A very fine Roman bronze serpent bracelet. This exquisite piece of jewelry dates to 1st - 3rd century A.D. Rare.
Roman men, women and children of all social classes wore bracelets to decorate their wrists and also their arms (armlets).
Condition: Fine. This bracelet has clearly been worn, probably during the Edwardian period when these exotic items were very poplular, so much of the surface was cleaned. Fortunately, this was done professionally, leaving the attractive aged patina that we see today. A very sold and chunky bracelet and eminently wearable.
Dimensions: Dia: 75mm (external) 58mm (internal).
Provenance: Ex. private collection, UK, formed during the early 20th century. Purchased at UK auction.
Roman bracelets were made in a variety of materials. Most popular were those of nonferrous metal and glass. Other materials include black shiny jet and shale, whilst bracelets of bone, antler and ivory are also known. Bracelets of all materials are generally most common in Britain during the 4th century. The major exception to this is the glass bangles which, by contrast, are a 1st to mid - 2nd century form.
Roman bracelets are popular antiquities for sale to collectors because of the variety of forms and materials used in their manufacture. Precious metal bracelets had been in use amongst the Romano-British elite during the early Roman period, but the habit of wearing copper alloy bracelets did not spread widely until the 4th century. At that time the fashion seems to have been for several to have been worn on each wrist. Groups of half a dozen are not unusual in 4th century graves, and a woman of about 35 buried in Rochester was wearing 16. The circumstances of the burial led the excavator to suggest this may not have been a formal burial, but rather the victim of foul play bundled unceremoniously into a shallow grave. It this is correct it could give an insight into the number worn in life rather than the more formal deposition of a group during a funeral. Clearly the habit of wearing several together explains the large volume of broken fragments found on domestic sites during the late Roman period.
In the 4th century, bracelets can be divided between those made of two or three strands of wire twisted to form a cable and those which may be summarised as light bangles where a rectangular strip, worn widest or narrowest to the wrist, is decorated by a variety of patterns and fastened by hook and eye or butt joints. An aggrandised, more massive, version of the latter with multiple decorative motifs is also known. Penannular bracelets are not particularly common during the 4th century. Those that do exist are generally either massive cable twist bracelets or snake bracelets. Only the cable twist variety has yet been recorded in gold, and other patterns.
Metal bracelets are much less common in 1st to 3rd century contexts and a disproportionate number appear to be of precious metals, probably suggesting that it was the upper echelons of Romano-British society who adopted this fashion in the main. Penannular bracelets appear to have been proportionately more popular than they were to be later, and seem to have been especially popular in the south-west. Over the country as a whole, the commonest penannulars were probably the ones with snake-headed terminals where the head was modelled in relief as in the ones from the Snettisham hoard. This is a 2nd century form, and this may not have been been just as items of jewellery but could have been connected with cult practices. Other forms of penannular bracelets in copper alloy tend to be far more disparate, though a wide cuff form of the mid to late 1st century was particularly common in the south-east.
It should also be noted that iron was used to make bracelets. These are probably under-represented in the archaeological record because being relatively slight there is a need for favourable depositional conditions for them to survive, and careful X-radiography and conservation for them to be recognised if they do.
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