The Sparkle of Jewelry in the Roman Empire

 

The Sparkle of Jewelry in the Roma

The Sparkle of Jewelry in the Roman Empire

by Shalini Kagal

Jewelry designs and trends during Roman empire period – The strange thing is that the Romans were when the empire first began, rather austere in their tastes – their food, their clothes, their ornaments. What they wore was more functional rather than flaunting. Then came the army’s success as they began to spread out and conquer. Soon, Spartan gave way to Style. This could have been due to two reasons. One, the fact that they saw a new world out there where many dressed in a more resplendent manner and flaunted jewelry. Two, the fact that very often they carried back the spoils of war of which gold and precious stones formed a part. By the first century B.C., there was a variety of jewelry available with a wide choice of designs.

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The first foray was probably into
gold as this was the metal that they
brought back most often from their
conquests. Then, the trend grew to
embrace both Greek and Eastern
influences. So we see beads made of
glass, colored stones and the use of
silver as well as the rare bronze.
After all, according to Homer,
wasn’t this the metal used to
fashion Achilles’ shield? We also
see the use of pearls and bone.

It all started with piercing – but
piercing with a purpose. The men
pierced themselves as a show of
strength. If they pierced their
nipples, it symbolized both their
loyalty to their empire as well as
being a symbol of power. In fact the
gladiators would pierce various
parts of their body believing that
this was supposed to protect them
from injuries.

As interest in jewelry grew, the
early designs show a marked leaning
towards the Greek styles. However,
with time, a more distinctive Roman
style seems to emerge. The Romans
had a partiality for stones like
emeralds, sapphires, rubies and
topaz. They also had a choice of
pendants which were encased in gold
and were cameos. Some of them were
made to be large enough to hold a
bit of perfume. These were in full
display with the ladies who came to
watch the chariot races as they
began to get more popular in Rome.
The horses too, especially the ones
that took part in the races, were
decked out in pearls and stones
woven into their tails and their
manes. The young boys usually wore a
neck chain or a ‘bulla’ which had a
small pouch that contained
protective amulets.
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The Romans were very conscious of
their status in society. So clothes
became important items of
demarcation between the various
classes – between those born free
and the slaves, as well as the many
classes in polite society. Jewelry
therefore became a very important
status symbol together with clothing
to make this distinction.

 

Roman Jewelry

 

 

 

 

One
could see a lot of gold
hemispherical shapes which were made
into earrings, necklaces or
bracelets. The men usually were a
little more subtle and their jewelry
was constrained to one finger ring.
At first these rings were made of
iron, then of gold. Then precious
stones were used for rings as were
semiprecious stones like chalcedony
and carnelian. The trend grew
however and there were some Roman
men who wore a ring on every finger.
Roman women were said to wear
friendship rings as well. Both men
and women wore carved rings – the
stone was often carved so it would
facilitate sealing documents. The
ring was pressed into hot wax and
the document sealed. This practice
continued well into the later times
when kings used this method to seal
anything.

The trend of relief where silver
ornaments and vessels was concerned
was practiced in the fourth century
B.C. This type of ornamentation was
done a lot in the Greek era and it
permeated all silverwork right
through the Roman civilization.
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The most popular item of jewelry by
far however, was the brooch. This
was what held most Roman clothing
together. It really was an
ornamental safety pin but the Romans
raised it to a work of art. In fact,
you can find variations of it in far
flung parts of the Roman Empire.
What was unique at that point of
time was the clasp or the ‘fibula’.
Though the brooches served a very
functional purpose – that of holding
clothing together – they were
beautifully made. There were laurel
leaves, branches of palms, winged
eagles and goddesses.
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From what has been unearthed and is
now in the museums, one realizes
that over two centuries ago, this
empire had jewelry that used
diamonds from India and sapphires
from Sri Lanka. In the England of
the Roman era, ‘jet’ or fossilized
wood was used to make jewelry. The
ancient Romans used a lot of amber
in their jewelry as well. Amber is
the resin from fossilized trees and
it was referred to as the ‘gold of
the north’. One sees that a lot of
ornaments fashioned out of amber
were made during the second century
B.C. Many of the ancient
civilizations made jewelry out of
amber and they were much-prized
possessions. Remains of amber
workshops have been found in parts
of Europe.

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The women wore beautifully designed
jewelry in their ears, fingers,
around their necks, on their clothes
and even in their hair! As well
designed as their brooches and
clothes pins were, equally so were
their jeweled hair pins. Of course,
some of the jewelry was worn by the
superstitious – and there were many
of them – to ward off what they
called the ‘evil eye’.
df66a18b2022b45408064696f1f534adMany of the Roman designs and ideas
were spread through their conquests
of places near and far and many just
spread and got mixed with the
neighboring cultures after the
decline of the Roman Empire. Soon,
one saw a change from a more
barbaric and resplendent taste in
jewelry in the conquered regions to
a more understated, elegant one.
So even though the ‘grandeur that
was Rome’, sung about by poets and
philosophers waned, their
contribution to the world of jewelry
design did not. It grew, changed and
flourished all over the world

 


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