Lewis Collection (Corpus Christi College).

The Lewis collection of gems and rings in the possession of Corpus Christi college, Cambridge; online

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Online LibraryLewis Collection (Corpus Christi College)The Lewis collection of gems and rings in the possession of Corpus Christi college, Cambridge; → online text (page 1 of 7)
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presented to the











SonDon: c. j. CLAY AND SONS,


!rtp>tfl: F. A. BROCKHAUS.












TIMES, 1891," &c., &c.





[All Rights reserved.}



List of illustrations p. 6

Preface . . .' . . . . . . pp. 7 to 9

Introductory Essay , pp. n to 43

Page n, importance of signets, methods of fraud; p. 12, use of badges by
the Greeks; p. 13, oldest forms of signet, scarabs and cylinders; p. 15, early
Greek signets; p. 16, scarabaeoids and later scarabs; p. 18, portraits on gems;
p. 19, representations of sculpture; p. 20, early Roman gems; subjects repre-
sented; p. 22, Grylli and Egypto-Roman gems; p. 23, styles of Roman gems;
p. 24, Sasanian gems; p. 25, cameos; p. 26, ancient collections of gems; p. 27,
characteristics of gems ; p. 28, Greek and Roman styles ; p. 30, detection of
forgeries; p. 30, technique of gem-engraving; p. 31, the drill; p. 33, the wheel;
p. 34, the diamond point ; p. 36, the file, the final polish and the manufacture of
paste gems; p. 38, stones used for ancient gems; p. 39, silica-stones; p. 40, jasper;
p. 41, sard, lapis lazuli, and paste; p. 42, ancient rings; p. 43, styles of rings,
hollow poison-rings.

List of works on ancient gems pp. 43 to 45

Abstract of the Catalogue p. 46

Descriptive catalogue of the Lewis collection . . pp. 47 to 93

CLASS A, Gems fixed for transmitted light . . . pp. 47 to 56

I. Deities pp. 47 to 50

II. Miscellaneous subjects pp. 50 to 56

CLASS B, Gems of the Roman period . . . . pp. 56 to 75

I. Deities pp. 56 to 64

II. Profile heads pp. 64 to 66

III. Miscellaneous subjects pp. 66 to 73

IV. Animals pp. 73 to 74

V. Egypto-Roman gems pp. 74 to 75

CLASS C. Gnostic gems and Grylli . .. . . pp. 76 to 82

CLASS D. Oriental gems pp. 82 to 84

CLASS E. Christian gems pp. 84 to 86

CLASS F. Paste gems . pp. 86 to 87

CLASS G. Cameos pp. 87 to 88

CLASS H. Modern gems pp. 89 to 91

CLASS J. Antique rings pp. 91 to 93



Fig. i ; Early Assyrian cylinder . . page 14

Fig. 2 ; Early Phoenician scarab . . . ... page 16

Fig. 3 ; Hero with bow and arrow ; Greek scarabaeoid of finest style . page 28

Fig. 4 ; Gem -engraver at work page 3 1

Fig. 5 ; Late Phoenician scarab page 33

Fig. 6 ; Lenticular gem, showing tool-marks page 33

Fig. 7 ; Head of Zeus, finest Greek style page 35


CLASS A, No. 22 ; Standing figure of Athene, from a statue.

Do. No. 40 ; A winged Victory reading from a scroll ; the signet of Eros.

Do. No. 48 ; Christ the Good Shepherd, of unusually fine style.
CLASS B, No. 1 2 ; Mercury riding on a ram.

Do. No. 19 ; Aphrodite Epitragia, riding on a ram.

Do. No. 46 ; Victory of Samothrace, copied from a statue.

Do. No. 79 ; Portraits of Nero and Poppaea, of fine contemporary workmanship.

Do. No. 8 1 ; Portrait of Caracalla, with a small figure of Victory.

Do. No. too ; The death of Capaneus at the siege of Thebes.

Do. No. 101 ; Victory erecting a trophy ; the signet of Kallistos.

Do. No. 133 ; Greek warrior at a spring, of fine Greek style.
CLASS C, No. 13 ; The Abraxas deity ; a Gnostic amulet.

Do. No. 17 ; Large Gnostic amulet with the Abraxas and Chnoubis deities.
CLASS D, No. 16 ; Portrait of the Sasanian king Sapor the Great.
CLASS E, No. i ; The Crucifixion ; a very early representation of this subject.

