Roman jewellery at Chedworth Roman Villa
Excavations from across the Roman world have unearthed large amounts of jewellery, so we know that Roman women liked to adorn themselves with precious metals and semi-precious stones. Jewellery was not only worn for decorative purposes, it also represented a woman's wealth, status and independence. Under Roman law, a wife's dowry was not considered to be part of her husband's assets and jewellery often made up a substantial proportion of that dowry.
It is unlikely that men wore much decorative jewellery although there is evidence that throughout the Roman period they wore bracelets and rings, the latter being a convenient way of carrying seals. Rings were also used as a status symbol. Laws defined who could and could not wear them. In the 1st century AD, Tiberius ruled that the gold ring could only be worn by third generation freeborn citizens with at least 400,000 sestertius.
Sculptures suggest that the fashion for women was to wear one bracelet on each arm although excavated skeletons are often found with more than this. Earrings were also commonly worn and all were designed for pierced ears. Women may have had their ears pierced at a young age. The number of small rings excavated certainly suggests that some children wore rings although these could also have been designed for the upper finger joint. In some families rings were exchanged on betrothal; gold rings which depict clasped hands may have been used for this purpose.
Torcs were solid neckrings made from precious metals. In pre-Roman Britain these were seen as symbols of power and status. Dio Cassius, a Roman historian, tells us that Boudica 'wore a great twisted golden necklace' when she led the Iceni into battle. During the early Roman period torcs were awarded to soldiers for acts of bravery but later came to be regarded simply as good luck symbols.
Items of jewellery used for decorative purposes were lighter and more delicately constructed. Imagine a necklace of thin gold chains set with glittering emeralds or sapphires. More commonly however necklaces were made from beads, usually of glass, strung onto leather thongs, copper alloy wire or fibre string. The most popular colour for beads was blue or green although white and black have also been found. Other common materials were bronze, iron, bone and jet. Ivory was also used, most often for bracelets.
Jewellery at Chedworth Roman Villa
Bracelets, brooches, beads and rings have been discovered at Chedworth Roman Villa. All of these items of jewellery are fairly plain. Most are made from bronze and iron and depict simple decorations such as twists or engravings. In 2005 an intaglio ring was excavated. This ring has a blue glass setting with a depiction of a Roman god or mythical figure.
All of the items of jewellery excavated at Chedworth Roman Villa are on display in the Victorian museum.
This February half-term, Roman jewellery will be the theme of our children's trail and craft activities. On Sunday 14th February we have a special display of Roman jewellery. Be inspired by this stunning collection and chat to Flavia as she reveals how the jewellery fits into the 'Golden Age' of the Roman Empire.