Portraits in Miniature – Carved Carnelian and Cameos

Carved Carnelian and Cameos

Portraits in Miniature

Carved Gems

During my visits to museums filled with Roman artefacts, I have discovered many tiny carved gems and cameos. Their intricate carvings fascinate me. Here are some of the jewels that I have found.

  • Cameos and Intaglios. 1st - 3rd Centuries AD. Capitoline Museum, Rome
  • Roman Rings. 1st - 3rd Centuries AD. Archeological Park Xanten, Xanten Germany
  • Roman Ring. Carnelian and Gold. 1st - 3rd Centuries AD. Archeological Park Xanten, Xanten Germany
  • Roman Ring. Carnelian and Gold. 1st - 3rd Centuries AD. Archeological Park Xanten, Xanten Germany
  • Alexander Ring. Carnelian and Gold. 100 - 1 BC. Getty Villa, Malibu USA
  • Bust of Aurelian. Amethyst. AD 260 -280. Getty Villa, Malibu USA
  • Engraved Gem with a Discus Thrower. Carnelian. Etruscan, 400 - 300 BC. Getty Villa, Malibu


As a child, I remember my mother cherishing her cameo jewellery. I never imagined that cameos had been popular 2000 years ago.

  • Portrait of Augustus wearing the axis of Minerva. Sardonyx. AD 14-20. British Museum, London UK
  • Livilla or Drusilla. Sardonyx. AD 37-41. British Museum, London UK
  • #7 Possibly Agrippina. Sardonyx. AD 30-40. #8 Agrippina. Sardonyx. AD 37-41. British Museum, London UK
  • #12 Young Nero. Sardonyx. AD 50-59. #13 Agrippina the Younger. Sardonyx. AD 57-59. #14 Nero. Sardonyx Sealstone. AD 64-68. British Museum, London UK
  • Claudius. Sardonyx. AD 41-50. British Museum, London UK
  • Two Members of Imperial Family as Jupiter Ammon and Juno or Isis. Sardonyx. AD 37-50. British Museum, London UK
  • Sardonyx Cameo. British Museum, London UK
  • Sardonyx Cameo. British Museum, London UK
  • Sardonyx Cameo. British Museum, London UK
  • Cameos and Intaglios. 1st - 3rd Centuries AD. Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy
  • Roman Cameo. 1st-3rd Century AD. Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy
  • Roman Cameo. 1st-3rd Century AD. Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy
  • Roman Cameo. 1st-3rd Century AD. Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy
  • Roman Cameo. Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne Germany
  • Roman Carved Face. Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne Germany
  • Roman Cameo. Archeological Park Xanten, Xanten Germany
  • Perseus Holding Medusa Head. Getty Villa, Malibu USA
  • Two Cupids Erecting a Military Trophy. Onyx and Gold. AD 1 - 100. Getty Villa, Malibu USA

Vases with Cameo Decoration

Cameo technique was also used in ancient vases to create elaborate decoration. Two excellent examples are the Portland Vase in the British Museum and the Blue Vase in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

  • Portland Vase. Glass. 15 BC - AD 25. British Museum, London UK
  • Portland Vase. Glass. 15 BC - AD 25. British Museum, London UK
  • Portland Vase. Glass. 15 BC - AD 25. British Museum, London UK
  • Blue Vase. Mid 1st Century AD. Naples Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

Info on Ancient Gems from the Getty Museum

A piece from The Getty Iris, Ancient Ruins – Parts of the Past as Well as the Present.

Also, the Getty Museum’s short video about how carnelian is carved into a portrait in miniature.

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Updating Roman Footprints

I’m in the process of updating my site to WordPress.org and getting rid of the ads that have been on it. I’ll be adding old content back to the site and putting new posts on about my latest trip to Belgium, the Netherlands and a day trip to the Archeological Park in Xanten, Germany.

In the meantime, enjoy a photo of Roman lamps in the shape of feet from the museum in Xanten.

