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A Roman Silver Hand Pendant Holding a Pomegranate, Roman Imperial Period (ca. 1st-2nd Century AD)

Cast in solid silver is a slender well modeled right hand.  S killfully depicted, it holds aloft between thumb and forefinger a small pomegranate, symbolic of the goddess Persephone.  I n Roman iconography this fruit carries symbolism of eternity, rebirth and fertility.   All such hands with fruit or eggs are simply generalized symbols of good omens.   The remaining fingers are outstretched and closed.  The fingers are long and slender with incised markings of the phalanges. A snake bracelet encircles the wrist. 

Such a piece might have been valued by the wearer on three levels: as practical devices for maintaining a fashionable hairstyle, as decorative embellishments to the hair and as symbols of good fortune. The quality of the workmanship here is superb and this must have been an expensive item of adornment.

Originally cast as a hair pin, now lacking a shaft and point, this object was probably converted to a pendant during the late 19th/early 20th century.   Such pins were very common in bone and bronze during the 1st and 2nd century AD, silver and gold examples being seldom found.

The choice of hand was made for superstitious reasons – the right hand being the bearer of good luck or a fertility symbol for generating life and the snake ornament regarded as a good omen, associated with healing, rebirth and the spirits of the departed.

Decoration depicting a snake bracelet seems to be datable to the first century AD, based on an ivory hairpin from Pompeii and a bone one from Viminacium, which came from a grave with a coin of Domitianus.   The distribution of hairpins representing human hands is widespread, they can be found in the whole territory of the Roman Empire from Dura-Europos to Gallia, from Britannia to Egypt, without any distinction between the typological groups.

It is also in the first and second centuries that we find lavishly piled-up hairstyles and also the tendency to allow pins to project and display their ornamental heads: in the later Empire, hair was worn closer to the head, and pins did not in general need such long shafts.

Bibliography:  Cool, H.E.M. 1990. ‘‘Roman metal hair pins from southern Britain’, Archaeological Journal 147, 148-82.

Johns, C. 1996. ‘Isis, not Cybele: a bone hairpin from London’ in Bird et al. 1996, 115–118.

Johns, Dr Catherine; Johns, Catherine. The Jewellery Of Roman Britain: Celtic and Classical Traditions (p. 139). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Dimensions: Length: 1 1/6 inches (2.96 cm)

Condition: Mottled gray-black surface patina, intact and in overall excellent condition.

Provenance: Ex. Gawain McKinley collection, acquired prior to 1980.

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