Do. No. 2 ; Men in a ship fishing ; of the Christian period.
CLASS F, No. 7 ; Portrait of Domitia, in paste ; fine Graeco-Roman work.

It should be observed that these illustrations represent in each case, not the matrix,
but the impression from the gem.


THE large collection of engraved gems and rings
which are described in the following catalogue was
formed by the late Rev. Samuel Savage Lewis, M.A.,
Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, during
many years which he spent as an enthusiastic collector
of ancient works of art of many different kinds t.

Many of these gems were acquired by Mr Lewis in
the course of his frequent journeys into Italy, Greece
and more distant Oriental countries. An inscription cut
on the modern ring-setting of some of the gems records
the place and the date of their acquisition.

A still larger proportion of the collection was pur-
chased from various dealers in Smyrna, Naples, Paris
and elsewhere, between whom and Mr Lewis a constant
intercourse was kept up. Many times in the course of
each year Mr Lewis received from these dealers parcels
of gems which were sent to him on approval to select
any which he might wish to buy.

For many years Mr C. W. King, whose valuable
works on gems are mentioned at page 45, gave constant
help to Mr Lewis in the formation of this collection by

* I have to thank the Syndics of the University Press for their kind permission to
use seven wood-cuts of gems which had originally appeared in my work on The
engraved gems of classical times, and also the Council of the Cambridge Antiquarian
Society for the use of five cuts of gems in the Lewis collection, which had previously
illustrated articles in the Communications of the Society.

t Mr Lewis was born in 1836: in 1869 he was elected to a Fellowship at Corpus
Christi College, and from 1870 he held the office of Librarian. He died suddenly in
1891, having bequeathed to his college his whole collection of coins, gems, vases and
other objects of antiquarian interest, together with a small but valuable library of
books mostly dealing with archaeological subjects.


his sympathetic encouragement, his discriminating advice
and in many other ways. The full value of this assist-
ance can only be realized by those who were personally
acquainted with Mr King's intense kindness of heart and
wonderfully wide range of learning.

With regard to the general character of the collection
it may be remarked that as a rule the gems are more
remarkable for their interesting subjects than for any
exceptional beauty as works of art.

Fine gems of the autonomous period of Greelc art
are almost wholly wanting from the collection, and by
far the majority consist of examples of Roman work
of Imperial date. Some of these are, however, works
of much beauty and interest, as, for example the fine
contemporary portraits of Nero and Poppaea (CLASS B,
No. 79), and the very beautiful eikonic head of a Roman
lady (CLASS B, No. 78).

Others, as is indicated in the following Introduction,
are of great interest from the fact that they represent
important works of Greek sculpture, and a large number
of the gems are of value from the way in which they
illustrate the myths and the ritual of classical times.

Among the gems with Christian devices one (CLASS
A, No. 48), is of very exceptional beauty and importance,
and another (CLASS E, No. i), though very poor as a
work of art, is of unusual interest from its supplying
what is probably one of the earliest known representa-
tions of the Crucifixion of our Lord.

The Gnostic gems in this collection form an important
part of the whole. Some of them, such as CLASS C,
Nos. 14 and 17, are exceptionally fine and interesting
examples of this curious class of amulets, and together
with several others supply a valuable list of the mystic
names of the Supreme Deity and the Angels of the


Aeons to which such strange magical virtues were attri-
buted by the credulous and superstitious believers in
the Gnostic Faith, which was a fanciful mixture of
the Graeco-Roman, the Mithraic, the Jewish and the
Christian religions.

In CLASS G, cameos (or gems cut in relief) there are
several fine examples of the work of Italian artists of the
Renaissance, when the keen revival of interest in all
forms of classical learning and art led to the production
of fine glyptic works, of antique style, designed with
much grace and executed with an amount of technical
skill which is hardly surpassed by that of the best Roman
or Graeco-Roman engravers.

Among the ancient rings (CLASS J) there are several
interesting specimens of antique metal-work. One heavy
gold ring of late date (No. 16) is noticeable for its dedi-
catory inscription ITT dyaffq), followed by the name of
the donor who hoped to receive a blessing in return for
his offering.

Regarded as a whole this collection contains much
that will be of value not only to the student of the
glyptic art, but also to all who are interested in classical
learning in the development of Christianity, in the
mystic lore of the Gnostics or in the Renaissance of
classical art ; and the College of which Mr Lewis was a
member may be congratulated on the possession of so
large and in many respects so interesting a collection of
engraved gems, including examples of many different
periods and styles.