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Eboracum’s People

On my recent visit to York, it was the stories of Eboracum’s people that captured my imagination. The Yorkshire Museum does a great job showcasing the people of Roman York. The exhibit includes their backgrounds which they have discovered by examining the remains from the Roman graveyard. They studied the grave goods, as well as the bones, teeth, and skulls to find clues of where the people came from, their ages, and their occupations.
55 York Museum Roman people copy
One man came from North Africa, where many expert mosaic makers came from. He may have travelled from one end of the empire to the other creating mosaics for the wealthy. Another was a local man who was between 35 and 50 when he died. They could tell he suffered from a bad back because of his spine and shoulders. Another was only in his twenties when he died, but the minerals in his teeth and bones showed he ate a lot of fish and came from a cold climate, possibly the Baltic region.

61 York Museum family tombstone copy
Julia Velva’s Tombstone

I also met Eboracum’s people through their inscribed grave markers. Julia Velva was around 50 when she died. Her heir, Aurelius Mercurialis, and his family are portrayed gathering at her tombstone. On another tombstone there is a depiction of Aleia Aeliana, reclining on a couch beside her husband who had his arms around her. The tombstone of Flavia Augustina, who died along with her two infant children, was erected by her husband Caeresius Augustinus, an ex-soldier.

72 York Museum inscription copy
‘To the god Arciaco and the Emperor’s divinity, Mat… Vitalis, centurion, paid his vow willingly and deservedly.’

Soldiers from the fort at Eboracum also left their mark while they were alive. A centurion, Mat(…) Vitalis, dedicated an altar to his god Arciaco and the divine emperor.

Several well-known and historically important people were connected to Eboracum as well. The Emperor Septimius Severus died in Eboracum in AD 211 after coming to Britannia to try to conquer the north of the island. The most notable, though, was Constantine the Great, who was made emperor here in AD 306 after the death of his father, Constantius.

137 York Minster Roman fort hobnail print copy
Hobnail Footprints of Roman Soldier

135 York Minster Roman fort dog print copy
Roman Paw Prints

I also found footprints of Romans and their pets beneath the Yorkminster, in the display of the remains of Eboracum’s fort. The hobnail footprints of a soldier and the paw prints of a dog were captured in the dried clay of Roman bricks.
For more information about York’s Roman past, see Eboracum Quick Facts and Yorkshire Museum Quick Facts.

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Looking for Londinium – Roman London

Finding the Roman footprints in a global metropolis that began as a Roman town can be a challenge. As in Paris, (Looking for Lutetia), most of London’s Roman era is buried beneath 2000 years of habitation. And what a habitation it has been.
Unlike Paris, it took me a couple of trips to find most of the bits and pieces. I’m sure I’ve missed some but I think I found the main ones. In 2011, I did a walking tour of the City of London, the square mile area in London which grew out of the Roman town. I took in the Museum of London which illustrates the history of London. From the museum there are remnants of the Roman town walls that extended to the Thames River.
I also managed to find the Mithras temple on Queen Victoria Street. It has since been dug up and will not be on display until the Bloomberg building, where it will reside, opens in 2018. It will have a much better display there than it had where I found it.

Temple of Mithras, 2011

Over near the Westminster Bridge, I found a statue of Boudica and her daughters. Not Roman, of course, as she was an enemy of the Romans and laid waste to several of their early towns in Britannia. But a heroine of the Victorians because she rebelled against the invading Romans.
Fast forward to the autumn of 2016, when I came looking for a few more Roman sites. This time I found the amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall.
And the end of the Roman town wall at the Tower of London, along with a statue of Trajan.
At the end of the day, I dined at the newly opened Roma restaurant not too far away from the Tower of London. Their dishes are inspired by ancient Roman recipes. It was a delicious finale to my hunt for Londinium.

