Felix gem with scenes from the Trojan Wars, Diomedes, and OdysseusOn display
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Intaglios and sealstones are engraved gems that were both worn as decoration and used as a device to make an identifying mark in wax. They are often decorated with subjects of significance to the owner. The scene depicted on this example is the Theft of the Palladion during the Trojan War. A prophesy had revealed that the Greeks could only capture Troy if the cult statue of Athena (known as the Palladion) was in their procession. The hero Diomedes is shown on the right clutching the Palladion but in order to claim it he has killed the temple guard, whose feet are just visible on the ground. The bearded hero Odysseus gestures in horror at this act of sacrilege. The gods were so angered that many Greek warriors were killed before or on their return journey home to Greece.
The Greek inscriptions engraved onto the gem tells us that the original owner was a Roman official named Calpurnius Severus, who may have been a member of the court of the Emperor Tiberius (r. AD 14–37). Inscribed onto the altar beneath Diomedes is the phrase ‘Felix made this’, giving us the name of the gem cutter.
The Felix Gem has been in the possession of many prominent collectors and members of the European nobility. It came to the Ashmolean, however, through its association with Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, who bought the intaglio in the 1630s as part of a gem cabinet costing £10,000.
Felix gem with scenes from the Trojan Wars, Diomedes, and Odysseus
Date1st half of the 1st century AD
Material and technique
Dimensions3.5 cm (length)
2.65 cm (width)
3.22 g (weight)
No. of items
Museum locationGround floor | Gallery 13 | Rome
Ackermann, Hans Christoph, and Gisler, Jean-Robert, Kahil, Lilly, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, III.2 (Zürich: Artemis, 1981), Diomedes I, no. 42, illus. p.288
Ackermann, Hans Christoph, and Gisler, Jean-Robert, Kahil, Lilly, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, III.1 (Zürich: Artemis, 1981), Diomedes I, no. 42, p.402
Piper, David, and Christopher White, Treasures of the Ashmolean Museum: An Illustrated Souvenir of the Collections, revised edn (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1995), no. 24g on p. 28, illus. p. 29 fig. 24g
Martin Henig, and MacGregor, A., Catalogue of the Engraved Gems and Finger-Rings in the Ashmolean Museum, ii: Roman, British Achaeological Reports, International Series, 1332: Studies in Gems and Jewellery, 3 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005), 10.20, 104
Brown, Christopher, Ashmolean: Britain's First Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2009), illus. p.64
Katherine Wodehouse (general editor), The Ashmolean Museum Crossing Cultures Crossing Time (Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, 2014), p.220, illus. p.220