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This book describes a private collection of ancient gems (plain and engraved), finger rings, and seal boxes (565 items in all) — all of them random surface finds, picked up by Yochanan Hendler in the period 1950-1970, on the dunes and coastal strip within a radius of 2-3 kilometers around Caesarea Maritima in Israel. The finds, which span the 1500-year history of the ancient city, are all illustrated by state-of-the-art colour photographs. 

 

The detailed description and in-depth analysis of the finds, by two internationally known specialists, explains the part played by these objects in the cultural and economic life of the city. It provides a unique view of how the inhabitants of Caesarea lived, dressed and decorated themselves, of the gods they worshipped, and of the ills, dangers and terrors from which they sought divine protection. 

 

 

 


 

Caesarea Maritima, founded by King Herod in the first century B.C.,  was a vibrant, living city and seaport for more than 1200 years. Sacked and destroyed by Egyptian Mamluks in the year 1265, it lay for centuries ruined and uninhabited, until modern times.

 

A great city such as ancient Caesarea (which in its heyday held more than 100,000 people, and encompassed several million square meters of coastland) would produce a great deal of debris: broken pottery, glass, stone, and metal; small objects and implements of all kinds, discarded, lost, mislaid, or forgotten. 

 

In the twentieth century, archaeologists began working among the ruins of the harbor and city center. They have been able to recover, and partially reconstruct, some of the glory of the ancient city, which is today a breath-taking tourist attraction. At the same time, local settlers in the region discovered that, scattered on the surface of the dunes and fields round about the ancient city, all kinds of ancient objects were to be found: coins, fish-hooks, rings, household implements, bits of jewellery, amulets, keys – mostly broken, occasionally intact: the accumulated detritus of more than a thousand years of city life. The finding and collecting of such objects became a popular hobby among Israelis interested in ancient history and culture.  Jochanan Hendler and his family spent countless leisure hours, wandering among the wild dunes, picking up anything they saw that looked interesting. 

 

This book is the fruit of the Hendler family’s hobby. It describes some of the jewels — gemstones, engraved and plain; finger rings, amulets, pendants — many of them broken, some fortunately intact, found at Caesarea by Jochanan and his family. 

 


This chapter describes 195 gems, which have been engraved with images and/or words. Most of these gems are precious or semi-precious stones; a few are of other materials: glass, ivory, coral, etc.

Some have chips broken off them, some are fragments; most are intact. The majority date from the Roman and Byzantine periods of Caesarea; a few are from the city’s Islamic period. Some of them are magical amulets, believed by their owners to have special powers, protecting them from a particular malady or misfortune. Most of them, however, were originally set in seal-rings, worn on a finger or thumb, and used by their owners to seal letters or packages. 

The images engraved on these gems reflect the particular interests and aspirations of their original owners, and are of many kinds.  A few gems are inscribed with the (presumed) owner’s name; but this is unusual. Many of the gems bear images of gods; the god depicted might have had some special connection with the owner’s occupation, or station in life.  Some of them are depictions of animals, either real (hound, bear, goat) or legendary (capricorn, griffin). The magical amulets bear images of magical creatures (Abrasax, Chnoumis), often accompanied by inscriptions of magical formulae.  

Altogether, these gems provide us with an intimate picture of the ancients: what they occupied themselves with, how they dressed, what gods they worshipped, what illnesses they specially feared, and what misfortunes particularly worried them. And they offer us an opportunity to admire at close quarters, the extraordinary skill of the artists who produced them, using entirely hand-operated tools and their unaided eyes --- for the jewellers of Caesarea had no optical instruments whatever, not even the most simple magnifying glass………. 

 


From the third century C.E., the practice of sealing documents and packages with wax declined. Wax seals were eventually replaced, almost entirely, by seals of lead. The production of engraved gems was greatly diminished, being limited largely to gems of magical content, or those of a purely decorative nature.  

 

Plain gems, on the other hand, were produced in much greater quantities. Most of these were set in rings; however, the practice of settting precious stones in other forms of jewellery (brooches, pendants, earrings), household objects (caskets, bowls), and articles and accessories of dress (belts, gloves, etc.) became widespread, particularly in Byzantine times. Semi-precious stones, and coloured glass imitations of them, were used. 

 

This chapter is about the different types of plain stones, and glass imitations of stones, which were used in this manner.

 

 

 


This chapter illustrates very clearly the ancients’ passion for adorning themselves, at all social levels.  More than 100 finger rings, made variously of gold, silver, copper alloy, iron, lead, glass, and stone, are described and illustrated. They range in quality (and cost) from massive rings of solid gold, set with semi-precious stones, to simple, slim hoops of base metal. Many of them are intact; some are broken. 

 

Some rings obviously had magical or apotropaic properties, and were intended to shield their wearers against a variety of ills and/or misfortunes; others bear images of the gods venerated by their owners; others are set with plain stones, or engraved with simple, abstract decorations; some have no decoration at all. Rings were available to suit the purse of all, from the wealthiest inhabitant of Caesarea, down to the poorest.


In Imperial Rome, letters and packages sent from one location to another were usually tied with cord, and the knots sealed with wax, to prevent unauthorized reading, or other interference. The wax would then be impressed with the personal seal of the sender, in the form of an engraved stone set in a ring, or an engraved, all-metal ring.

The beeswax from which the sealings were normally made was easily damaged. To protect the seal, the cords with which the document or package was tied would be passed through holes in a small box (most usually of metal, occasionally of other hard materials, such as bone) with a lid, and then knotted, in such a way that a blob of sealing wax on the knot would be inside the seal-box, and protected by it and its lid.

Such seal-boxes came into use in the Roman Empire around the first century B.C.E., and were in use for several centuries. From the third century onwards, the use of lead (much tougher and less liable to damage than wax) for sealing letters and documents became widespread; wax sealings eventually disappeared altogether.

In many archaeological excavations, seal-boxes are given little notice — often none at all. At Caesarea, a total of two metal seal-boxes are mentioned in excavation reports. The Hendler collection includes eleven specimens, which are described and illustrated in detail.


Though articles of jewellery have been found in plenty at Caesarea, no tangible remains of workshops have so far been uncovered, to show that at least some of the jewellery found was manufactured locally. 

 

The Hendler Collection includes a number of objects whose presence affords clear evidence of the existence of local workshops, for the manufacture of finished gems and jewellery. There are a large number of unfinished, partially worked pieces of various gemstones and of glass, and several stone moulds for casting pieces of jewellery. From the examination and analysis of these, the authors are able to conclude that at Caesarea, there flourished industries for the manufacture of glass objects, and for the working of metals and  precious stones, and that the various branches of these industries were able to work in close cooperation, to produce jewellery of many kinds.


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