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.
The word emerald is derived from the Greek word, ‘smaragdos’, meaning ‘green stone’. Emeralds were among the gemstones known to the Ptolemaic Egyptians and later the Romans, who called them ‘smaragdi’ and described them in their writings, such as in the Natural History of Pliny the Younger. The earliest reference to emeralds in western literature comes from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who wrote that owning an emerald increased the owner’s importance; gave victory in trials; and helped to settle litigation. He also stated that “(…) an emerald hung from the neck or worn in a ring will prevent the falling sickness (epilepsy)”.