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p215 Bulla

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp215‑216 of

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

BULLA, a circular plate or boss of metal, so called from its resemblance in form to a bubble floating upon water. Bright studs of this description were used to adorn the sword-belt (aurea bullis cingula, Virg. Aen. IX.359; bullis asper balteus, Sid. Apoll. Carm. 2). Another use of them was in doors, the parts of which were fastened together by brass-headed, or even by gold-headed nails (Plaut. Asin. II.4, 20; Cic. Verr. IV.56). The magnificent bronze doors of the Pantheon at Rome are enriched with highly ornamented bosses, some of which are here shown.


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We most frequently read, however, of bullae as ornaments worn by children suspended from the neck,º and especially by the sons of the noble and wealthy. Such a one is called heres bullatus by Juvenal (Sat. XIV.4). His bulla was made of thin plates of gold. Its usual form is shown in the annexed woodcut, which represents a fine bulla preserved in the British Museum, and is of the size of the original.

The use of the bulla, like that of the praetexta, was derived from the Etruscans, whence it is called by Juvenal (V.164) aurum Etruscum. It was originally worn only by the children of the patricians, but subsequently by all of free birth (Cic. p216Verr. I.58); while children of the libertini were only permitted to wear an ornament of the same kind made of leather (nodus tantum et signum de paupere loro, Juv. V.165; libertinis scortea, Ascon. ad Cic. l.c.). The bulla was laid aside, together with the praetexta, and was consecrated on this occasion to the Lares (Pers. V.31). Examples of boys represented with the bulla are not infrequent in statues, on tombs, and in other works of art (Spon, Misc. p299; Middleton, Ant. Mon. tab. 3).


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