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Object of the Month

Intaglio depicting Fortuna

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The smallest object on display in the archaeology gallery is an engraved gemstone (also known as an intaglio) depicting the Roman goddess Fortuna. It was excavated from the main drain of the bath house at Tripontium by Rugby Archaeological Society in 1994. This intaglio is one of three which was excavated from the site.

This tiny oval gem, measuring 10 mm x 6 mm has a rounded polished back so it was likely to have been set into jewellery such as a ring and ended up washed away in the bath house drain. Fortuna is the goddess of luck and fortune, often represented on jewellery and worn as a talisman, which doesn’t sound too fortunate for the previous owner and let’s hope losing the stone wasn’t a bad omen for them.

Dr. Martin Henig, an expert on engraved gems, first identified the standing figure of Fortuna on this gemstone, as she appears to be holding a cornucopia (a horn-shaped container holding fruit and flowers often used to symbolise prosperity and abundance).

Looking closely at this gem you may think the etching is crudely executed but the Romans did not have magnification. It is likely that whoever made it was short sighted enough to make the etching and with a very steady hand.

The intaglio is made of a semi-precious reddish orange gemstone called Carnelian. The name comes from the Latin ‘carneus’ meaning ‘flesh-like’ referring to the colour of the stone.

Much like a signet ring, it may have been used to create a copy of the image in a seal when pressed into melted sealing wax to seal a document. As well as being functional, wearing a ring of this kind would no doubt also be a display of wealth and status.

Situated on the major thoroughfare of Watling Street the settlement of Tripontium was occupied for nearly 400 years before being abandoned in the 4th century AD.  

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Images show illustration of bath house and illustration of intaglio (copyright of Rugby Archaeological society).

Read more about the Tripontium Collection