IN ancient times, owing to the fact that writing was either
an unknown art or else was practised only by a few professional
scribes or members of some sacred priesthood, hard stones en- Use of
graved with a name, a badge, or some other device, were of'"-^^'
special importance from their use as signets, the impressions of
which in clay or wax gave that authenticity and authority to
documents, such as royal decrees, contracts, private letters and
the like, which at the present day is more usually conferred by
a written signature. We frequently read of royal personages
delegating their authority to a friend or an official, by lending
him their signet, with permission to attach its seal to decrees,
which thus gained the validity of a direct royal command.

The importance which the Greeks attached to signet gems Solon's
is borne witness to by one of Solon's laws, promulgated about '
600 B.C., which forbade gem-engravers (SaKTv\ioy\v(f)oi) to keep
in their possession an impression of any gem they had sold, for
fear lest they should be tempted to make another exactly like it
for fraudulent purposes ; see Diog. Laertius, i. 57.

One common form of fraud in ancient times seems to have Modes of
been the manufacture of a fresh matrix by pressing on the sva\-' orgery '
of a document some soft composition, which afterward grew
hard and allowed a fresh impression to be made from it exactly
like that of the original seal. With the help of this the sealed
letter might be broken open and then re-sealed by an unscru-
pulous person in such a way as to make detection almost im-

Hippolytus (Refutatio omnium haeresium, iv. 34) describes
the best method of making and using these temporary signets,
though he rather needlessly adds that he has hesitated to divulge


the process for fear lest evil-doers should make a bad use of
his information.

Materials One method, Hippolytus says, was to warm and knead

s ' together equal parts of pitch, resin, sulphur and asphalt. The

seal on the document was then to be moistened with an oily

tongue and the composition gently pressed upon it : when hard,

this new matrix could be used to make a fresh seal.

Another method was to make a mixture of two parts of
mastic-gum to one of dry asphalt, of wax and of resin from the
pine-tree, adding, to give it hardness, a small proportion of
finely powdered marble.

Somewhat similar directions for this fraudulent trick are
given by Lucian, Alex. 21, who also mentions another method
by which a seal could be cut off and then replaced on the letter
which it had secured.

To provide against a letter being broken open and then
re-sealed with a different signet it was not uncommon for writers
of letters to mention at the end of their communication what the
device was with which they were about to seal it; see Pliny,
Epis. x. 74 (16).

Greek In early time.s, both among the Greeks and the Romans,

ga ' a special badge (0-77/40, or eViur^oi/) was adopted by each indi-
vidual, and used both as a heraldic device on his shield and also
on the signet which he used on written documents ; see Aesch.
Sept. con. Theb. 384 and 427.

This badge might be arbitrarily selected by its bearer, or
it might have reference to his favourite deity, or again it might
be of the nature of what, in heraldic language, is called "canting
arms " (Fr. parlant).

"Canting" Of this latter kind many examples are known, as, e.g. the
custom of various members of the Roman Gens T/wria, who
used as their badge a bull (taurus) on account of the resemblance
in the sound of the two words.

A probable example of this is mentioned in the following
catalogue, CLASS B, No.' 167.

Among the Greeks it appears to have been more usual for
each man to select an arbitrary badge. Of this we have ex-
amples in the celebrated inscribed bronze tablets from Heraklea
in Magna Graecia, usually known as the tabulae Heracleenses, on


which is a long list of magistrates, the name of each being fol-
lowed by that of his distinguishing badge, such as a bunch of
grapes, an ear of wheat, a dolphin or some other object.

In many cases, however, the device on a signet gem had
no special appropriateness or relation to its owner, and then it Owners'
was not uncommon, especially in later times, for the initials
or the full name of the owner to be added in a conspicuous
place in the "field "* of the gem.

During the best Greek period this was rarely done, but
owners' names occur very frequently on gems of Roman times.
Many examples of this will be found in the following catalogue.

With regard to the shapes of signet gems it should be Scarabs.
observed that the oldest known form of signet is the sacred
scarabaeus beetle of ancient Egypt, examples of which exist
dating from nearly 3800 years B.C. As a rule the Egyptian
scarab is made either of soft steatite or of a paste hardened
by fire, and therefore does not, strictly speaking, fall under the
head of engraved gems.

