Gold aureus of emperor Marcus Aurelius, set in a gold ring

Roman, AD 167
Minted in Rome; ring made at an uncertain date

The Stoic philosopher as jewellery

In modern Britain, a gold sovereign set in a finger ring or hung around the neck as a pendant is a common item of jewellery. So it was in the Roman world: gold coins were sometimes set within gold rings for personal adornment. The image of the emperor was believed by many to be a powerful good luck charm - it made sense to carry it around with you all the time.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-80), who appears on the coin set in this ring, is best known for his philosophical work, The Meditations. Although he was the most powerful man in the Roman Empire, he dwelt on the emptiness of glory: 'Shall mere fame distract you? Look at the speed of total oblivion of all and the void of endless time on either side of us and the hollowness of applause... For the whole earth is but a point, and of this what a tiny corner is our dwelling-place, and how few and paltry are those who will praise you.' It is ironic that such sentiments as these have preserved his fame to this day.

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Gold aureus of emperor Marcus Aurelius, set in a gold ring

Gold coin of Marcus Aurelius made into a ring, minted in Rome, AD 167

  • Hair worn in a chignon fastened with pearls

    Hair worn in a chignon fastened with pearls


More information


A. Birley, Marcus Aurelius (London, Batsford, 1987)

F.H. Marshall, Catalogue of the finger ring-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1907)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

M. Aurelius (translated by G. Long), Meditations (New York, Dover Publications, 1998)


Diameter: 3.300 cm (outer ring)
Diameter: 3.300 cm (outer ring)
Length: 2.300 cm (bezel)
Weight: 32.720 gm

Museum number

GR 1917.5-1.260


Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks


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