GEMS AND FINGER RINGS FROM ASIA MINOR
Most gems of the
Greco-Roman period were made of hard stones of which quartz (silicon dioxide,
SiO2; hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale) is by far the commonest type. There exists
a wide range of quartzes of varying colours and appearance to which different
names are applied. Colour could be invested with a quasi-magical function: red
was the colour of blood and flesh, and green that of vegetation; amthyst was
the colour of wine and as its name implies was a prophylactic against drunkenness.
The list given
below is not intended to be comprehensive and only includes the minerals most
frequently found. The task of identifying these gems is not a difficult one,
since only about a dozen minerals were in common use. The more exotic stones
represent just a fraction of ancient engraved gems. However, it is not always
possible to match the ancient Greek and Latin terminology with known gemstones.
It is a remarkable fact that Pliny gives some three hundred names to describe
stones known and used in his time.
or microcrystalline quartzes
is a translucent red form of chalcedony, shading from dark red to golden yellow.
The name derives from the Latin cornum, the red berry of the cornel-tree. The
alternative name carnelian is generally considered incorrect, but the false
etymology from carnis, 'flesh', has popularised its spelling. The whitish appearance
of some ancient specimens is due to exposure to great heat.
a translucent brown variety of chalcedony, shading from light yellowish brown
to opaque dark brown. Dark inclusions can sometimes be observed. Sard is often
difficult to distinguish from cornelian. The cornelian and sard are the most
widely used stones in Greek and Roman glyptic art. The name is derived from
Sardis in Lydia, the place where it was chiefly found.
is used to describe chalcedony with straight bands of alternating brown or blue
bands. It was the preferred stone for engraving cameos. The carver would take
advantage of the colours in the layers to show, for instance, cream-coloured
figures on a dark background, or to depict details of a drapery or a wreath.
The term nicolo is used to describe a Roman banded intaglio with a blue or brown
top layer and a dark brown bottom layer. Onyx, which derives from the Greek
word for fingernail, a reference to the colour of the pale bands, is the name
usually given to a black and white two-layered banded chalcedony.
an opaque form of chalcedony and the most popular colours were red, orange and
yellow. There is a green variety sprinkled with red spots popularly called bloodstone
or heliotrope. Yellow and especially red jaspers became very fashionable for
Roman gems in the second and third centuries A.D. Mottled jasper with small
patches of white, brown, yellow and black was also occasionally used in the
is a microcrystalline form of quartz and its different colours are due to the
impurities that it has absorbed. The name is also generic, but is convetionally
applied to colourless, grey and blue varieties. It derives from the name of
the city Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy in Turkey).
a green variety of chalcedony and often contains dark inclusions. The green
colour is generally due to the presence of chrome. It is not a very accurate
term, as it is applied to several different green stones, including aventurine,
prase and chrysoprase.
is transparent and colourless. It was more popular in the Greek period than
in the Roman, when it appears only in the first century B.C.. Ancients believed
that rock crystal was a form of petrified ice, the result of water being frozen
at a very low temperature, the word 'crystal' being derived from the Greek word
for ice. In Asia Minor, Pliny mentions that a poor variety occurred around Alabanda
and Orthosia in Caria.
is transparent and ranges in hue from dark purple to pale mouve. The colour
is usually not distributed evenly in the stone, some parts being lighter, others
darker. The name derives from the Greek word meaning 'not drunken', which originated
from the belief that the wearing of the stone gave immunity against the after-effects
is deep blue and sometimes contains brassy specks of pyrite. It was highly prized
since its only quarries were in Afghanistan, although Persia was also a possible
source. In Roman times lapis lazuli was seldom used as a gemstone and most examples
date to the second and third centuries A.D.
a crystallised silicate. It is transparent and ranges in colour from dark red
to orange, and sometimes purple, variants to which different names were applied
in antiquity. It was not used until the Hellenistic period, when it became particularly
fashionable. Its hardness was superior to that of quartz and it was thus more
difficult to carve. In Asia Minor, Pliny mentions that it was extracted around
the cities of Alabanda and Orthosia in Caria; the modern name almandine is a
corrupt form of alabandina. A fiery red variety called lychnis is said by Pliny
to have been found around Orthosia and throughout Caria. Garnets were very often
carved with a curved surface and, to lighten the colour, the underside was holowed
is an iron oxide of dark metallic grey appearance. According to Theophrastos
it was given that name because it looked like congealed blood, the word 'haematite'
being derived from the Greek word for blood. Another explanation for the name
is the red colour that haematite takes when it is powdered. It was infrequently
used in the Greek period and most examples date from the Roman imperial period,
when it was often made into magical intaglios.
In addition, glass
was used throughout antiquity as a substitute for expensive gemstones. Some
glass gems were directly engraved as in the same way as stone gems, other were
cast from terracotta moulds made from the actual engraved stone gems, both intaglios
and cameos. When the result was not entirely satisfactory, the glass impression
was retouched to give it a sharper edge. Glass gems could also consist of several
layers of varying colours, to reproduce sardonyx, nicolo, or banded agate. The
glass could be opaque or translucent, with air bubbles often being visible on
the latter variety. According to Pliny and other ancient authors, glass gems
were often sold as stones by fraudulent dealers. One story tells us that the
wife of Gallus, in the mid-first century B.C., bought a necklace of expencive
beads only to find out that they were cheap glass. The dishonest seller was
caught and duly hauled off to the arena where after a fearful wait he was confronted
by a capon, not a lion, to the amazement of spectators; this was said to be
a punishment that fitted the crime. It is clear, however, that most glass gems
were sold as such, being more affordable and available in a whole range of fancy
colours. Demand for them increased sharply from the first century B.C. onwards.