Carved signet rings were widely employed to authenticate legal documents.
Red jasper sealstone ring depicting a chariot race in the Circus Maximus, second or third century AD. (VRoma: British Museum: Barbara McManus)
The wearing of a ring to denote office or status was an old custom. In the later empire, free-born men wore gold rings, freedmen silver, and slaves iron.
Portrait of Domitia, wife of emperor Domitian, engraved on a gemstone. The head is 10mm high. (From Sir John Edwin Sandys (ed.), A Companion to Latin Studies, Cambridge University Press 1913)
The Romans brought the art of gem engraving to a high level. Portraits and other designs were cut either in intaglio, by incising the surface of the stone, or cameo, where the figure is made to stand out by carving away the background, a method which can be doubly effective if the stone has layers of different colours, as has onyx or sardonyx.
First-century AD sardonyx cameo depicting a seated poet, a woman, and a man playing the double flute. (VRoma: British Museum: Barbara McManus)
One of the minor arts in which Roman craftsman excelled.
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