This ring is a particularly fine example of a form known across the Roman empire. The black-and-white banded onyx intaglio depicts the eagle of Jupiter with a wreath in its beak on a pyxis with ram heads each side and ears of corn below. The gem is elegantly accommodated into the gold bezel which rounds in perfect geometry at each end. Effectively a continuity of propaganda from the First Triumvirate (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus) and Second Triumvirate (Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian), the eagle symbolized the power of the victorious Roman emperor. Both the palm branch and the wreath are also symbols of victory. Augustus (27 BC - AD 14) in particular employed this image. Is found on the splendid large cameo in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, known as the Gemma Augustea, most likely the product of an imperial workshop.
Gems with this type of image set in rings, as in the case of the present example, were probably worn by military officers. The style of the gem and the shape of the ring suggest a late first century date. Rings and gems of a similar style are known from Pompeii and must date before AD 79 when the city was destroyed.
For the Vienna cameo, E. Zwierlein-Diehl and M. der Steine, Die Antiken Prunkkameen im Kunsthistorischen Museum (Vienna 2008), pp. 84-91, no. 4.
An interesting study of gems engraved with victorious eagles is presented by C. Weiss, Die antiken Gemmen der Sammlung Heinrich Dressel in der Antikensammlung Berlin (Würzburg, 2007), no. 478 (with further literature); and E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Die antiken Gemmen des Kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien, Vol. 3 (Munich, 1991), nos 1919-30.
For a good general study, F. H. Marshall, Catalogue of the Finger Rings, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the Departments of Antiquities British Museum (London, 1907), p. xlvi, Type xvii; F. Henkel, Die römischen Fingerringe der Rheinlande (Berlin, 1913), nos 141-173.
The examples found at Pompeii are presented by A. d’Ambrosio and E. de Carolis, I Monili dall’area Vesuviana (Rome, 1997), pp. 44-46, nos 97-104.
English Collection prior to 1970.
G. McKinley, London, before 1985.