This article appeared in the Winter 1971 (Issue #27) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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A Study of Roman gem-stones from Kent.
A fine engraved gemstone has just been sent to me from a site at Fox Hill, West Wickham, Kent, where it was discovered during excavations by the West Kent Group. It shows the figure of Oraphale, queen of Lydia, a mythological subject. A full report on this very interesting piece has been prepared for publication.
The Fox Hill intaglio is the latest of a list of more than fifty engraved gems and rings from Kent. I am listing all of these as part of a comprehensive catalogue of all intaglios and cameos found in Roman Britain. Although I am hoping to publish a book on this subject within the next few years, it will, inevitably, be incomplete before publication simply because of the increased rate of discovery. What is really important is that all such pieces should be recorded at some central depot. With this in mind the authorities at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with Mr David Brown the assistant-keeper in charge of the Roman collection there, have kindly agreed to help. Do please send information about new discoveries either to me at Worcester College, Oxford, or to:Mr. David Brown,
Department of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum,
Wherever possible I would like to examine the actual gems, as only in this way is it possible to make accurate identifications.
The importance and interest of gems in filling in our picture of the beliefs, aspirations and pleasures of the inhabitants of Roman Britain has scarcely been appreciated in the past. Let us take a few illustrations from Kent to show the sort of thing I mean. No circus has yet been discovered in Britain, but a fine gem from Dover set in a silver ring with a gold surround to the bezel (now unfortunately lost), showed a racehorse called Heraclides. Drama is represented by a scene from a Plautine comedy on a gem from Richborough and by a dramatic mask on another intaglio from Canterbury, where Professor Frere has shown there was a theatre. From Slay Hills Saltings comes a collection of fire damaged rings that seem to have come from a woman's jewel-box. The subjects represented on the intaglios are Minerva, Fortuna and an ant (emblem of Ceres) and all are intended to promote prosperity. The cornelian from Lullingstone showing a Victory inscribing a shield, which leans against a trophy, must refer to the success of Roman arms. As it was set in a gold ring it seems to provide additional evidence that one of the second-century villa-owners had some official standing. Finally, we may note 1 jet amulet from Strood, near Rochester, showing the Gorgon's head, a device believed to dispel all evil powers.