Coin jewelry, worn by the elite of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoyed a revival in early Byzantine times. Some pieces were made of medallions (such as the marriage belt, see BZ.1937.33) or pseudo-coins, while others, such as the Dumbarton Oaks bracelets, were made of real coins. Each cluster consists of a solidus (a gold denomination struck seventy-two to the Roman pound) surrounded by four tremissi (one third of a solidus). The same composition can be seen on a necklace around the neck of a suitably adorned figure of the noble martyr Sergios in the British Museum. The use of money in jewelry expresses in literal terms what is always true of jewelry, that it operates as social currency, displaying and negotiating the wearer’s position. The wearer of these bracelets, almost certainly male, was displaying his superior social status through the precious materials, and may even have been hinting at a certain relationship to the court of the emperors depicted on the coins.
The dating of Byzantine jewelry is difficult, but in this case there are two clues. One is the reigns of the emperors named on the coins, Maurice Tiberius (582–602), Phokas (602–10), and Herakleios (610–41), which indicate that the earliest possible date is 610, the accession of Herakleios. The other clue is technical. Both the construction of the hoops of tubular gold decorated with tiny rows of beading, as well as the use of trefoils to fill the gaps between the coins, are known from other seventh-century gold objects believed to have come from Antinoe in Egypt. If this is true, the bracelets probably date before 640, when Arab rule began asserting itself.
The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 61, no. 123, fig. p. 70.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 79, no. 188, fig. p. 93.
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), 44-46, no. 46, pl. 36, 37.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 54, no. 191.
J. P. C. Kent and K. S. Painter, Wealth of the Roman World : AD 300-700, exhibition catalogue, British Museum (London, 1977), 100, no. 171, 172, fig. p. 101.
A. Badawy, Coptic Art and Archaeology: the Art of the Christian Egyptians from the Late Antique to the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), 332, fig. p. 336.
A. Oddy, "La monnaie d'or dans la bijouterie à travers les ages," Aurum 15 (1983): 10-16, fig. 7.
J.-A. Bruhn, Coins and Costume in Late Antiquity, Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Publications No. 9 (Washington, D.C., 1993), 30, fig. 24 and cat. no. 8.
G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 120, pl. p. 121.
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), esp. 41, pl. 5.
T. Rainer, Das Buch und die vier Ecken der Welt: von der Hülle der Thorarolle zum Deckel des Evangeliencodex, Spätantike, frühes Christentum, Byzanz. Reihe B, Studien und Perspektiven (Wiesbaden, 2011), pl. XVIII, fig. 103.
R. Naismith, A Cultural History of Money in the Medieval Age, Bloomsbury (2019, Fig. 5.1.
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, Mar. 25 - Oct. 3, 1977.
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.
Purchased from Kalebdjian Frères (dealers), Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1938.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, 1938-1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C. November, 1940.