Strange 2,000-Year-Old Sapphire Ring Thought To Have Belonged To Roman Emperor Caligula

A beautiful 2,000-year-old sapphire ring thought to have belonged to Roman Emperor Caligula – and one of the ‘Marlborough Gems’ – is being auctioned off for about £500,000.

Caligula, who ruled from 37AD until his death four years later, is reported to have had the sky blue hololith, which was made from a single piece of valuable stone.

The face carved in the bezel is considered to be that of Caligula’s fourth and final wife, Caesonia, who was said to be so lovely that he displayed her nude in front of his companions.

Caesonia was slain very shortly after her husband, as depicted by Dame Helen Mirren in the 1979 sexual historical drama Caligula. She allegedly offered her neck to the assassin, urging him to execute her without hesitation, distraught at his death.

The ring will be the center of attention during an exhibition of more than 100 etched jewels hosted by Royal jewelers Wartski next week in London.

The jewels will be for sale, with prices ranging from £5,000 to £500,000. The auction has aroused international attention, with collectors from as far away as Japan queuing outside the auction house days before the event to be the first through the door.

The ‘Caligula ring’ was in the Earl of Arundel’s collection from 1637 to 1762, when it became one of the famed ‘Marlborough Gems.’

This was a collection of 800 engraved gems gathered in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by politician George Spencer, 4th Earl of Marlborough.

They were sold in 1875 by John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, to pay for renovations to his family house, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

David Bromilow of Bitteswell Hall in Leicestershire purchased the complete collection for the princely price of £35,000 (the equivalent of £2.2 million in today’s money).

His daughter then sold the ring to dealer Julius Goldschmidt at a Christie’s auction in London in 1899. Its provenance was unknown until it was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in London in 1971, fetching only £750.

It was later part of a private collection in France until being purchased by Wartski, the Queen’s and Prince Charles’ jewelers.

Currently, just a fourth of the ‘Marlborough Gems’ have been identified, with the whereabouts of the remainder unknown.

‘This ring is one of the coveted ‘Marlborough Gems,’ according to Kieran McCarthy, Wartski director, having formerly belonged in the possession of the Earl of Arundel.

‘It is totally made of sapphire.’ There are very few horoliths, and I believe this is the greatest example.

‘We think it belonged to Emperor Caligula, and the etching depicts his final wife Caesonia.’

‘Prices range from £5,000 to £500,000 for the diamonds on display at the show.’ While we don’t want to reveal its price to protect the privacy of possible purchasers, this treasure is at the high end of that spectrum.’

Wartski will also be presenting a collection of Royal diamonds, as well as jewels from some of the most prominent 18th and 19th-century engravers, throughout the exhibition.

‘It has been an enormous honor to be granted the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the great historic collectors by gathering this set of engraved jewels,’ said Thomas Holman, curator of the exhibition.

‘It takes time and attention to properly appreciate their virtuosity and beauty.’

‘My aim is that people will come and view these wonderful little works and realize that there is a lot more to them than meets the eye.’ Caligula enraged many people because his extravagant spending, notably on diamonds, depleted the Roman coffers.

He was accused of having incestuous connections with his sisters and of having blatant encounters with the spouses of his cronies. He is also said to have rolled about in cash and to have drunk rare diamonds after dissolving them in vinegar.

A planned invasion of Britain in 40AD only got as far as the Channel, when he instructed the men to collect seashells — and he once proposed naming his horse a senator. Caligula, Caesonia, and her daughter were slain the next year by the Praetorian Guard, who had had enough of his eccentric antics.

The controversial 1979 sexual historical picture depicting Caligula’s rise and demise also starred Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud. It is the sole feature film made by Penthouse, a softcore porn magazine. The exhibition runs from October 1 to 7 at Wartski’s headquarters on St James’s Street in London.

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