches or pins used to fasten garments were heavily decked with gemstones, and often created from precious metals. Earrings, specifically boat-shaped earrings wrought from precious metals were one of the most popular items in Rome amongst women.
Roman Jewelry Materials
Semiprecious stones like garnet, emeralds, peridots, jasper and lapis lazuli were imported from Egypt. These held a wide variety of stone embedded into earrings. Onyx, amber and moonstone were brought in from the Persian Gulf.
Oddly enough, one of the widest known expeditions for the acquisition of amber, known at the time as “The gold of the North” occurred during the reign of Emperor Nero, when a Roman Equite (member of the Roman Equestrian Order) reported that they brought in enough amber to build an entire stadium of Gladiatorial combat.
Romans favored massive, eye-catching rings that indicated their social status. Senators and Bureaucrats would wear gold rings with a generously sized gemstone that, at a glance, would immediately indicate their status.
Plebeians, or commoners were only allowed to wear rings of iron, although occasionally they were granted rings of gold as a sign of bravery in battle.
Bracelets were typically made from gold and pearls and would adorn both wrists. They were of no use, and served in a purely decorative function. It wasn’t uncommon for bracelets ton depict coiling snakes fastened by pins, which symbolized immortality.
Earrings are one of the oldest forms of jewelry to exist. The women of the Roman Empire wore earrings primarily to embellish the face, it was also to symbolize their value or position in society. Amethyst, which serve as a sign of enchantment, were one of the most popular materials around that could be embedded in earrings.
Necklaces were favored by men and women, rich and poor alike. The highest term of their popularity came around when the Emperors began the ritual of hanging a pendant in the winner’s neck. Most Romans leaned towards pendant rather than simple, choker-like necklaces. Pendants had the image of the emperor stamped upon them, or were adorned with a gemstone embedded in precious metals.
In the early years Roman jewelry was quite a bit more conservative than other Mediterranean cultures. However, Roman invasion into new territories led to greater resources as well as lifestyles bursting with grandeur and luxury. Hence, jewelry became more opulent. On our ancient jewelry timeline you can see some of the overlap of styles and cultures of ancient civilizations, and how Romans, Greeks and Egyptians coexisted for many centuries.
Later Byzantine styles mark the fall of Rome and rise of Constantinople as the empires capital. Though we group these styles as the mark of the middle ages, Byzantine art is very culturally similar to the Roman roots from which it derived.
Buying Ancient Roman Jewelry
The majority of Roman jewelry was cast in iron and thus the pieces have degraded. Surviving gemstones, cameos, and cabochons are sometimes set into a modern setting, but in general it's hard to come by wearable ancient pieces that don't cost a fortune, and arguably these works belong in a museum of cultural institution.
Our Ancient Roman Jewelry collection solves for this by recreating the treasures of the Roman Empire at an affordable price point. We have a large selection of earrings, rings, pendants and brooches for sale.