A huge collection of more than 50 ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Viking and medieval rings have been unearthed.
The rings, described by an antiquities expert as among the best he has seen outside a museum, are coming up for auction in June and, together, could fetch between £80,000-£120,000.
The ancient haul of 54 rings was gathered in the late 1950s and early 60s by a Leicestershire man who died at the age of 93 in 2003.
The collection has stunned antiquities and jewellery experts at Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire where they will be sold on June 28.
James Brenchley, head of the Ancient Art, Antiquities and Classical Coins department at
Hansons, said: “The owner just popped down to one of our free valuation days at our saleroom in Etwall, near Derby, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. The sheer quantity was incredible.
“These rings are between 2,200 and 1,800 years old and many are exceptional and extremely rare. Each one is unique and many demonstrate extraordinary craftsmanship.
“This is possibly the biggest collection of ancient rings ever seen outside a museum. The Roman and Greek rings are particularly spectacular.”The Cambridgeshire owner of the rings, who did not wish to be named, explained how his grandfather had gathered them from the 1960s onwards.
“My grandfather was an engineer working for the Gas Board when they were first putting gas into houses. He worked all over the country.
“He was a quiet man and never said if any of the rings were found on site when they were working but I do know he bought many of them at auctions, some up north.
“After he died, we put the rings away for many years but now we’ve decided to sell them as we’d very much like other people to enjoy them. They are fascinating.”
The huge collection includes everything from Viking rings in twisted gold to medieval rings with a single gem stone but Mr Brenchley is particularly impressed by the Greek and Roman rings.
A particularly fine example he singled out is a 4th-1st Century BC East Greek Hellenistic gold ring with cabochon garnets which has an estimate of £3,500-£4,500 (pictured).
Mr Brenchley said: “This stunning piece of ancient craftsmanship portrays the beauty and elegance the Hellenistic period gave to the ancient world. This period is often referred to as the birthplace of Western civilisation.It laid the platform for architecture, art and religious customs.
“This ring was crafted in the time after the death of Alexander the Great in the context of events such as the wars of the Diadochi, which ended in 275 BC, witnessing the fall of Argead and Antipatrid dynasties; The Cretan war between the Macedonians and alliance led by Rhodes in 221-179 BC and the Ptolemaic period in Egypt where Macedonian Greeks ruled Egypt.”
Another impressive example is a Roman gold ring from the 2nd century AD with carnelian intaglio bust of Vibia Sabina, the wife of Emperor Hadrian who built Hadrian’s Wall (pictured). Its estimate is £2,200-£2,600.
Mr Brenchley said: “This ring features a finely inscribed bust of Empress Vibia Sabina with elaborate hairstyle and chlamys over her shoulders. It would have been worn by a high-status individual within the Roman empire.
“Vibia Sabina came from an influential period in Roman history. She was the youngest daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius who defeated a revitalised Parthian empire in the East and in Marcomannic wars against the Germanic Marcomanni in Central Europe.
“She married Emperor Hadrian in 100 AD who is famously remembered for building the great northern limit of Britannia, later known as Hadrian’s wall. In 128 AD, she was awarded the honorary Roman imperial title Augusta, which expresses honour to woman of imperial families.
“This ring may have been worn by a wealthy person. It was reputed that every powerful businessman and political leader in the Roman empire owned an intaglio ring in order to seal documents by providing its impression. These were usually formed in carnelian which was known as a stone of motivation, endurance, leadership and courage.
“It’s remarkable to think this stunning piece of ancient jewellery has been around for nearly 20 centuries.”
The ancient rings will be sold on June 28 at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.