Gilded silver ring with engraved carneol

Roman Empire
mid 3rd century CE
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General Description

In the Roman world, rings were a status symbol, and their use was strictly limited to certain social groups. Roman rings were typically set with an engraved gem, which was not only a status symbol but also served a practical function as a seal. This heavy, gilded silver ring has a striking shape with projecting, molded shoulders and a cornice on the bezel. The engraved gem shows Oedipus, son of the king of Thebes, facing the Sphinx, a monster that inflicted a plague on the city and destroyed those who could not solve the riddle she asked. Oedipus stands on a rock in a relaxed pose, nude except for a mantle draped over his right arm, holding a spear in his left hand. The representation is set on a ground line, and the subject matter and composition prove that in Roman times the classical tradition was still very strong.

Roman metalworking was highly specialized at a very early stage; rings were not made by goldsmiths, but rather specialized ring makers called anularii. This might be the reason why Romans appear to have had a particular interest in this form of personal ornament, which comprises the most impressive examples of Roman jewelry.

Adapted from

Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press, 1996), 109; 144.