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Glyptique romaine

A two-sided cornelian intaglio from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England

Une intaille en cornaline à double face provenant de Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, Angleterre
Martin Henig
p. 155-158

Résumés

Cette note décrit une gemme à double face montrant sur une face un jeune homme armé et sur l’autre un éclair. On s’interroge sur les circonstances dans lesquelles une gemme, certainement pas une Amulette Magique, a pu être fabriquée. La pierre est d’une importance significative pour l’histoire de la glyptique provinciale et un indice révélateur de la pratique des ateliers indigènes de Grande-Bretagne et de Gaule.

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Texte intégral

1It gives me immense delight to honour Professor Guiraud’s achievements in revealing to the world the glyptic treasures discovered in France. This note on an interesting intaglio from the other side of the Channel is offered to her by way of a gift. Although the gem was submitted to me by Holly Duncan, the Archaeological Finds Officer for Bedfordshire County Council as long ago as October 1991, it has not previously been published and fully deserves to be drawn to the attention of other enthusiasts in the field of Roman glyptics.

  • 1 Kleibrink, 1997, p. 25‑33.
  • 2 For Achilleae see Pliny, NH xxxiv, 18 For other examples of such gems from Britain see Henig, 1970, (...)

2The gem was a casual discovery on Scald End Farm, Thurleigh, Bedfordshire by Mr Towler the landowner who made it available for recording and study. The material is a cornelian of deep orange colour with a few black inclusions, and the stone, cut to an oval shape, measures 16.2 by 11.55 mm and is 5.4 mm thick. The slightly convex upper face (fig. 1) depicts a nude male figure in relaxed pose standing in profile to the left holding a helmet in one hand and a spear in the other. At his feet is a shield. The style of cutting is suggestive of the Plain Grooves Style and is fairly closely matched by gems from the jeweller’s hoard from Snettisham, Norfolk likewise cut on fairly cloudy cornelians, and closely dated to the middle of the second century1. The device is of a very well-known type indeed, probably to be identified as Achilles with the armour of Thetis on account of Pliny the Elder’s description of statues of spear-holding-youths set up in stadia which were called Achilleae. The heroic subject would have appealed to a soldier, but in the second century midland Britain was no longer a military zone, and at least two gems with the same device from Chalgrave, in the same county of Bedfordshire and the temple site at Marcham, in Oxfordshire are assuredly likewise from civilian locations. Perhaps the image was interpreted as that of Mars, widely venerated in Britain as in Gaul as a deity protective of the fields and crops2.

Fig. 1. Cornelian gem from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire. Side A: Achilles. Scale 3/1

Fig. 1. Cornelian gem from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire. Side A: Achilles. Scale 3/1
  • 3 Furtwängler, 1896, p. 294,pl.58, no.8002; Henig, Wilkins, 1999, p. 56 no.53 (pl. on p. 64) and Heni (...)

3Real interest is given to the intaglio in that the lower face designed to be embedded in the finger ring and measuring some 13 by 8 mm (fig. 2) is also engraved, in this case with the thunderbolt of Jupiter (fulmen) the four lightning flashes projecting from it being in the form of a running key terminating in a head like a v. There are close parallels to this type, without provenance in the collection in Berlin where the thunderbolt is shown with the crescent moon and seven stars indicative of aeternitas, and also from excavations on the town of Wroxeter (Viroconium), in the county of Shropshire where as on the Thurleigh stone the thunderbolt stands alone. Wroxeter was a Hadrianic foundation in the north-west midlands of Britain and the intaglio has been tentatively dated to the second century but it could well be later3.

Fig. 2. Cornelian gem from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire. Side B: Thunderbolt. Scale 3/1

Fig. 2. Cornelian gem from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire. Side B: Thunderbolt. Scale 3/1
  • 4 Henig, 2007a, p. 137 , pl. xlii, nºs 366‑369; Guiraud, 1998, p. 171‑172, pl. xxxiii, nºs 1426 and 1 (...)

4Double-sided intaglios are generally of the ‘Gnostic’ (or Magical Amulet) variety, and are invariably inscribed with magical texts; these are exceptionally rare in the Western provinces and their iconography and inscriptions suggest the presence of visitors from the east of the Empire4. There is no question in the present case, that both devices are of perfectly standard Roman type and there is no trace of an inscription.

5There are, indeed, other Roman gems engraved on two sides, and this can be ascribed to one of three reasons.

6First, the gem engraver may have made a mistake in engraving a device and have decided to use the gem again, knowing that his first attempt would be hidden in setting it within the ring. Secondly the gem could be simply a ‘trial piece’ for apprentices to try their craft skills. And thirdly, the owner might have decided to have his ring refashioned and the gem re-carved as well as being reset.

  • 5 Henig et al., 1994, p. 119‑120 no.225 for the Augustan intaglio and pp. 369‑70 no.771 for the cameo (...)
  • 6 Henig, 2007a, p. 144 , pl. xii, no.415.
  • 7 Henig, 2007a, pl.xxxv no. 146.

