In the case of Rome it is difficult to delimit the field of jewelry, since it does not only include objects of personal adornment. Other items made with precious metals and stones are inserted in the world of jewelry, such as trays, mirrors and even coins, as we will see below.
Jewelry in the Roman world
1. A brief history
If we want to have information about Roman jewelry, we have to go to the first century A.D. and the sites of Pompeii. From the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries, the British Isles and the regions of Algeria and Asia Minor offer us more remains. In addition to archaeology, we get information from painting and sculpture.
The Romans used many materials, colors and stones to produce stunning designs that have inspired jewelry making today. Most of the metals and gems used by the Romans were obtained from the Mediterranean territory, but also from Persia and India through imports.
The most common materials used in ancient Roman jewelry are:
Gold was mainly mined in the Balkans, Austria, Hispania and Egypt, but at the beginning of Roman civilization it was a highly valued material because of its small quantity. Mostly, it was used to make coins. But as the empire grew, the existence of gold also increased and more gold jewelry began to be made.
Silver was also well appreciated, although it is believed that due to the difficulty of preservation it is not easy to find remains today. It was mainly extracted from Hispania, Sardinia and Asia Minor.
The Romans loved pearls! They used them for elegant occasions such as processions and parties, that is, "evening wear" style. The demand for pearls was very high and they had a whole "industry" for their exploitation, from their collection to their sale. The craftsmen dedicated to the exclusivity of their work were called margaritarii.
The Romans loved amber and put a lot of effort into obtaining Baltic amber via a route from the Polish city of Gdansk to villages throughout the Roman Empire. In addition, the Romans believed that this stone cured diseases, which is probably why they loved it so much!
Taking advantage of Israel's sand supplies, the Romans developed many glass making techniques. Much of the glass was made into jewelry and, recently, has been excavated and turned into sterling silver for a modern display of ancient Roman jewelry.
3. Men's jewelry
In ancient Rome, it was not uncommon for men to wear rings, bracelets, necklaces and torques. The most commonly worn jewelry was the ring, which reflected the social class and economic status of the wearer. They often wore rings with engraved gems. Later, they were used to seal the rank or the family crest on the wax. This is how the "signet rings" were born. There is a curious fact about torques: in 361 BC, the Roman dictator Titus Manlius engaged a Gaul in a fight, killing him. Titus then stole his torque and used it. From then on, soldiers received torques if they did something brave during battle.
4. Women's jewelry
Roman women wore more jewelry than men. They used to wear jewelry from Roman craftsmen, but also from exchanges with other cities and sales, collecting all the jewelry at the same time:
Rings: usually more than one
Earrings: hoops or bars with dangling objects such as drops or teardrops. There was also Egyptian influence, so animal and human earrings were seen.
Bracelets: those with animal motifs, Hercules knots and precious stones embedded in discs were popular.
Necklaces: often choker style and often decorated with precious stones
Coins: used as pendants, earrings, fibulas and more, marking the social status of the wearer.
Diadems: made of gold, with floral motifs and engraving techniques.
Hairpins: made of precious stones, gold, silver or bronze. A curious fact is that jewelry was considered the property of women and they could keep the jewelry separate from their husbands' wealth and use it as they wished, whether buying, selling or giving the jewelry as a gift.
Roman jewelry did not stand out so much in the ancient world as it was influenced by other countries such as Egypt. Despite this, the Romans greatly appreciated their jewelry and everything related to the craft. Some Roman goldsmiths became famous and their products had great importance in the history of Rome.