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Roman Citizenship Rings?

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 8:39 am
by Aulus Flavius
Salve amici,

I've heard these rings referred to a couple of times in works of fiction, but never read any sort of ancient source to confirm their existence. Is it true that Romans wore rings to denote their citizenship? What did such rings look like? Did they change over time?

This of course leads to the question of replicates. Hearing about these rings got me wondering if anyone else has gone so far as to get one made for them self?


A. Flavius

Citizenship Rings

PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 9:06 pm
by Aldus Marius
Ave, mi Flavi!

I know Magistrates and the patresfamiliae of wealthy families had their signet-rings; but the signal mark of Roman Citizenship was the right to wear the toga. Virgil, comparing us to the world we conquered, called us the gens togata, the togate people. Greeks and other foreigners could be (and sometimes were) put on trial for wearing it; it was considered a form of impersonation.

I wouldn't mind getting hold of a signet-ring, though...or, better yet, having one made. I've seen a few examples; they tend to be gold, silver, bronze, or iron, and have either an inscription or a fairly simple design carved into the stone if it has one, or the place where a stone would be otherwise. (Stones were often carnelian; I'm not sure what others might have been used.)

Hei, anybody: If you had your own signet-ring, what would be on it? >({|:-)

In amicitia et fide,

PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 5:44 am
by Aulus Flavius
Ave mi Mari,

This is part of the reason why I asked about the rings. With th toga as the sign of citizenship, rings seem to have served as something of a personal distinction. But it doesn't seem like they were specifically for the use of declaring citizenship.

Doesn't Livy speak of Hannibal having the citizenship rings of all the Romans killed at Cannae emptied onto the floor of the Carthaginian Senate in order to drive home just how many had been killed?

I'm asking this mostly to figure out what sort of designs such rings would bear, if they existed at all.


A. Flavius

'Rings on our fingers...'

PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 8:58 am
by Aldus Marius
Ave iterum, mi Flavi!

Readers may wonder "If they weren't citizenship rings, what were they for?" A signet-ring was used to seal documents--personal and business letters, official correspondence and the like. You'd take your document (a vellum or papyrus scroll), roll it up, heat a stick of sealing-wax so that it dripped a little onto the visible end of the scroll, then press your ring into the wax to make a mini-relief in the wax. This sealed the scroll shut; it could not be opened again without breaking the seal, so any tampering en route would be noticed.

From this, it seems to me that the image in the stone would be about as individual as heraldry, or as the .sig block on somebody's e-mail message. It's just meant to show that the letter is from you. I'm not sure myself what sorts of designs (besides lettering and portraits) were used, but this might help: ... -baths.htm

...which has this to say on a discovery of stones from such rings:

A group of 34 Roman gemstones, one of the largest number from any site in England, has just been re-displayed at the Roman Baths – run by Bath & North East Somerset Council.

The gems were found in a Roman drain leading from the King's Bath spring many years ago.

The gems are all semi-precious stones from Roman signet rings. Each one has a unique design cut into the stone by a lapidarius, a skilled gem-cutter.

In the new display several of the gems have been carefully illuminated to reveal the delicate designs cut into the translucent stones.

Roman Baths Curator Stephen Clews said: "These gems are some of the most beautiful objects in the Council's collection. It is amazing to look at them and realise that these delicate designs were cut by craftsmen working without the aid of magnifying lenses and using only very simple hand operated cutting wheels and drilling equipment.

"The designs show a range of different scenes. Some are Roman deities recognisable by their attributes but others are simply scenes from life, such as a group of cows grazing beneath a tree. Some may have carried special meaning to their owners that we cannot discern today."

The curator thinks the rings' owners may have worn them into the baths and the stones might have come loose; either that or they may have been offerings to Sulis Minerva, goddess/patroness of the spring that fed the baths.

So the short answer seems to be "Using any translucent gemstone, carve any design you like." >({|:-)

(BTW, the rings sent back to Rome in bushel-baskets by Hannibal's army after Cannae were only from the patricians in the ranks; they left the Senate and future historians to infer the rest of the casualties. It's fair to say Rome lost most or all of Her military-age population that year. I feel the need for a pilgrimage coming on...)

In fide,

PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 2:10 pm
by Tiberius Dionysius Draco
Salve Flavi,

In the Roman Republic, (before 44 BC), by law only citizens could wear rings. And a male citizen could only wear one ring, and that ring was made of iron. In the early empire only Patricians, (the upper class of citizens), could wear gold rings. Other citizens and freemen could wear silver or bronze. Slaves were not allowed to wear rings at all. As the empire expanded the laws and customs regarding jewelry were relaxed. Clothing was dictated by social class, and changed little for over 1000 years. Consequently jewelry and hairstyles were the dominant means of expressing a Roman’s social and economic status. In the later empire some people wore rings on every finger, and even on their toes! The normal everyday Roman was not this ostentatious. They wore only one or two rings, usually of bronze. Since Roman clothing had no pockets, one popular ring was the key ring. Unlike the modern key ring which holds a group of keys together, a Roman key ring was a finger ring containing an actual key, possibly to a strongbox where the family valuables were stored, or maybe even to the door of the wearer’s house.


