Session 6, 2012: Roman jewellery, by Lily Wonham


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Session 6, 2012: Roman jewellery, by Lily Wonham

  1. 1. Lily Wonham, session 6, 8th-27th August. What it was made of, popular motifs and designs, links with trade, and who wore what: a reflection of society
  2. 2.  Roman jewellery often had a practical function beyond just ‘dressing up’. For example: Brooches Fibula Seal rings Perfume pendants Bulla
  3. 3.  Links with trade: due to their large Empire, the Romans had access to a diverse range of precious and semi-precious materials to fashion jewellery out of. E.g. The ‘Amber Route’. Roman designs were adapted to local materials in each province, and local design motifs also incorporated. E.g. Fossilised wood ‘jet’ from Northern England. Common materials:  Glass beads and pearls in earlier times. Toward the fall of the Roman Empire exotic gems from India and the Far East were plentiful, including blue sapphire and topaz from India or Sri Lanka.  Lots of gold! And bronze and bone. Silver used less often.  Emerald; amethyst; garnet; topaz; rubies; diamond.  Coins sometimes used to make jewellery.
  4. 4.  Cameos Gold bracelets styled as snakes- symbolised immortality Gold rings often had relief carvings The gold ‘hemisphere’ Much Roman jewellery resembled Greek and Etruscan jewellery but had motifs borrowed from other cultures.
  5. 5.  Roman women would wear a wide variety of jewellery: men could wear other types but most tended to wear just rings, particularly their seal ring. ‘Women cannot partake of magistracies, priesthoods, triumphs, badges of office, gifts, or spoils of war; elegance, finery, and beautiful clothes are womens badges, in these they find joy and take pride, this our forebears called the womens world.’ (Livy, History of Rome 34.5) This quote records an argument for the repeal of a Roman wartime law restricting the amount of jewellery a woman could wear. However, women did not have much differentiation in dress so high- class women needed to wear jewellery in order to mark out their class and stand out. Bullas were pendents given to babies and worn through childhood. They contained amulet symbols for protection, security and wealth.
  6. 6.  The quartz bead found in the Roman city was likely once part of a necklace. The bead is large- it was probably worn by a higher class individual. Rock quartz was mined all over the Empire, including in the Alps, particularly France. They are also found in Germany.