• IDIT SAGIV Tel-Aviv University, Department of Art History
Keywords: Engraved gems, intaglios, horsemen, cavalry, Heros Equitans, Bellerophon, Dioscuri, Imperial rider


This paper explores the interpretations and context of equestrian Greco-Roman engraved gems kept at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem which had never been published prior to this study. It was written on the basis of a study which included photography, description, technical aspects, iconographic and stylistic analysis and, finally, dating the gems. In order to achieve this, they were compared to other known ones that had already been published.
The results indicate that horsemen frequently appear as subjects on intaglios. The Roman engraved gems drew their inspiration from established Greek rider imagery. Under the Roman Empire, the rider image became the preserve of that new divine figure, the emperor. The Imperial rider combined the attributes of a Bellerophon or the Dioscuri of the Classical period and an Alexander of the Hellenistic. Also, Gauls are fairly common in art and there are quite a number of Celtic/Gaulish horsemen on gems. Presumably, people wore such gems as a reminder of the iconic defeat of the Northern barbarians by the Attalids and more recent Roman triumphs. In addition, there are several examples of gems, on which appears a rider beneath whose horse a lion or another animal is lying. It is likely that this rider was perceived by the gem engraver and owner as some god or hero. Since these depictions of cavalry on gems are similar to the “Heros Equitans” image, possibly they were inspired by it and so were the depictions of the emperors.
Thus it is concluded that applying representations of riders on engraved gems demonstrates the possible wish of affluent, albeit ordinary people to resemble the ruling class as well as heroes through the purchase and use of these gems which also bear additional meanings of bravery and immortality.


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