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Comparison Between Egyptian and Roman Jewelry

Criteria Egyptian Jewelry Roman Jewelry
Images Egyptian Jewelry Roman Jewelry
Use- Religious Use
- Jewelry was valued not for beauty only, but for the magical protection it provided
- Egyptians didn't make a distinction between amulets and ornamental jewelry. Amulets were worn from infancy through death
- Due to this religious role, jewelry items were much needed by the deceased in his afterlife journey, and jewelry was buried with the dead.
- In fact ancient Egyptians prepared themselves from early life to their death day by collecting as much protective jewelry as possible to be buried with them.
- Secular Use
- Function - Many of the jewelry accessories seen throughout ancient Rome had functional, as well as decorative value
A common jewelry item of Rome was the brooch, which was used to secure clothing items
Another utilitarian jewelry was the fibula, which was an ornately decorated clothing accessory resembling a large safety pin that was used as a clothing fastener.
- Decoration - Roman decoration jewelry consisted mainly of bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings and rings
- Unlike Egyptians, Roman practical jewelry items were inherited by family members, and never buried with the deceased
Design rules- As with other forms of Egyptian art design of jewelry followed strict rules to fulfill it's religious role. Any change in the representation of religious symbols resulted in a loss of protective value. it was undesirable to change the designs of any objects such as the royal cartouches or crook and flail
- Every material had a religious value - Minerals and metals were identified with specific deities as well as with specific spiritual and therapeutic values. Copper and malachite were identified with Hathor
- Color Code - Every Color had a certain mythological meaning, and the use of colored gems was confined to this code

- Romans were brilliant innovators in the creation of jewelry.
- Unlike Egyptian jewelry, Romans did not confine themselves to specific designs and rules.
- Whereas the Egyptians had created their jewelry around amulet shapes with symbolic meanings, Roman jewelry celebrated the rarity, value, and beauty of the materials used
- They crafted jewelry into many abstract shapes which had no specific meaning, but achieved aesthetic and practical purposes
Materials- Limited materials - Most of the raw materials that were used to make jewelry were found in Egypt, but certain prized materials such as lapis lazuli were imported from Afghanistan.
- Ancient gold was considered the skin of gods, and was the metal of choice for most of the jewelry
- Although the Egyptians had access to some precious gemstones, they preferred to emulate their colors using glass, because natural gemstones were much harder to work with
- In order to provide cheap materials for the lower social classes, Egyptian artisans invented the art of the fabulous fake, ancient artisans became so adept at crafting glass bead versions of precious stones that it was difficult to distinguish authentic emeralds, pearls and tigers-eye
- Diverse materials - Romans used a diverse selection of materials in their jewelry due to the accessibility of a wide variety of natural resources found across the European and Mediterranean continents which were under their dominion.
- Artisans did not confine themselves to a limited selection of materials: a very wide variety. Pearls from the Persian Gulf were a popular gemstone, these were combined with emerald and period from Egypt, and carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, and onyx from Persia
- In Ancient Rome silver was valued more highly than gold, due to its relative scarcity
Social Classes and Gender- Starting from the New Kingdom, all social classes wore amulets
- The wearing of these religious items was widespread by both sexes alike, since all people needed the protection it provided
Lower social classes made their amulets from cheap materials such as colored clay and fake reproductions
- Male jewelry was typically a signet ring that was used to seal official documentation
- Boys wore a small gold ring carved with a phallus for good luck
- Women decorated themselves much more than men, and their was a display of wealth and status.
- In the lower social classes the use of jewelry was very rare, and there was no religious significance importance for wearing fake reproductions like the Egyptians
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Gems of Egypt

