AN INTRODUCTION TO ROMAN JEWELRY 1 BCE to 2 CE

THIS CLASS WAS FIRST TAUGHT AT THE KNOWNE WORLD COURTESANS VIRTUAL COURTESAN COLLEGE ON AUGUST 3, 2020. BELOW ARE QUESTIONS THAT AROSE FROM THAT CLASS AND HOPEFULLY WERE ANSWERED BELOW.

CLASS QUESTIONS: ANSWERS, THEORIES, & SOURCES

Question 1 of 4: What would the best way to style a chain of fealty for the persona of a Eques? 

There were a few styles of chains during the Roman Era, the the loop-in-loop style is a common one that dates back to early Minoan culture. There was also a mesh style, a double loop-in-loop, a “cord” chain which was a style that linked several double loop-in-loop styles, a strap chain, oblong chain, and a few others. (Higgins p. 14). Pretty much all chains were designed for the Roman woman during this time. There was an obvious preference (or lack of options) for slender chains. Some had a jewel or pendant and some were unadorned.

In Roman Britain the double loop link chains appear to be in the majority. There is also the open work style and an 0 and 8 style chain.

This oblong link chain (11.8”) is interesting as the pendant is shaped like a phallus. Which likely connects it to a Roman male, most likely a boy (but that does not make it exclusively so).

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A body chain, made for a girl or small woman, that was found in the Hoxne Hoard in England, dates to the 4th century, although, frescos found in Pompeii also show images of the body chain in use. I believe the below is a strap chain. There is also a necklace of the same style.

Ultimately, there is no clear answer to this question and, in truth, it really comes down to personal preference as chains would not likely have been worn by an eques. Besides whatever style you go with, if you want to add to it, they did wear a gold ring as a sign of their station.

How to make loop-in-loop chain

Sources:

The British Museum. (n.d.). www.Britishmuseum.Org. Retrieved August 5, 2020, from https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/search?object=chain&material_culture=Roman&view=grid&sort=object_name__asc&page=1

Calinescu, A., & Indiana University, Bloomington. Art Museum. (1996). Ancient jewelry and archaeology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Higgins, R. (1961). Greek and Roman jewellery (Methuen’s handbooks of archaeology). London: Methuen. 

Pompeii and the Roman villa : Art and culture around the bay of Naples. Washington: National Gallery of Art. 

D’Ambrosio, A. (2001). Women and beauty in Pompeii. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. 


Question 2 of 4: When it comes to laurel wreath circlets, were the artistic representations of them in gold ever a historical reality?

No… and yes, well kinda. To be more specific, evidence pertaining to a gold laurel wreath circlet or crown worn during, or in, the Roman Empire is ill-defined. I also believe that some etymological research is required. I’m sure more skilled and knowledgable researchers have better theories and information on this than I do. The depictions in Rome, during the Roman Empire, all seem to be linked to live bay leaf wreaths and different kinds of foliage, particularly important was oak. Other wreath circlets were made out of various materials but appear to be used mostly, but not exclusively, for soldiers. When they appear in images, such as paintings, especially funerary paintings (see below) it seems to be more of a symbolic nature.

It is with the leaves of this class of trees [Oak] that our civic crown is made, the most glorious reward that can be bestowed on military valour, and, for this long time past, the emblem of the imperial clemency; since the time, in fact, when, after the impiety of civil war, it was first deemed a meritorious action not to shed the blood of a fellow-citizen. Far inferior to this in rank are the mural crown, the vallar, and the golden one…”

Pliny the Elder (CHAP. 3)

However, and there is always a “however,” in Wreath Its Use And Meaning In Ancient Visual Culture it is speculated that the priest who preforms the sacrifices might have worn an “olive or gold wreath.”  It’s a little unclear whether they are speaking of an olive leaf wreath, olive leaf wreath of gold, or a gold wreath or crown of a different style. Still, not a laurel wreath.

If you travel out of this time and place to Ancient Greece you will find some laurel leaf wreaths diadems. Not quite as we interpret them in modern imagery and more varieties than just laurel leafs. These were also found in Etruria but the style most likely came to them from the Greeks. 

Father of thy country, who wast the first of all, while wearing the toga, to merit a triumph, and who didst obtain the laurel for oratory. Great father, thou, of eloquence and of Latin literature! as the Dictator Cæsar, once thy enemy, wrote in testimony of thee, thou didst require a laurel superior to every triumph! How far greater and more glorious to have enlarged so immeasurably the boundaries of the Roman genius, than those of its sway! (31.) Those persons among the Romans, who surpass all others in wisdom, have the surnames of Catus and Corculus given to them. Among the Greeks, Socrates was declared by the oracle of the Pythian Apollo to be superior to all others in wisdom.

Pliny the Elder

Source: Pliny the Elder. Delphi Complete Works of Pliny the Elder (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 53) . Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition. 

Part 2: Gold laurel wreaths seen in funerary/portraits during the Roman Era

It is likely that gold laurel wreaths, as seen in funerary portraits (below) and images, are likely to be of symbolic nature and not reflective of actual use, at least by the living.

In the Catalogue of the jewellery, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, in the departments of antiquities, which I’ve referenced before, the author discusses such funerary crowns:

“Besides the numerous crowns prepared for the living, there was also a most extensive manufacture of crowns for purposes purely funerary.  The signification of the funerary crown is not quite certain. In many cases the crown was clearly a mark of honour, as in the case of the crowns granted to the living. But the custom was so general that some other meaning must have attached to it. Tertullian suggested that the dead were crowned for the same reason that images of the gods were crowned. They became as it were deified. It is possible that some such notion lurked beneath the practice.” (Page xxxii)

F.H. Marshall

Question 3 of 4: Etruscan influences on Roman jewelry

Sources show that there was an Etruscan/Greek influence in both directions, but showing a stronger influence by the Greeks on the Etruscans. And as Greek jewelry is the ornate parent of Roman jewelry it is probably more likely that the majority of the influence came via the Greeks. Interestingly enough, in the “Catalogue of the jewellery, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman” by F.H. Marshall, it is pointed out that the bulla/bullae, the very well known Roman amulet worn by boys (and domesticated animals, which was the case of many amulets), is actually Etruscan in origin, it was refereed to as the “Ktruscuiu aumiu.” (Page: xli)

Sources:

Catalogue of the jewellery, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, in the departments of antiquities, British Museum. By F.H. Marshall. British Museum. London : Printed by order of the Trustees, 1911. Public Domain https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t3hx1mb78

Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Jewelry By ANDREW OLIVER, JR.


Question 4 of 4: Were there glass twist bracelets during the Roman Era (similar to Historic Glass Works’ bracelets)?

Most of the items I study are museum finds or auction items. You can only imagine the degradation over +/- 2,000 years. What I have found, outside the period I study, are some twist bracelets that float around the 4th century CE (the examples below can be found here and here). This is all I’ve found at this point but I’m sure there are more out there.