Single snake armlet

CULTURE:
Roman Empire
DATE:
1st century CE
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General Description

Buried with ingots of gold (1991.75.92.5, 1991.75.92.6), this bracelet was part of a goldsmith's cache discovered in Rome. The pieces found date to the 1st century BCE, and nicely illustrates the transition from Hellenistic to Roman jewelry. The group is impressive for its total weight of nearly 746 grams, and it also allows a rare glimpse into the work of a Roman goldsmith.

Among the finds was this coiled snake armlet, made of a plain, flat, gold band, with the head and curled body of the snake forming one end and the curled tail the other. The modeling of the snake's head is quite realistic, as are the carefully chased details of the snake's scales. Snake motifs of this type were popular from the Hellenistic period onward. The style allows scholars to pinpoint the bracelet's date and provenance: the realistically upturned head, with each scale delicately detailed with the chasing method of goldwork, is a Hellensitic design popular in the mid-2nd century BCE. But the more stylized curve of the tail is typical of Roman jewelry, suggesting that this bracelet was created in Rome by a jeweler familiar with the latest Greek styles. This bracelet was likely meant to be melted down and reused; if it were a newly made piece, there would have been a second one, as bracelets were worn in pairs. A smaller, unfinished snake bracelet (1991.75.92.4.A-B) was also found in the cache, cut into two, and possibly rejected because of its strange proportions.

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), 108; 144.
  • Anne R. Bromberg and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 118.

Fun Facts

  • Snake bracelets like this were not only personal ornaments, but also amulets. Probably for this reason they are one of the few naturalistic motifs that continued to be popular long after the decline of the Greek world.