The ancient Romans considered jewellery to be an essential accessory, for it provided a public display of their wealth. Roman jewellery at first followed trends set by the Etruscans, using gold and glass beads, but as the power and spread of the Roman Empire increased, so too did jewellery designs became increasingly elaborate. Different cultural styles from Greece, Egypt, North Africa, and the Orient were all incorporated to reflect Rome’s prosperity as a dominant, conquering city. The wide range of natural resources enabled artisans to create ostentatious jewellery using a diverse selection of materials: this increasingly included sapphires, diamonds, emeralds, garnet and amber from India, and pearls (which were particularly prized). Archaeological finds of Roman jewellery are relatively rare, considering the magnitude of Roman civilisation, and the historical and geographical span of the Empire.
Earrings of this kind were known as ‘crotalia’ (from the Greek word for ‘rattle’ or ‘castanets’) because the pearl pendants would produce a jingling noise when worn. They were extremely popular with Roman ladies, and numerous examples have been found at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Hades gave pomegranate seeds to Persephone as a token of safety. Pomegranate seeds were often associated with the garnet stone, which became a typical gift given upon departure for travel. When given in this context, the garnet stone was believed to grant a quick and safe return, and to eradicate the emotional distance between separated lovers.