The ancient Romans considered jewellery to be an essential accessory, for it provided a public display of their wealth. Roman jewellery at first followed trends set by the Etruscans, using gold and glass beads, but as the power and spread of the Roman Empire increased, so too did jewellery designs became increasingly elaborate. Different cultural styles from Greece, Egypt, North Africa, and the Orient were all incorporated to reflect Rome’s prosperity as a dominant, conquering city. The wide range of natural resources enabled artisans to create ostentatious jewellery using a diverse selection of materials: this increasingly included sapphires, diamonds, emeralds, garnet and amber from India, and pearls (which were particularly prized).
Archaeological finds of Roman jewellery are relatively rare, considering the magnitude of Roman civilisation, and the historical and geographical span of the Empire. Romans used cameos both to flaunt their sophisticated tastes and wealth, and to demonstrate their devotion to gods or political forces. Ancient Roman cameos were made mostly of semi-precious stones, such as agate, onyx and sardonyx.
The female figure’s hairstyle, with her low chignon, may be reminiscent of the fashion under Marcus Aurelius (imp. 147-175 AD). Portraits of his wife, Faustina II, on coins display a similar hairstyle, with the hair woven and assembled in a low bun.
To find out more about Roman jewellery please see our relevant blog post: The History and Mythology of Gemstones in Ancient Jewellery.