The chiselled face of the young Carvillius, placed in a golden ring and protected by rock crystal returned to the light, rich of charm and secrets to disclose.
The jewel is one of the most extraordinary Roman artifacts which arrived all the way to our days
Before analysing the piece in all its aspects, it is worth mentioning the story about its finding.
It was the 2000 when in Grottaferrata, in the outskirts of Rome, some digging were occuring in a private field. The wonder of the workers when a series of stairs, which continued downward, began to show up was palpable. After having called the authority, an equipe of archeologists took the lead and carried on the excavation. The work continued for 2 days until when a big slab of stone adorned with ancient seals appeared in front of the researchers eyes.
The slab turned out to be an ancient Roman tomb from the 1st century AD
Below: the door to the tomb, picture shared by Discovery Channel
After entering the tomb, of approximately 9 m² (96 ft²), the archeologists found out two enormous sarcophagi in white marble, highly engraved and incredibly intact, apart from a few cracks. By the appearance, the sepulchre were belonged to two members of the Roman aristocracy.
Below: the Aebutia skeleton
Once opened both graves, a female body in her 40’s and probably pregnant (due to some little bones collected by her side), more deteriorated for the cracks on the lid, and the one of a young male in a good state of preservation.
The inscriptions have the names of Aebutia Quarta and Carvilius Gemello, mother and son died in his 18’s
What later was discovered is that Carvilius was born from the first marriage of the woman with Tito Carvilius from the family Sergia. The second daughter, Antestia Balbina, who took care of the the majestic tomb, was buried somewhere else and was born from a second marriage.
At a quick look the bodies seem embalmed; this would be a peculiar fact as embalming techniques were not practiced within the Roman elite of that time, which often expected to be buried after the cremation.
It can be due to personal preferences of the two aristocrats, possibly followers of the Isis cult, back then very popular. Apart from the bodies though, what the archeologists found inside their tombs was flower garlands, a red wig wove with golden threads, garments made of jewels as well as one of the most astonishing pieces of jewellery ever found.
At the ring finger of Aebutia there was a strip of metal amazingly crafted. That impressed archeologists and researchers not for the materials it had been made of but for its uniqueness.
The Carvilius ring
The golden setting had a cavity where a chiselled representation was placed, perfect in its details. It is believed to represent the young Carvilius Gemello, with wavy hair, intense glaze, thin lips, pronounced nose, undressed bust. The stupefying miniature is surrounded by rock crystal (hyaline quartz called by the Romans “acentetus, with the colour of limpid water”), which gave to the sculpture timeless depth.
Below: Aebutia kisses her son on his deathbed. Picture taken from a video by Discovery Channel
The premature death of Carvilius, happened maybe for sepsis (his femur appears broken) or for poisoning as his level of arsenic spotted in the fibres of his hair, must have shocked the noble Aebutia.
Probably pushed by the love and pain for the loss of the son, the woman commissioned the precious ring to a master of imperial goldworking, most likely at the service of the emperor himself considering the magnificence of its craft. The jewel would have allowed the mother to carry her son with herself, even in death. However, the fact that the ring does not display any sign of wear suggests that it has been used very little, probably for its high value.
It is exactly during the season of their death that, for an odd coincidence, mother and son rejoined each other. This can be deducted by the flowers employed for the funeral garlands, well preserved within the graves. Summer flowers with fresh scent such as lilium, roses and violets were decorating clothes and bodies of the deceased, both gone in a warm summer. The floreal decorations were also inspiration for the site name, known as “Ipogeo delle ghirlande” (hypogeum of the garlands).
The Carvilius ring, taken from its owner after thousands of years, is now exhibited in the Archeological Museum of Palestrina, Rome. The gaze of the miniature keeps on staring the ticking of time with its mysterious eyes, protected by the shininess of its quartz window. A find of exquisite refineness but that still conceals many secrets behind itself.
Although the researchers agree on the attribution of the bust inside the ring to the young Carvilius Gemello there is also who recognised an old female aesthetic in that human representation.
Could the ring be commemoration of a close female relative (maybe the mother?) of Aebutia and not of the son, as most people thought?
Certainty on the identity of the face can sway, leaving room to new theories. What it is certain here is that Aebutia left us an incredible artifact no matter what the story behind it is.
Despite the importance of the archeological discovery, one of the main ones in the last 20 years, the media resonance about the ring and the tombs in Italy has not been relevant.