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Roman Footprints in Sevilla

Not oops-stepped-on-a-wet-tile footprints but deliberately carved-into-marble outlines of feet. Some with toenails, some with sandal straps, some very slender, and some facing opposite another pair of feet.
What a delight to find them on the wall of the Archaeological Museum in Sevilla. Especially after the disappointment of discovering the ruins of Italica closed while I was in Sevilla because they were filming Game of Thrones there.
I had not seen anything like these before. The English sign in the museum told me almost nothing about them, except that they were votives dedicated to goddesses.
But where were they from? There was another related sign in Spanish in the museum about the amphitheatre games. So were they from the amphitheatre at Italica? Why have I never seen anything like them at other amphitheatres? More digging was needed.
After an internet search, I discovered a chapter written by Louise Revell, Footsteps in Stone: Variability within a Global Culture, from the book Beyond Boundaries: Connecting Visual Cultures in the Provinces of Ancient Rome. In it she says that these marble plaques, plantae pedum, were found in the amphitheatre and theatre at Italica. The ones dedicated to Nemesis were found at the amphitheatre, which makes sense since she was the patroness of gladiators. The ones found at the theatre were set in the steps in the portico and dedicated to Isis. They date from the mid 2nd to early 3rd centuries.

I also discovered that there were two carved reliefs with feet dedicated to Isis Domina found at the Temple of Isis in Baelo Claudia, south of Cadiz. But I had not seen them when I visited Baelo Claudia, and I am not sure if they were on display there.

Temple of Isis, Baelo Claudia

Other plantae pedum have been found in Dion, Greece, and the footprint inscriptions were also common in the Roman provinces of North Africa, according to Revell.

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Under the Etruscan Sun

Once upon a time a triumvirate came to the town of Lucca. And not just any triumvirate, the first triumvirate of Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Magnus Pompeius and Marcus Licinius Crassus. It was here in 56 BC, in the province of Cisalpine Gaul controlled by Caesar, that these men met to plot their future strategies.

Fresh from the first two years of his Gallic Wars, Caesar was reluctant to return to Rome and face possible prosecution by his enemies there. He was not yet ready to cross the Rubicon. The Gallic Wars continued until 51 BC when Gaul was subdued and Caesar had invaded the isle of Britannia twice.

Crassus and Pompey became consuls for the second time in 55 BC. Crassus led an attack on Rome’s biggest threat, the Parthian Empire, in 53 BC and was defeated and killed by the Parthians. Pompey grew wealthier governing the provinces in Spain. He would later turn against Caesar in the Civil Wars. He left Italy, was routed by Caesar in Greece, and ended up being killed in Egypt in 48 BC.

The triumvirate’s meeting was Lucca’s most notable mention in the history of ancient Rome. I came to Lucca with my daughter and we conspired to eat very well and enjoy the warmth and charm of Tuscany. I was not in search of Roman footprints, but of course I found some anyway. Piazza Anfiteatro covers the footprint of the ancient Roman amphitheatre with buildings built around the elliptical shape of the arena.

Lucca's Piazza Anfiteatro
Lucca’s Piazza Anfiteatro

Traces of the ancient building can still be seen on the outside walls.

Vestiges of Lucca's ancient amphitheatre
Vestiges of Lucca’s ancient amphitheatre

Entrances to the piazza are the ancient tunnels that opened into the arena.

Entrance into Piazza Anfiteatro
Entrance into Piazza Anfiteatro

The area that was once the ancient forum of Lucca is still the active and vibrant Piazza San Michele.

Piazza San Michele, Lucca
Piazza San Michele, Lucca

Wandering around Lucca’s streets we came across a tiny museum called the Domus Romana Lucca.

Domus Romana Lucca
Domus Romana Lucca

Remnants of an ancient house were found on this site in 2012. A small section of the house’s wall  is on view inside the museum, along with finds that include an ancient bronze brooch, a coin from AD 14 and part of terra cotta frieze with two cupids riding a dolphin.  www.domusromanalucca.it

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