Roman Silver Ring with Dolphins and Garnet


An ancient Roman silver ring featuring a D-shaped hoop and a protruding openwork bezel. The shoulders of the ring are modelled in the form of stylised fish heads, most likely dolphins, with pairs of incised concentric circles representing the eyes. The bezel presents a tiered design, comprised of an openwork circular base, on top of which four undulating dolphin ornaments have been attached to a tall tubular centrepiece. The ring is further enriched with a garnet cabochon inset, although now chipped, to the top of the tube. The piece was likely to have originally been used as a key ring with the central tube forming a mandrel, then adapted into decorative jewellery with the garnet stone added later in antiquity.

Closest UK ring size: between N and O

Date: Circa 3rd-4th century AD
Provenance: Ex Cotswold collection, UK, 1990s.
Condition: Fine condition with encrustations to the surface. Chip to garnet inset.

In stock

SKU: CY-202 Category: Tags: ,

Small and elegant key rings were a Roman innovation. The rings were generally made of bronze or iron, although examples in gold and silver also exist, like this beautiful piece, and each had a uniquely shaped ward suggesting that the keys were both decorative and functional. Roman clothing such as the toga did not generally have pockets and keeping keys closer to the person gave additional security. The key rings were thought to have opened small containers enclosing personal possessions such as jewellery boxes, rather than larger doors or cupboards. Hence rings are also believed to have symbolised marriage or betrothal, and were worn by Roman brides to signify their role in household management. Keys might also have had an amuletic role due to their function in security and protection. Key-rings were in use across the Empire. Roman British sites including London and Colchester have frequently turned up such key rings.

Dolphins were a popular motif in Roman art, depicted in metals, as well as mosaics, frescoes and on the reverse of coins. They appear frequently in mythology, often helping Classical heroes such as Theseus, as well as being associated with a number of gods, including Bacchus, Apollo, Venus and Cupid. Within the creation myth written by the Latin author, Nonnus, writing in the 5th century AD, he claims within in his epic poem the ‘Dionysiaca’that a dolphin carried Aphrodite from the sea to the island of Cyprus.

For more information about the meanings of animals in Roman art, see our relevant blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art.

Weight 7.13 g
Dimensions W 3.0 x H 2.5 cm



Semi-Precious Stones

You may also like…