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 custom of wearing rings was probably introduced by the Sabines, who are described in early legends as wearing gold rings with precious stones. During the Roman Republic it became customary for all the senators, chief magistrates, and at last for the equites also, to wear gold rings. Signet rings, such as this example, occurred in various ancient civilisations, as they were used to “sign” documents through the impression of the symbol on the ring pressed in to hot wax.
The subject used to decorate jewellery was diverse, with depictions of deities being a favourite theme. Serapis (Σέραπις) is a Graeco-Egyptian composite deity, blending the transformative powers of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Apis with the heavenly authority of the Greek god Zeus. His cult was developed under the Ptolemaic ruler Ptolemy I Soter (305-282 BC) as a means to unify his Greek and Egyptian subjects, and later gained popularity throughout the Roman Empire, until it was banned under Theodosius I (AD 379-395). Zeus Serapis became the tutelary divinity of the Severan imperial dynasty. The god’s association with the emperor enhanced the mystique of the position, imbuing the Roman ruler with his divine qualities as a giver of salvation and immortality.
The double Victory iconographic group appeared in Rome with Marius, who erected a statue of himself between two winged Victories bearing trophies to commemorate his victory over Jugurtha in 101 BC. The statue, erected on the Capitoline Hill and known as the Trophea Marii, was tore down by Sulla and restored by Caesar in 65 BC.
To find out more about Roman gods, please visit our relevant blog post: Roman Gods in Mythology.