Caligula’s stunning 2,000-year-old sapphire ring tells of a dramatic love story

It’s difficult not to appreciate this magnificent 2,000-year-old sapphire ring. It’s an ancient Roman relic thought to have previously belonged to Caligula, the third Roman emperor who reigned from 37 to 41 AD.

Caligula’s stunning 2,000-year-old sapphire ring tells of a dramatic love story 1
The sky blue hololith, made from a single piece of sapphire, is believed to have owned by Caligula, who reigned from 37AD until his assassination four years later. © Wartski/BNPS

Named Gaius Julius Caesar after Julius Caesar, the Roman emperor acquired the nickname “Caligula” (meaning “little soldier’s boot”).

Caligula is known today as a notorious emperor who was both clever and brutal. Whether he was insane or not is still questioned, but there is little doubt he was one of ancient Rome’s most cruel rulers. He had his contemporaries adore him as a deity, had incest with his sisters, and intended to appoint his horse consul. During his brief rule, torture and killings were common.

If historical descriptions of Caligula’s behavior are to be believed, this magnificent ring is as lovely as Caligula was evil. The sky blue hololith, fashioned of valuable stone, is thought to resemble Caesonia, Caligula’s fourth and final wife. Reports circulated that she was so stunning that the Emperor instructed her to parade naked in front of his companions on occasion.

Caesonia must have been extraordinary because Suetonius, a Roman historian, described her as “a woman of reckless extravagance and wantonness.”

Caligula’s stunning 2,000-year-old sapphire ring tells of a dramatic love story 2
The face engraved into the bezel is thought to be his fourth and last wife Caesonia. © Wartski/BNPS

Caligula’s love story with Caesonia resulted in the birth of Julia Drusilla. Caligula was deeply in love with Caesonia, and she was the emperor’s most important confidant. However, the couple was surrounded by enemies who wished to remove Caligula from power.

Caligula was assassinated due to a conspiracy by officers of the Praetorian Guard led by Cassius Chaerea, senators, and courtiers. Caesonia and her daughter were murdered as well. Different sources report different versions of the murder. According to some, Caligula was stabbed in the chest. Others say he was pierced with a sword between the neck and shoulder.

“According to Seneca, Chaerea managed to decapitate the emperor with one blow, but many conspirators surrounded the emperor and thrust their swords into the corpse anyway.

Immediately following the murder, Chaerea sent a tribune named Lupus to kill Caesonia and Drusilla, the emperor’s young daughter.

Caligula’s stunning 2,000-year-old sapphire ring tells of a dramatic love story 3
Emperor Caligula’s ring leads stellar exhibition at Royal Jewellers Wartski. © Wartski/BNPS

Reports say that the empress faced the blow courageously and that the little girl was dashed against a wall. Then Chaerea and Sabinus, fearful of what would follow, fled into the interior of the palace complex and from there, by a different route, into the city. ”

Caligula’s beautiful sapphire ring was part of the collection of the Earl of Arundel from 1637 to 1762 when it became one of the famous ‘Marlborough Gems.’

Not surprisingly, the ring caused a sensation when it was made available for purchase in an auction by Royal jewelers Wartski.

“This ring is one of the prestigious ‘Marlborough Gems,’ having previously been in the collection of the Earl of Arundel. It is crafted entirely of sapphire. Very few hololiths exist, and I would argue this is the best example you can find. We believe it belonged to the debauched Emperor Caligula, and the engraving shows his final wife Caesonia,” Kieran McCarthy, Wartski director, said. Caligula’s ring was finally sold for close to £500,000 in 2019.