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p1140 Torques

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p1140 of

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

TORQUES or TORQUIS (στρεπτός), an ornament of gold, twisted spirally and bent into a circular form, which was worn round the neck by men of distinction among the Persians (Curt. III.3; Themist. Orat. 24, p306C), the Gauls (Florus, I.13, II.4), and other Asiatic and northern nations (Isid. Orig. XIX.31).º Torc was the name of it among the Britons and ancient Irish. Virgil (Aen. V.558, 559) thus describes it as part of the attire of the Trojan youths:

"It pectore summo

Flexilis obtorti per collum circulus auri."

Ornaments of this kind have been frequently found both in France and in many parts of Great Britain and Ireland (Petrie, Trans. of R. Irish Acad. vol. XVIII; Antiq. pp181‑184), varying in size and weight, but almost always of the form exhibited in the annexed woodcut, which represents a torquis found in Brecknockshire, and now preserved in the British Museum. The same woodcut contains a section of this torquis of the size of the original.º It shows, as Mr. Petrie observes concerning some found in the county of Meath, "four equidistant radiations from a common centre." The torquis in the British Museum is four feet and a half in length. Its hooks correspond well to the following description of the fall of a Celtic warrior: "Torquis ab incisa decidit unca gula" (Propert. IV.10.44). A torquis, which instead of being bent into a circular form was turned into a spiral, became a bracelet, as is shown in the lowest figure of the woodcut to Armilla. A torquis contrived to answer this purpose, is called torquis brachialis (Vopisc. Aurel. 7).a Such bracelets and torques are often found together, having been worn by the same people.

The head in the preceding woodcut is that of a Persian warrior in the mosaic of the battle of Issus, mentioned in p431.º It illustrates the mode of wearing the torquis, which in this instance terminates in two serpents' heads instead of hooks. It was by taking this collar from a Gallic warrior that T. Manlius obtained the cognomen of Torquatus (Cic. de Fin. II.22, de Off. III.31; Gellius, IX.13; Non. Marc. pp227, 228, ed. Merceri).

Torques, whether in the form of collars or bracelets, no doubt formed a considerable part of the wealth of those who wore them. Hence they were an important portion of the spoil, when any Celtic or Oriental army was conquered, and they were among the rewards of valour bestowed after an engagement upon those who had most distinguished themselves (Juv. XVI.60; Plin. H. N. XXXIII.2 s10; Sidon. Apollin. Carm. XXIII.424). The monuments erected to commemorate Roman soldiers and to enumerate the honours which they had obtained, often mention the number of torques conferred upon them (Maffei, Mus. Veron. p218). [Phalera.]


[image ALT: An engraving of three subjects in one woodcut: a torque, a small cross, and the turbaned head of a man.]

Thayer's Note:

a Notice that the text of the Historia Augusta, as established in that edition, reads Torquem, brachialem, . . .: since there is no punctuation in the manuscripts, nothing can be deduced from the passage; maybe the author meant a torc and a bracelet, maybe he meant an arm-torc.


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Page updated: 20 Aug 12