Late Antique, Early Christian and Jewish gems: cameos

The Roman tradition of cutting cameos continued into the early Christian and Byzantine periods but in far fewer examples. Only a few large cameos with portraits of the Emperor and the imperial family survive, most dating from the Constantinian period. Most cameos of the late antique period (3rd to 6th centuries AD) are small and cut with simple acclamations ("May you live" or "Lord help"), often naming the owner. In the 6th century, some fine cameos depict religious images, notably the Annunciation and angels, while one unusual workshop produced cameos with Dionysiac imagery.

Gem image

Cameo with Greek inscription, "Lord, help Paulinos".

London, British Museum. Cornelian, 12 x 11 mm.

Gem image

Cameo engraved with two standing angels, holding a long cross. The Greek inscription below names the exousiai, or "Powers", one of the angelic orders.

Washington, Dumbarton Oaks, inv. 47.21. Sardonyx, 26.5 x 21 mm.