Making Your Mark in Britannia an investigation into the use of signet rings and intaglios in Roman Britain
thesisposted on 12.05.2016, 11:59 by Ian James Marshman
This project presents and analyses all of the signet rings and intaglios so far unearthed in Roman Britain to reinterpret how they were used and their role within provincial society. These small artefacts have traditionally been regarded as attractive but relatively insignificant minor objets d’art, with little relevance to the wider discourses of Romanists. This thesis attempts a more critical examination of how they were used and their role within provincial Roman society. I argue that signet rings were an essential element in provincial society that should no longer be overlooked. This project builds on the pioneering Corpus assembled by Martin Henig in the 1970s, including more recent discoveries and more than doubling the material available to him. This combined body of evidence includes 2,012 signet rings and intaglios, making it one of the largest contextualised assemblages of these objects ever studied. It also benefits from the results of developer funded archaeology and the advent of recording by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, enabling us to create a richer and more detailed picture how they were used. My approach has been to resituate these objects in terms of the archaeological context in which they were found, but also to consider them as functional as well as decorative objects. When studied in this way signet rings provide a unique perspective on the identity of their wearers, and how they wanted to present themselves to others. I have found growing evidence for the use of signet rings amongst local elites before the Roman invasion of Britain, and it is clear that they had a role to play in negotiating identity after the conquest. I have also been able to identify trends in the way that different communities used signet rings, both as regards their imagery and materiality. It is also apparent that in some parts of Britain these objects remained a feature of a type of dress and the hallmark of a society that remained alien to their inhabitants throughout the Roman period. However, for those who chose to wear them, signet rings could be more than just objects but reflections of themselves.