Roman Rings Jewelry - History

Artwork on Roman rings

Roman rings are notable for the sheer variety of both materials used in production and their imaginative decoration. The artwork on these rings takes advantage of the raw materials available throughout the Empire and the differing skills and techniques employed by Roman jewellers and native jewellers in the conquered lands of the Empire. Hatched motifs – patterns of lines, squares, diamonds and swirls – were often engraved on Roman rings. The designs were varied, as some were incorporated from the Celtic jewellers conquered by the Romans, while others originated with Roman jewellers migrating to Britain. Possibly this interchange of designs and ideas was a combination of Roman jewellers appeasing the conquered Celts with the flattering appropriation of their jewellery designs, and Celtic jewellers spotting a new sales opportunity.

Roman Jewellery

Intaglios – engraved precious stones similar in appearance to cameos – also featured on a lot of rings. The current Emperor or animals from Roman mythology were the most common and popular subjects for intaglios. These rings were functional as well as decorative, as they could be pressed into molten wax and then used as a unique seal on documents. From the third century onwards, as Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, religious representations were also engraved on intaglios. Fruit and vines, as well as wreaths and wheels, were also popular symbols in Roman rings and jewellery.

Animals such as birds, snakes, dogs, horses and fish were also incorporated into the designs. Some creatures held particular significance for the Romans – for instance, the eagle was identified with Jupiter. As well as being the god of the sky and thunder, Jupiter was the most important Roman god, so representations of him on all sorts of artefacts were common. Many Roman rings and other items of jewellery featured precious stones as the focal point.  Pearls and emeralds were very popular, as well as jasper – an opaque quartz gemstone, carnelian, which is a red gemstone with many degrees of shading, and chalcedony.

Chalcedony is a generic term applied to a number of different quartz stones, and all of these precious and semi-precious stones were easily accessible due to the geographic spread of the Roman Empire. Coloured glass also figured prominently in Roman rings, and gold coins – or aurei – were often incorporated into jewellery. The jewellers of the Roman Era were creative and imaginative, creating abstract designs for their products and using very thin gold wire as decoration.

Silver was also popular for rings and jewellery, as it could be fashioned into light, delicate pieces, and it was more robust than gold. The value of Roman rings depends on a number of factors. For individual pieces, historical significance can add considerable value. Generally, the time of production, quality of the metal and stones used and the finished appearance of the piece can all influence the worth of the ring.