Nubia was home to Africa’s earliest kingdoms, dating back to the Palaeolithic period. Prior to Roman contact, Nubia was known as Kush, but was renamed by the Romans, as Nubia was believed to mean “Land of the Gold’. This was due to the rich deposits of gold and reflected the wealth of the Nubians. Nubia flourished for nearly three centuries through trade with Roman Egypt, which allowed for the exchange of crafted luxury goods such as precious metal, glass, jewellery, beads, ivory and other exotic products.
Cameos are hand carved detailed raised reliefs that are typically set in gold or silver and require a demanding process to craft. Roman cameos were often made from sardonyx, onyx, agate and imitation stones such as glass (called pastes) and mollusk shells. The cameo is usually a gem, containing two different coloured layers, with figures carved in one layer, so that they are raised on the background of the other.
The divide of wealth in Roman society was often represented in the ancient jewellery business, with those with great wealth able to afford precious and semi-precious gemstone cameos, whilst the lower classes obtained cameos from cheaper materials. Despite this, the depictions are often the same, showing heroes, rulers, mythological themes and gods and goddesses and portraits.
For more information about ancient gemstones, see the blog: The History and Mythology of Ancient Gemstones in Ancient Jewellery.