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p136 Armilla

Unsigned article on pp136‑137 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


[image ALT: Two identically — and elegantly — dressed women, one seated on the left, the other standing on the right. Each one wears a long flowing gown and a blouse over it, and is holding a staff about as tall as she is, topped by a pine cone. They also wear on each arm a bracelet in the shape of a snake that coils several times around their wrists.]
	ARMILLA (ψάλιον, ψέλιον, or ψέλλιον, χλιδών, ἀμφιδέαι), a bracelet or armlet, worn by both men and women. It was a favourite ornament of the Medes and Persians (Herod. VIII.113, IX.80; Xen. Anab. I.2 §27); and in Europe was also worn by the Gauls and Sabines (Gell. IX.13; Liv. I.11). Bracelets do not appear to have been worn among the Greeks by the male sex, but Greek ladies had bracelets of various materials, shapes, and styles of ornament. The bracelet was sometimes called σφιγκτήρ (from σφίγγω), in Latin spinther or spinter (Plaut. Menaech. III.3), which derived its name from its keeping its place by compressing the arm of the wearer. Bracelets seem to have been frequently made without having their ends joined; they were then curved, so as to require, when put on, to be slightly expanded by having their ends drawn apart from one another; and, according to their length, they went once, twice, or thrice round the arm, or even a greater number of times. As they frequently exhibited the form of serpents, they were in such cases called snakes (ὄφεις) by the Athenians (Hesych. s.v. ὄφεις). Twisted bracelets of the kind described above often occur on Greek painted vases. See the annexed cut from Sir William Hamilton's great work, vol. II, pl. 35.

Bracelets were likewise worn at Rome by ladies of rank, but it was considered a mark of effeminacy for men in an ordinary way to use such female ornaments (Suet. Cal. 52, Ner. 30). They were, however, publicly conferred by a Roman general upon soldiers for deeds of extraordinary merit (Liv. X.44; Plin. H. N. XXXIII.2; Festus, s.v.); in which case they were worn as a mark of honour, and probably differed in form from the ordinary ornaments of the kind. See the cut below.

The following cuts exhibit Roman bracelets. The first figure represents E/Journals/Roman/home.html p137a gold bracelet discovered at Rome on the Palatine Mount (Caylus, Rec. d'Ant. vol. V pl. 93). The rosette in the middle is composed of distinct and very delicate leaves. The two starlike flowers on each side of it have been repeated where the holes for securing them are still visible. The second figure represents a gold bracelet found in Britain, and preserved in the British Museum. It appears to be made of two gold wires twisted together, and the mode of fastening it upon the arm, by a clasp, is worthy of observation. It has evidently been a lady's ornament. The third figure represents an armilla, which must have been intended as a reward for soldiers, for it would be ridiculous to suppose such a massive ornament to have been designed for women. The original, of pure gold, is more than twice the length of the figure, and was found in Cheshire (Archaeologia, XXVII.400).


[image ALT: An engraving of a small metal bar with a rosette applied to the middle, and a 6‑petaled flower similarly applied on either side.]

[image ALT: An engraving of a bracelet formed of a coil of twisted wire that flares out from the catch at one end and back down to the catch at the other.]

[image ALT: An engraving of an armlet in the form of six coils of twisted metal wire.]


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Page updated: 21 Jun 09