In later times, however, signet gems made of carnelian, agate
or chalcedony were largely cut either in the form of the Egyp-
tian scarab or else in the modified scarab-shape which is now
known as the scarabaeoid; see page 16, and Catalogiie, CLASS D,
No. 1 8, and ib. No. 3.

Next in point of antiquity come the cylinder signets of Cylinders.
Assyria and Babylon, the oldest examples of which date, as
far as is now known, from nearly 3000 years B.C. Of the
cylinder signets only one example is contained in the Lewis
collection (CLASS D, No. i); this is a good and characteristic
specimen, cut in hard steel-grey haematite. Its device, as is
very commonly the case on these cylinders, represents a scene
of worshippers adoring an enthroned figure of a deity no doubt
the special god whose cult commended itself the most to the
owner of the signet.

Fig. i shows a very fine example of a cylinder of the oldest
and artistically the finest class. The vigour of the action and
the crisp precision of the modelling show an extraordinary
amount of technical skill.

* The " field " of a gem is the flat, unengraved surface which forms the ground
of the device.


One of the commonest subjects on the Assyrian and Baby-
lonian cylinders and throughout the whole artistic productions



FIG. i. Impression from an early Babylonian cylinder of the finest style of
about 2800 B.C. ; with the name of the owner and his deity in cuneiform characters,
between two representations (reversed) of the same subject Gistubar strangling a
lion : real size. The original is in the British Museum.

Favourite of the Euphrates valley represents two winged deities or "cheru-


Mode of

Method of

bim " standing, one on each side of the conventionally treated
sacred tree (Horn). In one hand each figure holds a basket
full of fruit, and with the other hand he applies a fruit to the
branches of the sacred tree. The real meaning of this interesting
and constantly recurring subject has only recently been pointed
out by Dr E. B. Tylor of Oxford.

In order to secure a good crop of dates it was (and is still)
an annual custom among the dwellers in the valley of the Great
Rivers to shake on to the female palm trees pollen from the
blossom of the male trees, thus ensuring the fertilization of the
fruit. A custom of such importance for the welfare and food of
the inhabitants naturally assumed a sacred character, and thus
became a favourite subject for plastic art on a large scale as
well as for the minute intaglios on the cylinder-signets.

These cylinders are always pierced longitudinally, so as to
receive a woollen cord by which the signet was fastened round
the neck or the wrist of the owner. Mr Lewis' cylinder shows
the marks of hong wear and constant use, as the hard haematite
is much worn down and the device blunted by the many im-
pressions it has made.

The method of using these cylinders was this a lump of soft
clay, or in some cases wax was laid on the document or other
object which was to be sealed; the cylinder was then used to


roll out the lump into a flat tablet, which at the same time
received the imprint of the device engraved on the cylinder.

The fine clay used for this purpose was called by the Greeks Sealing
777 a-riiiavTpls (from <rtj/jiaiv(0 to seal); see Herod, ii. 38. T\\e cay '
same sort of clay was also used for scarabs and other forms of
signet; Herodotus (loc. cit.) describes how the Egyptian priests
used it to mark with their signets the victims which they had
accepted as fit for sacrificial purposes.

It should be observed that signet gems of all classes were
frequently used in ancient times not only to seal documents,
but also to close the doors of rooms, the lids of caskets, the
stoppers of wine amphorae and for many other similar purposes ;
see Aristoph. Thesm. 424 428; Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxxiii. 2>; and
Horace, Epis. II. ii. 134.

Various words are used by the Greeks to denote an engraved Names for
gem, which was primarily intended for a signet, and usually was Sl & tets '
set in a ring (SaTvXto?). S^poryt?, tyf)<f)o<>, 8aKrv\iKr) tyrj<j)o<; and
?; X/009 (Latin gemma) are all employed with this meaning,
though the last of these words did not necessarily imply an
engraved stone ; it might mean a simple jewel. An engraved
gem set in a gold ring was also called <r$>pa<yl<; %pucroSeT09. The
art of gem-engraving was called BaKrv\ioy\v<f)ia or \i6ovp'yiKij,
and the act of engraving the gem was y\v<j>eiv (Latin scalpere)
whence we have the English phrase glyptic art. Collections of
engraved gems were called SafcrvXiodr/Kai (Latin dactyliothecae).
The names of the tools used by gem-engravers (8aKTv\to<y\v(j)o<f
or \i0oy\v $09, Lat. gemmarum scalptor) are mentioned below,
see page 30 seq.

