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Marriage Ring Inscribed with Couple's Names

Early Byzantine
late 4th century - 5th century
2.5 cm (1 in.)

On view


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This solid-cast ring and has deeply engraved profile busts facing each other on the bezel. A small cross is engraved between and above their heads and their names, Aristophanes and Vigi[l]antia are written in Greek starting in the lower right corner and progressing backwards. The intaglio carving and the retrograde lettering indicate that it was used as a seal. The carving shows fine details: the man on the right, larger than the woman, has hair combed forward and wears a moustache and a short beard. He wears a prominent fibula on the near shoulder which, when the ring left an impression, would appear appropriately on his right shoulder. The woman wears a necklace and an earring with three hanging elements. Her hair is in the style of the late fourth to early fifth century: waved along the side and drawn up from the nape of her neck to the top of her head.

Marriage rings, embellished with busts of couples and inscriptions, are known in both Roman and early Byzantine society. No documents survive that describe how, or whether, they were used in the wedding ceremony, but gold, silver, and bronze examples testify that they were widespread in both the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire. Such rings can be dated from the fourth through the seventh century.

The woman’s hairstyle and the modest cross place this ring at an early stage of development of marriage rings, the later ones usually having larger crosses and often the figure of Christ between bride and groom.

- S. Zwirn

S. d. Ricci, Catalogue of a Collection of Ancient Rings Formed by the Late E. Guilhou (Paris, 1912), no. 829.

Sotheby and Company, Sales Catalogue of the Guilhou Collection of Rings, 9-12 November, 1937 (London, 1937), no. 457, pl. 15.

Walters Art Gallery, Princeton University Deoartment of Art and Archaeology, and D. E. Miner, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, exhibition catalogue, Baltimore Museum of Art, April 25-June 22, 1947, (Baltimore, 1947), 104, no. 502.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 75, no. 166, pl. p. 89.

M. C. Ross, 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), 48-50, no. 50, pl. 39.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 55, no. 193, fig. 193.

H. Roth, Kunst der Völkerwanderungszeit, Propyläen Kunstgeschichte. Supplementband (Frankfurt am Main, 1979), 106, no. 7b, pl. 7b.

T. Hackens and R. Winkes, Gold Jewelry: Craft, Style, and Meaning from Mycenae to Constantinopolis: An Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design from, February 24-April 3, 1983, Publications d'histoire de l'art et d'archéologie de l'Université Catholique de Louvain 36 (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1983), no. 42.

D. Buckton, Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, (London, 1994), 47.

K. Schade, Frauen in der Spätantike, Status und Repräsentation: eine Untersuchung zur römischen und frühbyzantinischen Bildniskunst (Mainz, 2003), pl. 15, fig. 3.

I. Kalavrezou and A. E. Laiou, Byzantine Women and their World, exhibition catalogue, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, October 25, 2002-April 28, 2003, (Cambridge and New Haven, 2003), 223, no. 123.

A. R. Littlewood, A. E. Laiou, F. E. Shlosser, and N. Metallinos, Byzantium: the Guardian of Hellenism, Hellenic Studies Lecture Series (Montréal, 2004), 113, fig. 2.

A. D. Lazaridou, A. Cameron, H. Saradi-Mendelovici, H. Maguire, and S. ?ur?i?, Transition to Christianity: Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th Century AD, exhibition catalogue, Mouseio Vyzantino, Athens, December 7th, 2011- May 14th 2012, (New York and Athens, 2011), 109, no. 57.

J. Spier and S. Hindman, Byzantium and the West: Jewelry in the First Millenium (London, 2012), 60, pl. 6.2.

Exhibition History
Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art," April 25 - June 22, 1947.

Providence, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, "Gold Jewelry: Craft, Style and Meaning from Mycenae to Constantinopolis," Feb. 24 - April 3, 1983.

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

Acquisition History
Collection of E. Guilhou, Paris.

Purchased from Joseph Brummer, (dealer), Paris, by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., 1947.

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