7In the present instance there is clearly nothing wrong with the main face and the extensive signs of wear show it was worn for many months or years. The thunderbolt intaglio likewise exhibits signs of abrasion through use. It may be assumed that the larger side was primary, but at some point the owner was dissatisfied and perhaps felt he needed a more striking device. He may, indeed, have had a special veneration for Jupiter and felt that the earlier device did not truly evoke the power of deity, for in its origins it shoed not a god but a hero as he may well have realised. Furthermore by the third century rings with raised bezels had became common. By simply having the stone reversed he would have possessed a setting for his ring of the new fashionable shape. This seems, also, to have happened in the case of a gem now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge where a large, fine Augustan period intaglio showing a cow suckling its calf was replaced by carving the other side in the third century with a cameo depicting a mourning cupid, one of the commonest cameo subjects of that date5. We can point to a number of gems of early third century date with raised stones, often truncated cones including one from Westminster, London carved with a thunderbolt albeit of simpler form6. Closer in appearance in its ring setting is a gem in a gold ring probably from Colchester7.

8If this is accepted there are three interesting ramifications for glyptic studies. The first is to emphasise that workshops were scattered throughout the Roman world. If a gem-cutter could operate in a rural Norfolk, there were surely gem cutters in most large urban centres in Gaul and Britain. It is too much to expect that even a majority of gems was cut at Aquileia or Rome and even more that they were returned there to be refashioned a decade or more later. Although we do not know whether either or both of the artists responsible for the Thurleigh gem were working in Britain (or Gaul) in my opinion that is likely, and in the present instance my own guess would be that the original cutting very probably, and the secondary cutting almost certainly was executed in an insular workshop.

  • 8 Marsden, Henig, 2002, p. 419‑422.

9Secondly we really need at last to abandon any idea that better, more precise workmanship is of necessity earlier than more slapdash cutting (not just in glyptics but in all the arts). In this case, at least, I believe the contrary to have been the case, possibly simply the result of chance, possibly because of economic stimulation consequent on the presence of Septimius Severus and his sons in the province between A.D. 208 and 2118.

10Thirdly it reminds us of the ever present shifts of fashion which affected all aspects of Roman art in the provinces as much as in the central Empire, in this case perhaps revealing a significant Middle Empire shift towards the appreciation of pattern, texture and symbol over iconography. Later in the century, indeed, when intaglio-set signet rings declined in use, the wearer might even have preferred a totally plain gemstone in his ring.

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Bibliographie

Furtwängler, A., 1896, Königliche Museen zu Berlin. Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium, Berlin.

Guiraud, H., 2008, Intailles et camées de l’époque romaine en Gaule, II, Paris.

Henig, M., 1970, The Veneration of Heroes in the Roman Army, Britannia, 1, p. 249‑265.

Henig, M., 2007a, A Corpus of Roman Engraved Gemstones from British Sites, BAR British Series 8, third edition, Oxford.

Henig, M., 2007b, “The Race that is set before us” : The Athletic ideal in the aesthetics and culture of Early Roman Britain, in C. Gosden, H. Hamerow, P. de Jersey and G. Lock, Communities and Connections. Essays in Honour of Barry Cunliffe, Oxford, p. 449‑464.

Henig, M., Scarisbrick, D. and Whiting, M. (eds), 1994, Classical Gems. Ancient and Modern Intaglios and Cameos in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Cambridge.

Henig, M. and Wilkins, R. (eds), 1999, One hundred and fifty years of Wroxeter gems, in M. Henig and D. Plantzos, Classicism to Neo-Classicism. Essays dedicated to Gertrud Seidmann, BAR International Series 793, Oxford, p. 49‑66.

Kleibrink, M., 1997, The style and technique of the Engraved Gems, in C. Johns (ed.), The Snettisham Roman Jeweller’s Hoard, British Museum, London, p. 25‑33.

Marsden, A. and Henig, M., 2002, Caracalla as Hercules on an intaglio found near Lincoln, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 21, p. 419‑422.

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Notes

1 Kleibrink, 1997, p. 25‑33.

2 For Achilleae see Pliny, NH xxxiv, 18 For other examples of such gems from Britain see Henig, 1970, p. 252‑255, pls xxiiid,xxiva-d (intaglio 2b, p. 254 and pl. xxiva is from Chalgrave ) and Henig, 2007b, p. 459‑60, fig. 24.8 (Marcham/Frilford). For examples from Gaul see Guiraud, 2008, p. 143 and pl. xxiii, nºs 1287 (Rodez,Aveyron), 1288 (Chassey-lès-Montbozon (Haute- Saône) and 1289 (Fos-sur-mer, Bouches-du-Rhône)

3 Furtwängler, 1896, p. 294,pl.58, no.8002; Henig, Wilkins, 1999, p. 56 no.53 (pl. on p. 64) and Henig, 2007a, p. 144 and pl.xiii no.414.

4 Henig, 2007a, p. 137 , pl. xlii, nºs 366‑369; Guiraud, 1998, p. 171‑172, pl. xxxiii, nºs 1426 and 1427.

5 Henig et al., 1994, p. 119‑120 no.225 for the Augustan intaglio and pp. 369‑70 no.771 for the cameo which I now accept as being ancient.

6 Henig, 2007a, p. 144 , pl. xii, no.415.

7 Henig, 2007a, pl.xxxv no. 146.

8 Marsden, Henig, 2002, p. 419‑422.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Cornelian gem from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire. Side A: Achilles. Scale 3/1
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/10905/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Titre Fig. 2. Cornelian gem from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire. Side B: Thunderbolt. Scale 3/1
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/10905/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 127k
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Martin Henig, « A two-sided cornelian intaglio from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England »Pallas, 83 | 2010, 155-158.

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Martin Henig, « A two-sided cornelian intaglio from Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England »Pallas [En ligne], 83 | 2010, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2010, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/10905 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/pallas.10905

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Auteur

Martin Henig

Wolfson College, University of Oxford
martin.henig[at]archaeology.oxford.ac.uk

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