Among the Greeks of early times, from about the twelfth Earliest
to the ninth or eighth century B.C., the signet gems were mainly
of a circular bean-like form, what are called lentictdar gems, or
else of an oblong oval shape like the lead bullets (glandes) used
by Greek slingers and hence commonly known as glandular

The devices on these archaic gems are usually animals, cut
with varying degrees of spirit or clumsiness, and frequently de-
signed in a conventional heraldic fashion ; see fig. 6 on page 33.

These gems were first largely found in the Greek islands and "island
therefore were called by archaeologists "island gems," but
L. G. 2




have since been found at Mycenae, Spata, Baphion and other
places on the mainland of Greece associated with objects of the
Tirynthian and Mycenae type, and also, as at Baphion, with
gold cups of very similar style but showing a later development
than the very primitive works of art from Tiryns and Mycenae.

They apparently belong to a more purely native strain of
art development than the gems of the next period, the eighth
and seventh centuries B.C., which by their scarab form and the
style of their devices indicate a strongly-marked Egypto-As-
syrian influence which to a large extent appears to have resulted
from the extensive Phoenician trade with Greece, and also from


FIG. 2. Phoenician scarab of exceptionally delicate workmanship, dating pro-
bably from the 8th century B.C. The device consists of various sacred Egyptian and
Assyrian symbols, arranged, without regard to meaning, simply as a decorative
device. In the centre is the Egyptian god Horus seated on a lotus flower, between
two winged cherubim of Assyrian style : at the top is the winged orb of the sun, the
symbol of the sun-god Ra. One and a half times full size.

the establishment of the Greek trading colony of Naucratis in
the Egyptian Delta.

Fig. 2 shows a characteristic example of a Phoenician scarab
in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, cut in carnelian.

During the finest period of Greek art, from the sixth to the
fourth century B.C., gems were mostly cut in what is called the
scarabaeoid form; that is they have the general form of the
Egyptian or Egypto-Phoenician scarab without the details of
the beetle's wings and head being cut on the convex back.

Fig. 3 on page 28 illustrates a Greek scarabaeoid gem of the
very finest class dating from the first half of the fifth century, B.C.

In the fourth century B.C. gem engravers began to use thinner
slices of stone than the old scarabaeoid, and this shape lasted
throughout the Roman period as the usual shape for gems of
translucent character.


Some Roman gems are cut in the form of what may be
called a reversed scarabaeoid ; that is the back of the gem is
flat and the front, on which the device is sunk, is convex or
what would now be called cut en cabochon. In the case of
carbuncles and other finely coloured transparent stones this
thick rounded form increases both the richness of colour and
the brilliance of the gem*.

To a certain extent true scarabs cut in carnelian or other Late use of
hard stone were used by the Greeks till the fifth century B.C., SCt
but these gems were mostly of Phoenician workmanship, and
have devices which combine in a decorative though meaning-
less manner the sacred symbols and deities of Egypt and

In Phoenician colonies, such as Tharros in the island of
Sardinia, large numbers of these hard stone scarabs are found
extending to as late a period as the third century B.C. CLASS
D, No. 1 8 in the following catalogue supplies an example of this
later kind of scarab.

Another large class of scarab- gems comes from the tombs Etruscan
of Etruria. Like Phoenician scarabs they are mostly cut in scaja s '
carnelian; but the devices on the flat side are not Oriental
in style. In most cases the Etruscan scarabs, both in subject
and design, show a strong Greek influence, and the finest of
these scarabs, dating from the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.,
appear in many cases to be actually the work of Greek en-
gravers, probably made expressly for the Etruscan market.

The method of setting scarab-gems for use in signet-rings Setting of
was unlike that employed for the thinner forms of stone. The
scarab is drilled longitudinally with a hole to receive a gold
wire which formed part of the hoop of the ring and acted as
a swivel on which the stone could revolve.

When worn on the finger the scarab was turned with its flat
side inwards, but when taken off to use as a seal the scarab

* Both the Greeks and the Romans, and in fact all gem-cutters down to the
fifteenth century A.D., used the rounded cabochon form for all unengraved, ornamental
jewels. The modern system of cutting jewels into many facets gives increased bril-
liance or "fire", but at the expense of depth and beauty of colour. As a rule, for
decorative purposes the rounded form is best for any stone except the diamond. The

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Online LibraryLewis Collection (Corpus Christi College)The Lewis collection of gems and rings in the possession of Corpus Christi college, Cambridge; → online text (page 1 of 7)