Let's Rock => Ancient Lapidary History => Topic started by: Bluetangclan on July 03, 2017, 05:29:33 PM

Title: The Roman Opal?
Post by: Bluetangclan on July 03, 2017, 05:29:33 PM
I have seen several references about a Roman emperor coveting an opal belonging to one of his senators who refused to give it to him. The Senator loved the opal so much he accepted exile rather than hand it over. My question is, where would this opal be from? Was Ethiopia mined at this time period for opals? Is there another European or Asian source they would have traded with?
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: sulfide on July 03, 2017, 06:13:21 PM
Opal in Roman times is presumed to come from the mines in Slovakia.  They still produce limited quantities.
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: vitzitziltecpatl on July 03, 2017, 08:37:43 PM
Cool. Another new member who knows opal history! Welcome to the forum, sulfide!
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: edgarscale on July 15, 2017, 09:19:05 PM
i just love learning new stuff. welcome :hello:
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: ASO on September 20, 2017, 11:05:55 PM
I have a bunch of info about this stuff on my website in the learn opal drop down because we feel that the more we educate the public on this long forgotten gem is what will help bring it back around.  Opal was once one of the most highly coveted and sought after gems for thousands of years before the technology to cut diamonds was even invented.  This is a clipping from my website about the opal in question. 

According to further writings by Pliny, the Roman senator Nonius once owned a grand opal, the most beautiful in Rome, said to be the size of a hazelnut, that Mark Antony dearly wished to buy as a gift for his lover, Cleopatra. Antony offered the modern day equivalent of a quarter million dollars for the gemstone. Nonius, liking neither Antony nor the deal, however, refused, and a furious Antony ordered Nonius’s execution as revenge. Nonius fled Rome before that command could be carried out, leaving all of his possessions behind, with the sole exception of the opal that had caused him such strife.
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: ASO on September 20, 2017, 11:35:08 PM
Slovakia is the most likely source due to the extent of the mining that occurred going way way back, but they were also pulling opal from Hungry as well as other long exhausted smaller volcanic deposits around Mediterranean and Europe.  I to have wondered about the possibility of the stone on the ring being from Ethiopia because the Romans did venture into Africa and traded with them quite a bit.  The only thing is that I haven't found any historical info on any African opal finding its way to Europe but being such a mesmerizing stone it would make sense.  Some of that etho opal can be very brilliant.  Wealthy Romans would have Ice delivered to them from glaciers in the alps so when they wanted something they found a way to get it.   
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: rocks2dust on September 21, 2017, 10:07:58 AM
The Ethiopian opal finds seem to be very recent. Had it been an ancient source, I'd expect more opal would have made its way into Egyptian and Arabian jewels. I agree with Slovokia being a source later in the Empire's history. There is also opal in Italy itself (quite near in the volcanic regions both north and south of Rome), though as you say, many old sources were long dug-out (and the ancients were relentless and thorough miners). Small bits of Italian opal still occasionally appear in the mineralogical market. Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovokia), Anatolia and Armenia may have been other sources, as opal with color play also turns up in those areas.
Title: Re: The Roman Opal?
Post by: Bluetangclan on September 21, 2017, 11:05:05 AM
Agreed. Originally I was thinking Ethiopia as well since the Romans were there trading as were the Egyptians. Hell, if the opal was known that far back we would likely today see it as the primary source of Opals instead of Australia. But yes Slovakia through my research since this thread started seems over all the closest source. It was only briefly a part of the Roman Empire but was mostly controlled by barbarians thus the rarity of Opals in the Empire. Plus it would be an area that constantly changed owners thus making trade difficult.

A shame the stone in question is lost to antiquity as far as I know. Be cool to see it. You can occasionally get Slavakian opals from vendors in that area but the ones I have seen appear to be a different kind of animal to the Aussie and Ethiopian opal we are used to. Very matrixy. I read somewhere the main mine flooded and now its a tourist destination you can scuba dive through.