Skip to Content
Showing 1 of 1

Marriage Belt

Early Byzantine
late 6th century - early 7th century
4.8 cm x 75.5 cm (1 7/8 in. x 29 3/4 in.)

On view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image Detail, clasp
Detail, clasp
Additional Image Detail, clasp
Detail, clasp
Additional Image Detail, links
Detail, links
Additional Image Detail, links
Detail, links
Additional Image Reverse

Christian and pagan subjects comprise the imagery on this luxurious gold marriage belt. On the large medallions Jesus appears uniting a bride and groom as they clasp each other’s right hand. This gesture, known as the dextrarum iunctio, had been part of the Roman marriage rite, and therefore not at first acknowledged as suitable for Christian use until the late fourth century. Framing the scene is the inscription, “From God, concord, grace, health.” In contrast, the small medallions contain busts of pagan figures: all men, some draped, several bearded, others with leaves in their hair, a few holding the thyrsos—a staff associated with Dionysos—and some a caduceus, the rod of Mercury. It is a diverse and sedate group without a clear interpretation.

The marriage scene with Christ appears on the one other extant Byzantine marriage belt (Musée du Louvre, Paris) but in numerous variations on marriage rings. It expressed Christ’s blessings on the marriage couple. More challenging is the integration of non-Christian figures with the Christian scenes. A reasonable analogy is the use of pagan imagery in poetry celebrating Christian marriage attested in the second half of the sixth century in Egypt. Although the belt was said to have been found in Antioch, it may reflect the same inclusive culture witnessed in Egypt at about the same time. No text records the use of a belt in the early Christian wedding ceremony, so the role of this example remains open. A later source mentions a belt given to the bride in the marriage chamber, signaling a private transfer rather than a public ritual. Whenever it was presented, the belt might symbolically “bind” the bride and groom together at the moment of one of the most basic changes in status of a young couple’s social life.

- S. Zwirn

F. Cabrol and H. Leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris, 1907).

B. Segall, "The Dumbarton Oaks Collection," American Journal of Archaeology 45 (1941), esp. 13.

H. Swarzenski, "The Dumbarton Oaks Collection," The Art Bulletin 23 (1941): 77-79, esp. 78.

Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10.4 (Dec. 1945): 108, esp. 108, 117.

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 61, no. 126, fig. p. 71.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 80, no. 190, fig. p. 95.

M. C. Ross, "A Byzantine Gold Medallion at Dumbarton Oaks," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 11 (1957): 247-61, esp. 258.

E. H. Kantorowicz, "The Golden Marriage Belt and the Marriage Rings of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14 (1960): 1-16, fig. 1.

M. C. Ross, Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection 2 (Washington, D.C., 1965, 2nd ed. with addendum by S.A. Boyd and S. R. Zwirn, 2005), 37-39, no. 38, pl. 30-31.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 52-53, no. 184.

J. P. C. Kent and K. S. Painter, Wealth of the Roman World : AD 300-700, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, (London, 1977), 99, no. 164.

K. Weitzmann, Age of Spirituality : Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, ed. K. Weitzmann, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977-February 12, 1978 (New York, 1979), 283, no. 262, fig. p. 284.

G. Vikan, Byzantine Pilgrimage Art, Publications / Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection 5 (Washington, D.C., 1982), 34-35, fig. 26.

C. Mango, "The Byzantine Collection," Apollo 119 (1984): 21-29, fig. 6.

G. Vikan, "Art and Marriage in Early Byzantium," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 145-68.

Byzance: l'art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises, exhibition catalogue, Musée du Louvre, 3 November 1992-1 February 1993, (Paris, 1992), 134.

Journal for the Study of Marital Spirituality 4 (1998): 207.

A. Geroulanou, Diatrita : Gold Pierced-work Jewellery from the 3rd to the 7th Century (Athens, 1999), 55 n. 122.

I. Kalavrezou and A. E. Laiou, Byzantine Women and their World, exhibition catalogue, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, (Cambridge and New Haven, 2003), no. 131.

C. L. Connor, Women of Byzantium (New Haven, 2004), 101, fig. 16.

K. Schade, Frauen in der Spätantike, Status und Repräsentation: eine Untersuchung zur römischen und frühbyzantinischen Bildniskunst (Mainz, 2003), pl. 17, fig. 2.

N. Metallinos, ed., Byzantium: The Guardian of Hellenism (Montreal, 2004), 114, fig. 3 (two large medallions).

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 32, pl. p. 33.

A. Bosselmann-Ruickbie, Byzantinischer Schmuck des 9. bis frühen 13. Jahrhunderts: Untersuchungen zum metallenen dekorativen Körperschmuck der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit anhand datierter Funde, Spätantike, frühes Christentum, Byzanz: Kunst im ersten Jahrtausend. Reihe B: Studien und Perspektiven (Wiesbaden, 2011), 384, fig. 80.

I. Kalavrezou, "Light and the Precious Object, or Value in the Eyes of the Byzantines," in The Construction of Value in the Ancient World, ed. J.K. Papadopoulos and G. Urton (Los Angeles, 2012), xxviii, 612 p., [24] p. of color plates, fig. 17.6.

J. Spier and S. Hindman, Byzantium and the West: Jewelry in the First Millenium (London, 2012), 114, fig. 16.1.

C. J. Hilsdale, Byzantine Art and Diplomacy in an Age of Decline (Cambridge, 2014), 73, fig. 1.19.

Exhibition History
Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum, "A Selection of Ivories, Bronzes, Metalwork and Other Objects from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Nov. 15 - Dec. 31, 1945.

London, The British Museum, "Wealth of the Roman World A.D. 300-700," March 25 - Oct. 3, 1977.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 19, 1977 - Feb. 12, 1978.

Washington DC, Dumbarton Oaks, "Byzantine Pilgrimage Art," March 5 - Sept. 6, 1982.

Cambridge, MA, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, "Byzantine Women and Their World," Oct. 26, 2002 - Apr. 28, 2003.

Washington, DC, Freer Gallery of Art & the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, “Ancient and Medieval Metalwork from Dumbarton Oaks,” Dec. 16, 2005 – Apr. 1, 2007.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Bustros (Beirut) through Royall Tyler (Paris), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, January 1938.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., January 1938-November 1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.

Beaded | Brides | Child | Chitons | Christ|Jesus Christ | Concordia | Cross Nimbus | Dextrarum Iunctio|Joining of the Hands | Dionysus | Equal Armed Cross|Equal Armed Crosses | Fibulae | Grace | Greek | Headdresses|Helmets | Health | Leaf-Like|Leaves | Staff God|Staffed Deity|Staff Deity | Thrysus|Thrysos