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A bloody emperor's emerald


2085 years ago the Roman emperor Nero reigned ruthlessly over the most powerful empire of that times, maintaining an opulent court and surrounded by obedient and frightened to death (supusi). He routinely executed whoever dared to dissent, including his mother Agrippina, making him over millennia one of the bloodiest emperors, alongside Caligula and Caracalla.

The immense wealth gathered at Nero's court from all over the word was astonishing. One of the most remarkable treasures displayed at the court was jewellery. Set in pure gold, gemstones were highly praised. Precious stones like diamonds, rubies, and sapphires together with coloured stones like jet, pearls, topaz, garnet and amber covered the beauties of time. Carnelian was one of the most favoured stones by the Romans. Rings were typically worn before the knuckle and it was a time when they adorned every finger on both hands.

Out of his innumerable treasures, Nero is known to favour emerald. But, unlike Cleopatra, queen of Egipt, who owned not only lavish emerald jewellery but also the first known emerald mines in the world, Nero's emerald had another use.

Philosopher Pliny wrote that «nothing is more intense than the green of emerald» and «sight is refreshed and restored by gazing upon this stone». Following this believe, Nero looked through an unusually transparent and highly polished emerald to aid his vision. The famous gladiator fights in the Coliseum or the contests in Circus Maximus were observed by Nero through his prized emerald.

However, as Sienkiewicz put it in his famous novel "Quo Vadis", you should have frozen if Nero would take a closer look at you through his emerald stone.

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