Hercules intaglio – the pride of the A1 scheme

A1 Leeming to Barton




Julie Shoemark

To finish up our spotlight of finds from the A1 Scheme we thought you’d like to get to know our Volume 2 cover star a bit better, we think it’s a gem of a find!


This stunning carnelian intaglio would have been mounted in a finger-ring. At some point, the inlaid gem has popped out of its setting and the ring is now lost. This seems to have been a common problem – excavations at the Roman baths at Caerleon revealed a large number of intaglios that had come out of their fittings, presumably their owners had been wearing their jewellery in the bath and it was washed down the drain.


The engraved design depicts an episode from the Twelve Labours of Hercules (or Herakles as he was originally known): the defeat of the Nemean lion, a monstrous creature with a pelt immune to weapons. Hercules and the lion are shown mid-fight, Hercules having dropped his club, which was useless against it, to grapple the lion as it tries to sink its teeth into his arm. Arranged around the top are three stars, possibly an astrological reference to the constellations of Hercules or Leo.


Hercules was a popular deity with soldiers and was often invoked to ward against harm or in his aspect as a healer. In the Eastern Empire, for example, amulets depicting Hercules and the Nemean lion were often worn as a cure for colic, yet depictions of this particular myth are relatively rare in Britain, making this gem an unusual and beautiful survival from Roman Cataractonium.


To find out more about this, and the other intaglios from the A1 scheme, visit the ADS website.

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