Romans were very skillful in carving and engraving designs in small gems, which formed part of different pieces of jewelry such as rings, pendants and earrings. Those gems, also called intaglios (engraved) and cameos (carved in relief), were made of materials such as glass, carnelian, jasper, agate and emerald, amongst others.
In Sanisera Archaeology Institute’s project (Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain) we found a red engraved gem in one of the rooms which belong to a building in the city.
In the gem, which had an oval shape, the upper part of a standing human figure (trunk, arms and head) can be seen. It must have been set in a ring to form its central part.
Red gem with a human figure found in Sanisera
Close-up of gem found in our fieldschool
Having a ring with a gem in Roman times was a symbol of high status.
The art of engraving and carving gems and other pieces is known as glyptic, something which was started in Ancient Sumer and Egypt, where many of these pieces were used as seals by priests and elite members. Other cultures such as Phoenicians, Etruscans and Greeks also produced worked gems.
In Roman times glyptic reached its height during Augustus’ reign and continued all throughout Roman times. Romans used several materials to engraved gems, which were decorated with a wide range of motifs, such as mythological scenes, deities, human figures carrying out different activities and animals.
Set of Roman gems from different materials
If we find more intaglios in Sanisera, we will be able to know more aspects related to the tastes of the elite from this city, as well as where those pieces came from.
We don’t stop digging !