Signet Ring thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

Signet Ring

3rd century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The inscription on the bezel of this ring 'LIBERI VIVAS' has been historically interpreted as 'May you live carefree'. However, 'Vivas in deo' or simply 'Vivas' ('Live in God' or 'May you live in God') was a common inscription on Roman objects. The inscription 'Vivas', sometimes added to a first name, was used on pagan objects but was also associated with other Christian symbols such as the chi-rho monogram (the first letters of Christ in Greek), palm branches or the Lamb of God and may therefore be a Christian inscription. If so, the use of a overtly Christian phrase on a finger ring suggests that the wearer wanted their religious beliefs to be clearly identifiable and that Christianity, though still a minority religion, was now acceptable. A variant of this inscription is found on the 'Vyne ring', a Roman ring belonging to a man named Silvianus which is believed to have inspired the author J.R.R. Tolkien to write 'The Lord of the Rings'; also on a ring found in a Roman tomb in the Catacombs, Rome and on spoons in the Hoxne hoard and the Mildenhall Treasure (both in the British Museum).

The inscription on a Christian cemetery stone recorded in Padua in 1687 reads 'HILARI VIVAS IN DEO' with the chi-rho monogram and a palm branch followed by 'HERACLIE COMPARI SUAE BENEME RENTI FECIT QUE VIXIT ANIS XXI IN PACE LIBERI VIVAS IN ' followed by the chi-rho. This inscription has been interpreted to refer to three people, Hilarius, Liberius and Heraclia. If we accept this reading, the inscription 'Liberi vivas' may refer to an early Christian Liberius.

This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-87). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Engraved silver
Brief description
Silver signet ring, the circular bezel inscribed LIBERI VIVAS, Roman, 3rd century
Physical description
Silver signet ring, the circular bezel inscribed LIBERI VIVAS
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.2cm
  • Width: 2.3cm
  • Depth: 1.2cm
Style
Marks and inscriptions
inscribed LIBERI VIVAS
Object history
The bezel of a silver ring was recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2013, found in Swaffham, Norfolk. It features a profile male head with the retrograde inscription 'Antoni Vivas in Deo' and was probably used as a personal signet. A ring found in 1823 in Brancaster, Norfolk is engraved with two profile heads facing and 'Vivas in deo'. Drury Fortnum describes a bronze ring with a square bezel inscribed 'Vivas in deo' in the Vatican collection, which had been found in the Catacombs, in Rome. There is a group of rings in the British Museum including a very similar bronze ring with a rectangular bezel inscribed VIVAS IN DIO on two lines, reversed (Dalton, O.M., Catalogue of the Finger Rings, Early Christian, Byzantine, Teutonic, Medieval and Later in the British Museum, London, 1912, p. 3, cat. 8) and others with variations on 'VIVAS' or 'VIBAS'. The Christian association is strengthened by a bronze ring with a Chi-Rho and the inscription 'ARBORI VIBAS IN CRISTO'. The excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough in Kent uncovered a ring with an engraved alpha and omega and the inscription 'IUSTINEVIVASINDEO' (Justinus, may you live in God'). Another bronze ring in the Guilhou collection (cat. 407) was engraved FRONTINA VIVAS on a crescent shaped bezel with a palm leaf. Similar inscriptions continued to be used on Byzantine rings.



Edmund Waterton discussed these rings in his 'Dactyliotheca Watertoniana', p 88: "Other Christian rings have acclamations or good wishes upon them, similar to those which are found on Roman Pagan rings, such as VIVAS IN DEO and the like. A ring in the Kircherian Museum has SPES IN DEO and Ficorini gives another with DEUSDEDIT VIVAS IN DEO." There are two other Waterton rings with 'VIVAS' inscriptions: museum numbers 580-1871 (agate cameo engraved 'VIBAS LUXURI HOMO BONE' and 581-1871 (agate cameo engraved 'FABIANA VIVAS') although neither of these is overtly Christian. These rings are discussed in 'Late Antique and early Christian gems' (Jeffrey Spiers, Weisbaden, 2007, pp. 135-9).

Production
Roman
Summary
The inscription on the bezel of this ring 'LIBERI VIVAS' has been historically interpreted as 'May you live carefree'. However, 'Vivas in deo' or simply 'Vivas' ('Live in God' or 'May you live in God') was a common inscription on Roman objects. The inscription 'Vivas', sometimes added to a first name, was used on pagan objects but was also associated with other Christian symbols such as the chi-rho monogram (the first letters of Christ in Greek), palm branches or the Lamb of God and may therefore be a Christian inscription. If so, the use of a overtly Christian phrase on a finger ring suggests that the wearer wanted their religious beliefs to be clearly identifiable and that Christianity, though still a minority religion, was now acceptable. A variant of this inscription is found on the 'Vyne ring', a Roman ring belonging to a man named Silvianus which is believed to have inspired the author J.R.R. Tolkien to write 'The Lord of the Rings'; also on a ring found in a Roman tomb in the Catacombs, Rome and on spoons in the Hoxne hoard and the Mildenhall Treasure (both in the British Museum).



The inscription on a Christian cemetery stone recorded in Padua in 1687 reads 'HILARI VIVAS IN DEO' with the chi-rho monogram and a palm branch followed by 'HERACLIE COMPARI SUAE BENEME RENTI FECIT QUE VIXIT ANIS XXI IN PACE LIBERI VIVAS IN ' followed by the chi-rho. This inscription has been interpreted to refer to three people, Hilarius, Liberius and Heraclia. If we accept this reading, the inscription 'Liberi vivas' may refer to an early Christian Liberius.



This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-87). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.

Collection
Accession number
505-1871

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Record createdMarch 21, 2006
Record URL
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