A fantastic Roman copper alloy (bronze) seal box lid of 2nd or 3rd century AD date.
Leaf-shaped form, the lid decorated with red and blue enamel. The heart-shaped design is defined by geometric cells bordered by raised ribs. At the centre of the lid is a circular cell with a raised pellet. Unusually, almost all the enamel survives. Missing base. Scarce.
Condition: Fantastic! Almost all the red and blue enamel surving. Very rare to find one in this condtion. Missing base.
Dimensions: 4.8cm x 2.3cm.
Provenance: Ex. private collection, UK; acquired at UK auction.
Roman wax seals were made by pouring wax into a copper-alloy box. These boxes have a base and a lid; the base has notches in the sides to allow a cord (to be fastened by the seal) to enter the box, a number of holes in the base, and a double hinge loop; the lid is flat with a single hinge loop. The lids are often mistaken for pendants or brooches, with which they can share certain decorative motifs.
The Romans don't appear to have used personal seals; the only matrices known are the intaglios in signet rings. Seal boxes are currently thought to be security items relating to trade, having been attached to satchels and bags.
The two most important references for seal boxes published are: Crummy 1983 and Andrews 2012.
Seal boxes can, in the first instance, be divided by shape. They can be circular (Andrews Type C), drop-shaped (Andrews Type P), lozengiform (Andrews Type L), square (Andrews Type S), pointed oval (Andrews Type V), as well as other, more idiosyncratic, forms. Additionally they can be classified by design: Andrews gives fifteen main designs, numbers prefaced by 'D'. Common designs include heart/leaf motifs (D3), lattices of enamelled cells (D1), and riveted animals (D6). Bases tend to have a number of holes, general three or four, arranged generally according the logic of the seal box's form.
Many are enamelled, dated from the late 1st century for the earliest to the mid 3rd century, or slightly later. Other examples, notably circular ones with separately riveted zoomorphic forms, including eagles and frogs, are considered to be earlier (mid 1st to early 2nd century), as are lids of various different forms with punched or relief decoration and without enamel.
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