Ancient Roman Gold Ring with Garnet Intaglio of Socrates


An exceptional ancient Roman gold ring featuring a circular hoop and a finely decorated trumpet bezel. Composed of bulbous petals, the bezel is flanked by two gold granules at the base and adorned by a frieze of evenly spaced, smaller granules at the top. The piece is further enriched with a deep-red cabochon garnet, finely carved with a male head facing left. Portrayed as bearded and bold, the man closely resembles the Greek philosopher Socrates, presenting a head type similar to the work of the early Hellenistic period. The broad nose, said to have linked the philosopher to a silenus, allows a second possible interpretation of the figure as one of the mythical creatures, part man part beast, closely associated with the god Dionysus.

Closest UK ring size: U.

Date: Circa 1st – 3rd Century AD
Provenance: From a collection of ancient rings, 1980s.
Condition: Fine condition.

In stock

SKU: MG-343 Category: Tags: , , ,

The term intaglio refers to a small image that has been engraved into a gemstone and usually set in a piece of jewellery, most commonly a ring. Such artistic form has its origin in Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, with the appearance of cylinder and stamp seals, whereby decorations and patterns were engraved into soft stones. During the Hellenistic period and the early Roman Empire, the art of intaglio reached its apogee, with there being a steady decline in craftsmanship in the late Imperial Rome, until a revival of interest with the Byzantine and during the Renaissance.

The subject used for intaglios are diverse, with depictions of deities being a favourite theme. Regarded as the founder of Western philosophy, Socrates (Σωκράτης; 469-399 B.C.) remains an enigmatic figure, known mostly through the accounts of his students, particularly Plato and Xenophon. Their work, written in the form of dialogues, uses the character of Socrates as an investigative tool to examine subjects and approach different areas of philosophy, including rationalism and ethics. While in life, he was recognised as a controversial figure and often figured in the comedies of his contemporary Aristophanes, ‘The Clouds’ produced in 423 B.C. being the best-known example.

Silenus was the rustic god of wine-making and drunkenness, and always depicted as an old man. He was the foster father, tutor, and companion of the god, Dionysus, who was entrusted to Silenus’ care by Hermes after his birth from the thigh of Zeus. Silenus rode in the train of Dionysus, seated on the back of a donkey, and it was believed that he could predict the future when intoxicated.

To find out more about intaglios and Roman gods, please visit our relevant blog posts: Engraved Gemstones in Ancient Rome; to discover more about the cult of Dionysus see our blog post: Dionysus: Madness, Release, and Wine.

Weight 7.16 g
Dimensions W 2.1 x H 3.3 cm



Semi-Precious Stones

Roman Mythology

Reference: For similar intaglios, For a similar coin, please see The Met Museum, item 81.6.82 and The Met Museum, item 81.6.81

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