A selection of small Roman bronze ring keys. Item A consists of a round-section ring with a flat rectangular bezel; the square openwork key attached to a short narrow stalk extends at a right angle from the bezel, and features a meander design. Item B consists of an oval hoop ring with a curved rectangular bezel; the round-section shank extends at a right angle from the bezel and the rectangular bit has its inner end cut away to form one tooth and its outer end divided into three prongs by two notches with a small rectangular section cut out at the tip. This ring key has an attractive turquoise colour from oxidisation. Item C is a round-section ring with a flat rectangular bezel; the square openwork key attached to a short narrow stalk extends at a right angle from the bezel, and features a meander design. Item D is a folding ring key, consisting of a round hoop decorated by two incised animal heads that face a rotating key element. The hoop attachment joins the round-section shaft and the protruding teeth to the ring. Item E is a round-section ring with a flat square bezel; the square openwork key with S-shape mechanism and horizontal groove is attached to a short narrow stalk that extends at a right angle from the bezel, which is incised.
The Romans were skilled locksmiths and produced finger-rings in the form of keys. The different shapes of the wards suggest that they were intended for use as keys rather than being merely decorative. Key rings may have been widely used across the Roman Empire because Roman clothing does not generally have pockets. These ring keys opened small boxes or caskets of personal possessions such as jewellery boxes, rather than opening larger doors. It is possible that they were worn particularly by women, perhaps after marriage as a sign of their new status. Ring keys might also have had an amuletic significance, relating to the power of the key to both protect and to reveal. The meander designs on items A, C and E were used with tumbler locks. These ring keys were inserted to push the tumblers up, freeing the bolt holding the lock shut. Price is per individual item. Please e-mail the letter of your preferential ring key before ordering.
Reference: Hattatt, R., 1989, Ancient Brooches and Other Artefacts, pp. 457-9.
Read, B., 2001, Metal Artefacts of Antiquity, p. 61.
Period: 1st – 4th century AD