Sard ring stone

Period: Imperial, Augustan or Julio-Claudian

Date: ca. 1st century A.D.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Sard

Dimensions: Length: 5/8 in. (1.6 cm)

Classification: Gems

Credit Line: The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

Accession Number: 74.51.4236

Description

The woman in this intaglio can be tentatively identified as Octavia, Augustus' sister and the third wife of Marc Antony. In contrast to the Republican tradition of representing women in the guise of goddesses on Roman coinage, Octavia was the first woman to be represented as herself, and is shown wearing a hairstyle that, unlike those worn previously by Republican women, was devoid of Hellenistic or Etruscan precedent. Octavia is shown in coins wearing the so-called nodus hairstyle as early as 39 B.C., distinguished by the roll of hair worn just over the forehead. This style became immensely popular and was soon imitated by contemporary women of all classes in Roman society.
The woman in this intaglio can be tentatively identified as Octavia, Augustus' sister and the third wife of Marc Antony. In contrast to the Republican tradition of representing women in the guise of goddesses on Roman coinage, Octavia was the first woman to be represented as herself, and is shown wearing a hairstyle that, unlike those worn previously by Republican women, was devoid of Hellenistic or Etruscan precedent. Octavia is shown in coins wearing the so-called nodus hairstyle as early as 39 B.C., distinguished by the roll of hair worn just over the forehead. This style became immensely popular and was soon imitated by contemporary women of all classes in Roman society.
Distinctive and elaborate hairstyles (25.78.90) were a major aspect of female portraiture throughout the imperial period. Because imitation (38.27) of imperial portraiture was so prevalent in privately commissioned portraits, modern scholars are able to date otherwise unidentifiable portraits by making stylistic comparisons of the treatment of the hair with well-documented and datable imperial examples.

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