Roman Gemstones from Caerleon

Contributed by National Roman Legion Museum Caerleon

Gemstones recovered from the Fortress Baths drain, Caerleon, during excavation in 1979.

Some of the raw material and imagery is exotic. Images include a palm tree with dates and a North Indian green parrot.Most of the raw materials for the Caerleon gemstones were possibly brought from Cyprus, Egypt, India and Sri Lanka. The gems were cut at gem-cutting centres on the major trade routes, such as Aquileia on the Adriatic coast near modern Venice. The first-century stones commonly represent pastoral scenes, symbols of prosperity, justice, personifications of plenty and good fortune, as well as Bacchanalian subjects. By the third-century red jaspers and cornelians dominate the group as fashion changes. Red jasper had occult significance and was appropriate for the magical, superstitious and frivolous themes which now appear. Religion and superstition pervaded all aspects of Roman life, and other types of gemstone were thought to possess supernatural powers. The name 'amethyst' encapsulates the supposed powers of the stone to prevent the usual effects of excessive drinking. Heliotrope was chosen for representations of the sun god Sol.

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