Roman Jewellery

Roman jewellery was characterized by an interest in coloured gemstones and glass, contrasting with Greek predecessors, which focused primarily on the production of high-quality metalwork by practiced artisans. Various types of jewellery were worn by different genders and social classes in Ancient Rome, and were used both for aesthetic purposes and to communicate social messages of status and wealth.

Blacas Cameo: This head of Augustus was carved from a four-layered sardonyx, c. 20-50 AD.

A particular favourite of the Romans was to carve semi-precious gemstones to create cameos and intaglios.

Cameos

They nearly always feature a raised (positive) relief image and were very popular in the Julio-Claudian imperial family.

The Great Cameo of France, five layers sardonyx, Rome, c. 23 AD.

Intaglios

Intaglios were gemstones that were cut into and gave a negative relief. The engraving of gemstones was a major luxury art form in the Roman Empire and intaglios were mounted onto necklaces and rings.

Portrait of Caracalla in amethyst.

Rings

Sapphire ring, thought to belong to Caligula, depicting his last wife, Caesonia.

As mentioned above, the Romans liked to include an intaglio in many of their gold rings but also used glass as a material. Another common trend was to see clasped hands on a ring which represented a bethrothal or marriage.

Earrings

Necklaces

Necklace made from gold and carnelian. Walters Art Museum.

Bracelets

Solid gold snake bracelets, among the most popular types of Roman jewellery. They were often worn in pairs, around the wrists as well as on the upper arms.

Back to Roman Art