Period: Early Imperial, Tiberian
Date: ca. A.D. 14–37
Medium: Gold, carnelian
Dimensions: Overall: 13/16 in. (2.1 cm)
Classification: Gold and Silver
Credit Line: Purchase, The Bothmer Purchase Fund and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1994
Accession Number: 1994.230.7
Rings bearing ancestral portraits were widely used in the Republic as personal seals, as both a means of identification and a guarantee against forgery. Augustus is known to have commissioned a portrait gem of himself from the notable Greek artisan Dioscurides, and presumably his ring was passed down to his heirs and used for official business much as Augustus had done. In the early imperial period, it became popular to wear rings with a portrait of the current emperor, although this practice continued only up to the second century A.D.
The fine portrait carved on this intaglio is true to life and bears a close resemblance to that on coins of the emperor Tiberius minted during his reign. Tiberius was fifty-six when he became emperor in A.D. 14; his accession established the precedent of dynastic rule in Rome by the Julio-Claudian family. Despite long years of experience as a general and administrator under his stepfather, Augustus, Tiberius was not a popular ruler and spent the last ten years of his reign living in seclusion on the island of Capri.