The designation magical gem is a category of modern archaeology, which denotes the most sophisticated amulet type of the Roman Imperial Period. Magical gems were carved of precious stones sized 1 to 3 centimeters, chiefly between the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD, and were designed to bring their owners health, prosperity and love. Their typology follows the shapes of Graeco-Roman glyptics complemented with a few Mesopotamian and Egyptian variants. They are distinguished by their characteristic engravings of inscriptions, signs and images, which usually appear on both faces of the gems, sometimes even on the edge. (For a more detailed definition of magical gems, see our Glossary.)
The Campbell Bonner Magical Gems Database
Magical gems known today number about 4000 pieces and are preserved in different museums and private collections worldwide, often inaccessible for the public. The groundbreaking, and still fundamental, study on magical gems was published in 1950 by American scholar Campbell Bonner, who then described a tenth of the corpus in his Studies on Magical Amulets. In 2004 Simone Michel listed over 2800 pieces in her monograph Die Magischen Gemmen.
Named after Bonner, the primary aim of the Campbell Bonner Magical Gems Database (CBd) is to bring the entire corpus of magical gems online in order to make them better accessible for both scholars and the public, and to facilitate their study through the potentials offered by a digital database. Since its launch in 2010 the database has grown to be a much used research tool, and has helped recognize the genre of magical gems as an important object group of the classical material tradition.
A further incentive of CBd is to publish the second, online edition of Bonner’s Studies on Magical Amulets within the framework of the database, revised and enlarged by leading scholars of the field.