Propriety demanded that adult male citizens wear only one item of jewelry, a personalized signet ring that was used to make an impression in sealing wax in order to authorize documents. Originally made of iron, these signet rings later came to be made of gold, like the ring at left, whose carnelian sealstone depicts a tragic actor holding a mask (see this large bronze signet ring from Herculaneum with the letters of the owner's name in reverse, for stamping on wax: M[arci] PILI PRIMIG[genii] GRANIANI.). The reverse lettering on this gold signet ring from the third century CE says CORINTHIA VIVAT, “may Corinthia live” or “long live Cornthia.” Other rings with a practical function were actually keys (see also this bronze ring with a more elaborate key), perhaps to the gentleman's strongbox.


The jewelry section is near the bottom of the page. You can also view a couple of rings there.

Vale bene,

PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2007 12:43 am
by Aulus Flavius
Salve amici,

So the question now is what sort of things would the Roman of old have carved on his signet ring? Something holy perhaps? A depiction of Jove, Minerva, Mithras, Isis or Christ perhaps? Should one take an image from everyday life, or perhaps something to signify their loves, or occupations.

What would you all have on your ring?


A. Flavius

PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 4:02 am
by Primus Aurelius Timavus
I just wanted to take this opportunity to plug my favorite museum, in Aquileia, Italy which was a (if not the) major center for the production of signet rings in the peninsula. There are hundreds of signets on display there, in gold, silver, base metals and especially in stones. Their iconography includes depictions of deities, animals, mythology, epigraphy, and magical symbols. Some of the most interesting to me are the grylloi, depictions of fantasical monsters composed of parts of animals, men, objects, or gods. One good example is located at ... 19&pcat=52

Do visit Aquileia if you ever go to Venice or Trieste, it's pretty much in between (near the Adriatic resort town of Grado).


PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 11:58 am
by Tiberius Dionysius Draco
Salve Flavi,

Aulus Flavius wrote:So the question now is what sort of things would the Roman of old have carved on his signet ring? Something holy perhaps? A depiction of Jove, Minerva, Mithras, Isis or Christ perhaps? Should one take an image from everyday life, or perhaps something to signify their loves, or occupations.

What would you all have on your ring?

Well, Timavus already confirmed that the Romans depicted deities, animals, mythology, and magical symbols on their rings. But I think you could use just about anything, really.

If I would have a signet ring, it would probably have a depiction of a dragon. I am after all Tiberius Dionysius Draco. :)


In hoc signo...

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 2:31 pm
by Aldus Marius
A lupogryph for me. (That's a winged wolf.) >({|:-)


-- Mari, aka Airwolf

Wearing of the Ring

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:06 am
by Valerius Claudius Iohanes
Salvete Sodales -

I see that "signet rings" are still around, used more as marks of honor or membership than for creating seals, although use or placement is open to whim rather than mandated.

Which finger would a Roman, equestrian or patrician, have worn his signet ring upon? My guess is that it was worn on the middle finger or the perhaps the index, to facilitate use. Or do we have a "ring finger" named as such from ancient Roman signet usage? Anyone familiar with this?

Ut valeatis....

PostPosted: Fri Jul 06, 2007 2:20 pm
by Tiberius Dionysius Draco

I recall reading a story back in my first year of latin involving a Roman wedding. There was also someone who commented on the use of the ringfinger to wear the ring.

Apparently, they wear the ring on that particular finger because of a very small, fine nerve that was directly connected to the heart.

I'm not sure how much of this is true or wether it is simply a myth. I'll have to do some digging to find that particular text. I'll post again when I find out more.

Vale bene,

PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 5:21 pm
by M.Apollonius Silvanus
Salvete Omnes!

It has many photos of rings and designs on the site given by T.Dionysius Draco. And some good info. The other site has some good info aswell..
which as a link to this picture of boys rings ... hallus.jpg .

Having a SVR ring would be cool, just incase one might run across another member somewhere,it could be a sign to them that your a member. Nothing fancy maybe an iron or similar cheap metal with the SVR logo on it.

I believe NR has rings or did at one time.

It appears that womens rings and boys were narrower than mens rings.



PostPosted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 3:47 am
by L. Livia Plauta
I just bought (actually I'll get it tomorrow) a nice signet ring. It's from provincia Achaia, with Mars or Minerva on it.
See it at
Click on the images to enlarge.

My signet ring,

PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 12:31 am
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
I would go with an image of Divus Gaius Iulius Caesar with gens Iulius written on it, and maybe my initials if I can fit all of that.

I have always had a special fondness for Caesar.