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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (possibly, made)
    France (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    4th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved bronze

  • Museum number:

    603-1871

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

'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.

The same inscription is found on the 'Vyne ring', a Roman ring belonging to Silvianus which is believed to have inspired the author J.R.R. Tolkien to write 'The Lord of the Rings', 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).

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.

Physical description

Bronze signet ring, the rectangular bezel inscribed VIVAS IN DIO.

Place of Origin

Italy (possibly, made)
France (possibly, made)

Date

4th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Engraved bronze

Marks and inscriptions

'VIVAS IN DIO'
'Live in God'
inscription

Dimensions

Height: 2.2 cm, Width: 2.4 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Object history note

Ex Waterton Collection. 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'.

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 and 581-1871 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).

Descriptive line

Bronze signet ring, the rectangular bezel inscribed VIVAS IN DIO, Early Christian, Italy or Gaul, circa 300-400 AD

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C. Drury Fortnum 'On finger rings of the early Christian period', Archaeological Journal, vol. 28, 1871, pp. 266-292 (p. 282 for this ring)
Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), 32/G/29
Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, cat. 199, p. 60
Dalton, O.M., Catalogue of the Finger Rings, Early Christian, Byzantine, Teutonic, Medieval and Later in the British Museum, London, 1912, pp. XXVII and 3-4.
Spier, Jeffrey. Late Antique and Early Christian Gems, Wiesbaden, 2007. p. 186, cat. R.56, pl. 145
Waterton, Edmund Dactyliotheca Watertoniana: a descriptive catalogue of the finger-rings in the collection of Mrs Waterton, (manuscript, 1866, now in National Art Library)

Production Note

Possibly Italy or Gaul

Materials

Bronze

Techniques

Engraving

Subjects depicted

Signet rings

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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