In the fourth century the aristocratic members of Roman society began to send precious “announcement cards” to friends and colleagues celebrating special events, private and public, like a marriage or a promotion to a higher-ranking office. These announcements were carved on two panels made of ivory, attached to one another by hinges, and decorated with relief carving on the outside. On the inside, each wing had a recessed field that was, in all likelihood, filled with a layer of wax for inscribing messages. Not a single original text has been preserved and it is still debated as to what information—if any at all—these tablets delivered. These ivory diptychs are the luxury version of the commonly used wooden writing tablets that served as notepads in ancient times.
This diptych, with an elegant geometrical and floral decoration, belongs to the group known as consular diptychs, panels that were carved and sent to announce the appointment of a consul—the highest office in the Roman Republic that had become honorary during the Empire—and to declare the start of the consul’s term at beginning of the New Year, which was celebrated with several days of ceremonies and public entertainment (ludi consulares).
Within a framed octagon inside the lozenge, a Latin inscription refers to the consul in Constantinople in the year 525: “Flavius Theodorus Filoxenus, son of Sotericus Filoxenus, with the rank of illustris, domestic count, formerly master in Thrace, and ordinary consul.”
Four circles in the corners bear a dedicatory inscription, also written in incised majuscules, but this time in Greek, stating, “While holding office as consul, I, Philoxenus, offer this gift to one who takes pride in his way of life.”
Two other diptychs of Philoxenus, preserved in the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris, differ in design, indicating that the same person might issue a variety of diptych types. Presumably, they were distributed in accord with the different status of the addressees.
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