How often did men in the Roman Empire think about jewelry?

As the end of 2023, a Swedish influencer named Saskia Cort encouraged people to ask their male partners and friends a simple question: “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” To the surprise of no men ever, men think about the Roman Empire a lot.

But that raises a question: did men in the Roman Empire also think about the Roman Empire a lot?

Yes, they did!

However, men of the Roman Empire also thought about JEWELRY a lot more than modern men.

Famously, in one of the most famous duels in Roman History, one of the earliest heroes of Rome, Titus Manlius (great name!) challenged a huge Gaul to single combat. After slaying him, Titus claimed the Gaul’s torc (or necklace) as a prize and the even more badass name Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus. He wore that necklace with pride for the rest of his distinguished political and military career.

And the Romans weren’t the only ones. Viking men loved necklaces. Mongol warriors adored their earrings. And Alexander the Great was famous for his exquisite taste in jewelry of all kinds. In Empires across the millennia and across continents, warriors, Kings and Emperors have always loved the jewelry.

A Tudor chain associated with Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon


With men’s jewelry now making a comeback on athletes, actors and musicians, the question isn’t why is jewelry for men coming into fashion; it’s why it ever went out of fashion.

The answer comes down to what historians call The Great Male Renunciation. Inspired by the Enlightenment ideal of emotionless rationality, men in North America and Europe renounced the brightly colored clothes of the past and embraced the more somber blacks and browns. As John Flügel, the German-English psychologist who named this movement noted, men "abandoned their claim to be considered beautiful" and "henceforth aimed at being only useful." Everything, even clothing had to be practical. And, apparently, practical meant colorless.

On the left, a portrait of Nana Fadnavis, a Maratha statesman. On the right, Jacopo Strada, an Italian courtier.


Even as men were expected to reject jewelry, they found a way around it in practical items that also became beautiful. Cufflinks, tie pins and watches all served a necessary function so why not make them beautiful. This tendency increased after World War I when men returned and sick of their only usefulness being as cannon fodder in a pointless war rejected society’s expectations of them. Having seen so much ugliness in the trenches, they sought to bring beauty into their lives and onto their bodies. That’s why when you watch a show like Boardwalk Empire there’s so much bling.

That rejection of the Great Male Renunciation came to a head with the Counterculture movement of the 1960s. Instead of drab browns and blacks, men decided they could wear any damn color that they pleased. In fact, thanks to Tie Dye, they could wear all the colors at once in a single item of clothing. And that’s when jewelry began to reappear on men in the West. Of course, the fact that the return of jewelry on men coincided with the Vietnam War is no coincidence. To paraphrase John Flügel, when men no longer believe in how society is using them, they reassert their claim to be considered beautiful.

In the 1970s, this embrace of men’s jewelry went from a simple gold chain to all the gold chains all at once. And no one embodies that more than Mr. T. We pity the fool who questions Mr. T’s fashion choices.

The great American writer and Civil Rights activist, James Baldwin once wrote:

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

We may not realize it but the way we as men think about jewelry is passed down through the generations. We are unconsciously controlled by very old historical narratives. And many men in the West have lost sight of a simple truth: useful and beautiful aren’t at odds. For that, you need look no further than nature which tolerates no waste. From birds to beetles to bears and from sea snakes to sharks, nature’s most powerful creatures are sleek, beautiful and very often brightly-colored. In fact, it’s often the males of the species that are the most brightly-colored. Is it a surprise that some of history's great male style icons also loved to accessorize their look with some jewelry?

Ultimately, what’s incredible about living at this moment in history is that you get to decide your own style. You can look across history, across cultures and across the natural world and decide what your style is. And many men are reclaiming styles from tattoos to jewelry that have been deemed taboo in the West. For men’s fashion, there has never been a time more filled with possibilities.

We are living in The Great Male Reclamation. We’re excited to support you on your journey.

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