Beryl intaglio with portrait of Julia Domna

Period: Mid-Imperial, Severan

Date: ca. A.D. 200–210

Culture: Roman

Medium: Beryl

Dimensions: H. 15/16 in. (2.4 cm)

Classification: Gems

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1925

Accession Number: 25.78.90


This likeness of the empress in intaglio is unique in its combination of spiral locks with features of an earlier hairstyle, and is thought to be a nostalgic work from the end of her husband's reign. The style typically worn by Julia Domna (99.35.218) in the early years of Septimius Severus' principate is characterized by parallel pleats or waves of hair that begin in a central part and continue down either side of the head, terminating in tubular coils at the neck. Marble portraits of the empress are easily recognizable by this hairstyle, nicknamed "the helmet" because of its solid and wiglike appearance, which seems to cover her natural hair that escapes in wisps from beneath the rows of curls.
The style featured on this intaglio combines lengths of spiraled hair with these earlier, parallel pleats; they are visible just behind the coils that begin in the central part and run down either side of the face. The spirals continue to the back of the head, where they are curled upward and twisted into a large bun.