Intaglio rings were a popular style of jewellery in Ancient Rome and have been uncovered across the full geographic extent of the former Roman Empire. The nature of their individual production meant that designs and details show a wide variety, though there are common themes, such as certain gods, which were especially popular, though more earthly themes such as animals and mortal figures also appear regularly. The custom of wearing gold rings spread during the Roman Empire, where jewellery became more and more elaborate, embracing new designs and techniques, such as the nicolo. The nicolo is an intaglio carved in banded onyx, agate or glass in such a way that the depiction, engraved on the pale top layer, reveals the dark colour underneath.
The subject used for intaglios are diverse, with depictions of deities being a favourite theme. Mercury, Mercurius in Latin, was a major component of the Ancient Roman pantheon. Commonly identified with the Ancient Greek god Hermes, his cult has a long tradition, with the earliest evidences of his name found on Linear B tablets dating to the 15th – 13th century BC. As messenger and herald, Mercury/Hermes features in several mythological episodes, such as the killing of Argos. His representations in Roman art derive from the Greek tradition, maintaining Hermes’ attributes such as the winged sandals (talaria) and hat (petasos). His tale tell signs of the caduceus and purse symbolise the link that the god has to commerce but also thievery.