Jewellery in the Roman Republic
The core ideologies of the Roman Republic, centred around moderation and restraint, meant that elaborate jewellery was relatively unpopular until the transformation to imperial rule. The law of the Twelve Tables in the 5th century BC, limited the amount of gold which might have been buried with the dead. The Lex Oppia, 3rd century BC, fixed at half of an ounce the amount of gold which a Roman lady might have worn. During the Roman Empire, however, jewellery became a public display of wealth.
Jewellery in the Roman Empire
Jewellery of this period embraced a more elaborate style, with new designs and techniques. Precious and semi-precious stones were used to create fine and unique pieces of jewellery, reflecting the wealth and prosperity of the Empire. Initially jewellery’s production under the Empire followed the trends set by the Greeks, however, with the spread of the Roman Empire as a powerful, conquering city, Roman jewellery asserted its independence from Greek traditions, mixing Etruscan and Italic influences in creating wonderful and unique pieces of jewellery.
Roman Gold Rings: Wedding Fede
Rings were one of the most popular pieces of jewellery in Roman culture. Under the Republic the wearing of gold rings was exclusively reserved to certain classes of persons or for specific occasions. In the late 3rd century BC senators and knights equo publico had this privilege. Towards the end of the Republic, gold rings were also bestowed on civilians. Under the Roman Empire gold rings, although still regarded as a privilege and awarded as a military distinction, were extremely popular. Rings were used as marks of dignity and wealth, as ornaments and as seal rings. Unlike the Ancient Greeks, the Romans used to exchange rings as tokens of engagement, such rings are known as fede.
Intaglios and Cameos
Rings were often embellished with intaglios, cameos and precious gemstones. Mythology and Roman history were used as a repertoire of decorative themes. Roman rings featuring carved gemstones, such as carnelian, garnet or chalcedony, were often engraved with the depiction of deities, allegories and zoomorphic creatures. Rings were also modelled in the shape of snakes, a popular form of jewellery deriving from Hellenistic culture.