In the ancient world, intaglios – small images set in gemstone jewellery – were used as seals to identify the owner much like personal signatures, as such, they were instrumental in legal transactions, and in the protection of goods against theft. The word garnet originates from the Latin word ‘granatus’, which translates to ‘seed or grain’. In Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Hades gave pomegranate seeds to his lover Persephone, as a token of safety, while she was leaving the underworld to join her mother Demeter in the human world. The semi-precious stone, recalling the colour and the shape of the pomegranate seed, became a typical gift exchanged between separated lovers.
The subjects 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 tables 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 the god has to commerce but also thievery.
To find out more about intaglios and Roman gods, please visit our relevant blog posts:Engraved Gemstones in Ancient Rome.