Roman Intaglio Finger Ring, Mid Suffolk

top, sides and underneath of intaglio finger ring

An intaglio finger ring dating to the Late Roman period (4th Century AD), discovered at a site in Mid Suffolk. It is possible that it was deposited as part of a burial.

The hoop of the ring has been formed out of a gold strip, the delicate design on the ring has been formed out of strips of gold filigree, applied in alternating bands of twisted and plain wire. The ends of the hoop were flattened and splayed to create a surface for the Ovoid Bezel to be attached. The bezel (the stone setting) is made from a similar pattern of filigree wire applied to the outer circumference of a gold oval sheet. The gold in similar rings of this type has been found to be higher than 22 carats!

The intaglio itself was carved into an orange/red coloured carnelian, unfortunately it has suffered through damage but luckily the design is still just about recognisable. The design features a Bonus eventus (one of the 12 deities who preside over agriculture) facing to the right. On the right side of the design is a flaming alter and there looks to be an ear of corn behind the figure. Finding the stone still inside the ring is very rare as it is common practice during this period to recycle the stones by re-incorporating them into new pieces of jewellery.

Sadly, this ring has been the victim of some damage – the hoop of the ring has been bent back over the bezel and the intaglio has been smashed. Despite the amount of distortion to the object it is otherwise is largely intact.

The site itself had a long occupation. Gold Iron Age coins indicate that this site was of high status from at least the 1st Century BC and other high status finds from the site similar to those discovered at Sutton Hoo, indicate that this site retained its high status well into the Anglo-Saxon period.

After the discovery of the artefacts, a resistivity survey was conducted which indicated the presence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a Prehistoric barrow. Hopefully in the future more research can be conducted on this site, so we can continue to explore its secrets.

There is no known exact parallel to this ring, possibly because jewellery such as this was made as one-off pieces by skilled craftsmen. Similar rings have been discovered in hoards such as the Hoxne Treasure from Suffolk and the Thetford Hoard from Gallows Hill, Norfolk. Both hoards are in the British Museum.

Finger ring with removed intaglios from the Hoxne Treasure, Suffolk.
Image: Similar finger rings (with removed intaglios) from the Hoxne Treasure, Suffolk. On Display in the British Museum. Images from British Museum Online Collection

Further Information and Images From:
Bland, R. & Johns, C.M. 2003. The Hoxne Treasure: An Illustrated Introduction (London, BM Press)

British Museum Online Collection

Johns, C.M. 2010. The Hoxne late Roman treasure. Gold jewellery and silver plate (London, BM Press)

Johns, C.M. & Potter, T. 1983. The Thetford treasure. Roman jewellery and silver (London, BM Press).

The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer

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