A portrait of the Roman emperor Aurelian decorates this engraved gem, which was probably originally set in a ring. He appears in armor as a military man, with his hair and beard both short. A laurel wreath symbolizes victory. The high grade of the amethyst used and the skillful engraving of the image suggest that the imperial workshops created this gem. A gem like this was probably a gift from the emperor, a sign of imperial favor.
The reign of the Roman emperor Aurelian was a brief moment of calm and regeneration in the troubled 200s A.D. A man of humble provincial origins, Aurelian ascended to the throne through a successful military career. By A.D. 270, when he became emperor, outside invasions and internal revolts had almost destroyed the Empire. During his short reign, he secured the empire's boundaries and stabilized the economy before being assassinated in A.D. 275.