Medieval Rings

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Roman Open-work Hoop “UTERE FELIX”

Roman Empire, 3rd century AD

Gold

  • 84.900 €
  • £73,300
  • $95,000
  • Roman Open-work Hoop “UTERE FELIX”

    Roman Empire, 3rd century AD
    Gold
    Weight 21.8 gr.; circumference 63.84 mm.; US size 10 5/8; UK size V

    Women in Ancient Rome and the later Roman Empire were fond of wearing jewelry, and often did so in defiance of laws that limited the wearing of gold. The taste for gold jewelry grew along with trade and prosperity as the Roman Empire expanded. A man’s position in society might even be strengthened if he married a woman who was wealthy enough to adorn herself with jewels. Towards the second century AD the materials used for jewelry became more expensive; greater weights of gold were more common, and by the third and fourth century the techniques used by goldsmiths became more ornate, as seen in the newly developed pierced openwork, described as “opus interrasile.” The Romans are also thought to be the first to introduce betrothal and marriage rings, often decorated with love symbols such as clasped hands. Decorative motifs, such as the ivy leaves in our ring, concealed hidden messages of friendship and loyalty.

    Description:
    Wide gold band with octagonal shape and openwork ornament, cast and chiseled, in the so-called “opus interrasile” technique.  The central frieze consists of rectangular frames with letters interspersed with ivy leaves spelling out the Latin phrase “UTERE FELIX”. The Latin inscription “Utere Felix” meaning “Use (this) happily” or “Use it with luck” seems to have been popular in various parts of the Roman Empire. Framed on either side are a pierced band with scrolls, ivy and pelta motifs. The interior of the hoop is plain and on the exterior the details of the foliage are finely chiseled. The ring shows traces of age and is in excellent wearable condition. 

    Literature:
    “Utere Felix” is found inscribed on Roman rings of the 2nd to 4th centuries AD and other jewels such as bracelets, belts, buckles and fibulae.  The same appears on a ring of the 3rd century AD found in the Treasure of Eauze, Musée archéologique, Eauze (Astrid Böhme-Schönberger, Kleidung und Schmuck in Rom und den Provinzen, Limesmuseum Aalen, 1996, p. 73) and on a bracelet in the hoard of Hoxne, Suffolk, today in the British Museum, London (Catherine Johns, The Jewellery of Roman Britain, Celtic and Classical Traditions, London 1996, p. 116 ff, fig. 5.32). For two further examples of Roman key rings with this inscription in the Musée royaux d’art et d’histoire, Brussels and a Private collection, see: Spier 2012, no. 2 and fig. 2.2. All quoted examples are made of gold in the “opus interrasile” technique. See also Aimila Yeroulanou, Diatrita, Gold-Pierced Work Jewellery from the 3rd to 7th century, Athens 1999.

    Reference number: 822

  • Hoop

    Also called the shank, the rounded part of the ring that encircles the finger and connects to the bezel at the shoulders.

    Band

    A ring made from a thin, often flat, ribbon-like strip of material (usually metal). The band can be unadorned or decorated.

  • Ancient

    The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

    Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

    At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

    A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

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ring

Roman Open-work Hoop “UTERE FELIX”

Roman Empire, 3rd century AD
Gold
Weight 21.8 gr.; circumference 63.84 mm.; US size 10 5/8; UK size V

USD $95,000

Women in Ancient Rome and the later Roman Empire were fond of wearing jewelry, and often did so in defiance of laws that limited the wearing of gold. The taste for gold jewelry grew along with trade and prosperity as the Roman Empire expanded. A man’s position in society might even be strengthened if he married a woman who was wealthy enough to adorn herself with jewels. Towards the second century AD the materials used for jewelry became more expensive; greater weights of gold were more common, and by the third and fourth century the techniques used by goldsmiths became more ornate, as seen in the newly developed pierced openwork, described as “opus interrasile.” The Romans are also thought to be the first to introduce betrothal and marriage rings, often decorated with love symbols such as clasped hands. Decorative motifs, such as the ivy leaves in our ring, concealed hidden messages of friendship and loyalty.

Description:
Wide gold band with octagonal shape and openwork ornament, cast and chiseled, in the so-called “opus interrasile” technique.  The central frieze consists of rectangular frames with letters interspersed with ivy leaves spelling out the Latin phrase “UTERE FELIX”. The Latin inscription “Utere Felix” meaning “Use (this) happily” or “Use it with luck” seems to have been popular in various parts of the Roman Empire. Framed on either side are a pierced band with scrolls, ivy and pelta motifs. The interior of the hoop is plain and on the exterior the details of the foliage are finely chiseled. The ring shows traces of age and is in excellent wearable condition. 

Literature:
“Utere Felix” is found inscribed on Roman rings of the 2nd to 4th centuries AD and other jewels such as bracelets, belts, buckles and fibulae.  The same appears on a ring of the 3rd century AD found in the Treasure of Eauze, Musée archéologique, Eauze (Astrid Böhme-Schönberger, Kleidung und Schmuck in Rom und den Provinzen, Limesmuseum Aalen, 1996, p. 73) and on a bracelet in the hoard of Hoxne, Suffolk, today in the British Museum, London (Catherine Johns, The Jewellery of Roman Britain, Celtic and Classical Traditions, London 1996, p. 116 ff, fig. 5.32). For two further examples of Roman key rings with this inscription in the Musée royaux d’art et d’histoire, Brussels and a Private collection, see: Spier 2012, no. 2 and fig. 2.2. All quoted examples are made of gold in the “opus interrasile” technique. See also Aimila Yeroulanou, Diatrita, Gold-Pierced Work Jewellery from the 3rd to 7th century, Athens 1999.

Reference number: 822

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