ImageTurquoise Scarab
ColorGreenish blue
Mining Location- The oldest known mines of turquoise were quarried in the Sinai by about 3000 BC For the next two thousand years, great quantities of turquoise were mine in the peninsula
- At Serabit el-Khadem Egyptians set up a large and systematic operation
CompositionIt almost never forms single crystals but rather small grains
Mythology- The green color of turquoise was synonymous with joy and life
- Hathor was titled the "Mistress of Turquoise", which was connected to joy
Use- This soft precious stone was the most popular gem in ancient Egypt, due to it's relatively easy workability and the abundance of local quarries
- It was used for beads by the Egyptians. Combined with other ornamental stones, the turquoise was inlaid in gold to produce very sophisticated articles of jewelry
- The bright mineral enamels of powdered turquoise were used to color everything from fine small statues to bricks.
- The Eye of Horus amulet was commonly made from the green malachite
- Sacred scarabs amulets were carved from this gem
Lapis Lazuli
ImageLapis Hipo
ColorDeep blue or violet in color and usually flecked with yellow iron pyrites.
Mining LocationImported from Badakhshan province of Afghanistan
CompositionIt is composed of lazurite, mixed with other minerals, and is usually found in grains rather than in crystals
Mythology- Egyptian believed that this gem possessed life-giving powers. The Book of the dead describes Horus in a heavenly firmament in the form of a hawk and "his torso is made of blue stone"
- Blue was the color of the heavens, water, and the primeval flood, and it represented creation and rebirth
Use- painting eyes, hair and crowns of the Pharaohs'
- it was used in the depiction of lotus flowers associated with the sun daily rebirth
ImageJasper Knot of Isis
ColorRed or reddish brown
Mining Location- According to Pliny's Natural History, jasper was extracted from the hills in the vicinity of the city of Coptos
CompositionJasper is a hard opaque silica rock, with shades of red due to mineral impurities
It has a smooth shiny surface
Mythology- Red symbolized fire and blood of Isis
- The gem was thought to be beneficial in the treatment of infertility
Use- The hard nature of the rock made it difficult to carve, jewelry made from this gem had little detailing unlike lapis and turquoise
- Jasper was used for making the Knot of Isis
ImageMalachite collar
ColorGreen, the colors in the individual bands range from a very light green to deep forest green with occasional irregular black banding.
Mining LocationEgyptians mined Malachite as early as 5000 BC Malachite was mined in the eastern deserts of Egypt and the Sinai
CompositionMalachite is a form of copper ore. Hydrous copper carbonate is responsible for the green color of tarnished copper and bronze
Mythology- Hathor was titled the "lady of Malachite", which was connected to health Reputed to have strong therapeutic properties, Egyptians believed that wearing malachite in bands around the head and arms protected the wearer from epidemics
Use- Due to its opaque nature, malachite was usually cut and shaped into a cabochon or formed into beads.
- The Egyptians used malachite primarily in collar beads
- Malachite powder was used in eye makeup, which had a protective function in fighting eye infections
ImageCarnelian Djed
ColorVaried from dark brown to light brown colors
Mining LocationEastern Deserts
CompositionThe various shades of brown and red that carnelian has are due to the presence of iron oxide in its composition
It is a hard gem with a smooth highly polished surface
Mythology- Symbolized the warm blood of life
- Carnelian's healing properties were thought to help purify the blood, and relieve the back pain
Use- Some of the earliest known items of jewelry, dated to the Pre-dynastic period were made from carnelian
- Carnelian was used for making the Djed pillar amulet, since it's brown color imitated the tree trunk in which Osiris body was assembled
- Egyptians felt that wearing this symbol helped to preserve the stability of its wearer
- The gem was also routinely carved into "Heart amulets" because that was a symbol of immortality.
ImageAmazonite Bes
ColorPale pastel blue-green and may also exhibit fine white streaks.
Mining LocationMountains of Gebel Migif and Gebel Hafafit in the southern Eastern Desert.
CompositionBluish-green amazonite crystals up to 5 cm in size occur in compact masses that are commonly 10 to 20 cm across
Amazonite has intermediate hardness
- The pale blue color derives from the presence of traces of lead and water
Mythology- Its light blue color symbolized good luck and fertility
It was associated with turquoise and lapis lazuli
Use- Amazonite was most commonly used in jewelry as small amulets, cabochons, beads and vessels
- It was used since the Pre-dynastic period, and grew in popularity during the Middle Kingdom
ColorPale pinkish violet
Mining LocationMountains of Gebel el Asr in Nubia
This gem occurred in the cavities of granite mined in Upper Egypt
CompositionVery hard quartz crystals
- The pale violet color derives from the presence of ferric iron impurities
Mythology- This gem had no mythological importance in ancient Egypt, in contrast to the Greeks who believed that it helped to prevent drunkenness and intoxication
Use- Amethyst was used in jewelry beads for collars and bracelets
- It's use became relatively spread during the Middle kingdom, but there was a dearth of known sources during the New Kingdom
- As in most other cases, Egyptians were not very fond of the hard gemstones, because they were difficult to shape into their favorite protective amulets, and preferred to use glass when a certain color was required
ColorTransparent green
Mining Location- Sikair-Zubara region in the eastern part of Upper Egypt, near the Red Sea
Mining began at the end of the Ptolemaic period
CompositionEmerald is one of the most difficult gemstones to cut because of the many fluid inclusions found in rough crystals which make them very brittle
Even the finest of emeralds is fragile as glass
MythologyContrary to popular beliefs and commercial propaganda, before the Ptolemaic Period emeralds were unknown in Egypt, and have no special symbolic meaning in mythology
Use- Emeralds were used for Royal jewelry items only at the end of the Ptolemaic Period, before this period not a single item of emerald has been found in the treasures of the ancient Egyptians
- Queen Cleopatra was known for her devotion to emeralds

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By Ayman Fadl - Copyright © 2001-2014