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Fragmentary Medallion of Emperor in a Chariot

Early Byzantine
6th century
3.8 x 3.8 x 0.3 cm (1 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 1/8 in.)

On view


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There was a fashion in fifth- and sixth-century Rome for bracelets of this kind, comprised of a semicircular band completed by a geometric shape, usually a circle, attached to the band by a clasp on one side and a hinge on the other. The bands were decorated with opus interasile (openwork cuts), enamel, or, as in this case, with repoussé vine scrolls. This damaged circular closure in repoussé, depicts an emperor, facing frontally, celebrating a triumph in a chariot drawn by six horses. In his left hand he holds a globe, representing the cosmos, which is topped by a nike (winged victory). There are two other nikes at either side, leading the horses. At the bottom, there are palm fronds and a measuring basket, both symbols of victory. The imagery, combined with the circular format, makes the clasp into a sort of pseudo-medallion.
The setting of real coins in jewelry was a widespread practice in ancient times. Such pieces advertised the wealth of the wearer and at the same time suggested loyalty to the imperial figures portrayed on the coins. (See, for example, the Constantinian pendants— accession no. BZ.1970.37 and BZ.1975.6—and the Herakleian bracelets--BZ.1938.64-65).

This piece is part of a small gold treasure said to have been found in Latakia, Syria. It includes two other pieces, one more complete mate to this piece (accession no. BZ.1950.37), and the other a belt buckle (BZ.1950.36).

- J. Hanson

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 76, no. 172.2, pl. p. 90.

É. Coche de la Ferté, L'Antiquité Chrétienne au Musée du Louvre (Paris, 1958), 106.

M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 2, Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period (Washington, D.C., 1965, 2nd ed. with addendum by S.A. Boyd and S. R. Zwirn, 2005), 4-6, no. 2B, pl. VI.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 44, no. 155B, pl. 155.

S. A. Boyd and G. Vikan, Questions of Authenticity among the Arts of Byzantium, exhibition catalogue, Dumbarton Oaks, January 7-May 11, 1981, Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection Publications 3 (Washington, D.C., 1981), 11.

A. Yeroulanou, "Important Bracelets in Early Christian and Byzantine Art," in Intelligible Beauty: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery, ed. C. Entwistle and N. Adams (London: Oakville, CT, 2010), 40-49, esp. 46, pl. 21a.

Acquisition History
Said to have been found at Latakia, Syria in 1948.

Purchased from Elie Bustros, Beirut by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, September 14, 1950.

Gift of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss to Dumbarton oaks Research Library and Collection, September 1950.

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