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No.61: Gold Solidus of Constans, probably struck on the occasion of his Quinquennalia, Siscia, circa. 337-40. CE

The solidus of Constans, as pictured above, was probably struck on the occasion of the celebrations of the Quinquennalia of Constans in 338 AD. There also is another theory that it was possibly issued as a donative when Constantine II, as senior emperor, met up with his brothers to resolve and divide the empire between themselves in the Balkans. Its reverse, which is of most interest to this author, shows the three sons of Constantine I, enthroned and united together. Constantine II is pictured in the middle holding up his hand in benefiction. This picture of harmony, given their character and nature, unfortunately didn’t last long.

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No.62: Detail of the Charioteer Textile (Also referred to as the Shroud of Charlemagne), circa 800 CE, Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris.

Imperial silk, reserved for Byzantine emperors, were always dyed purple. (Purple came to be associated in the Middle ages with Imperial power and domination.) It was illegal for foreigners to purchase these purple silks and strict rules were put in place to safeguard their production and distribution. Though occasionally these wonderful silks may have been sent as gifts to foreign dignities and kings. This exquisite royal silk (above) with a pattern illustrating a chariot drawn by four horses (quadriga), is believed be a fragment of the shroud in which Charlemagne was buried in 814. In all probability it originally made its way to western Europe as a diplomatic gift from Constantinople.

No.63: Plaque of Saint Simeon, sixth century, Louvre, Paris.

This former Syrian treasure of the church of Ma’arrat an Numan shows Saint Simeon the Stylite perched on top of his pillar. It is said that Simeon held court from top of his fifty-foot column, for most of his life, where he received people who wished to seek out his advice. Legend also states that it was from this pillar that he boldly stood up to the devil disguised as a giant serpent. Plagues such as this one apparently helped spread the fame of Simeon across the Roman world. This form of life (stylitism) appealed to many people. The practice of standing or sitting atop of a high pillar away from the world, eased the concern of being overcome by worldly temptations.

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No. 64: Detail of the portrait of Justinian I mosaic, 6th century, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.

Located at the entrance of Sant’Apollinare Nouvo is a portrait of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It is the lesser known mosaic of the emperor found in Ravenna. The more famous portraits of the emperor (surrounded by his entourage) is found in the San Vitale, which we will present here in this series at a later date.

Under Justinian’s reconquest of Italy, Ravenna was one of the cities where Arian property was requisitioned, which included the Arian palace church of Theodoric. In the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (which we known it as now) the Byzantines went about tearing down or purging many of the reminders of its former ruler Theodoric the Great. One of those reminders is the refashioned mosaic portrait of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, which might have been in fact King Theoderic?

To me, it seems a little rough or rushed (unlike the San Vitale portrait) and some commentators have suggested that the portrait resembles the face of Theoderic rather than Justinian? The lettering identifying the emperor above his head is definitely from a later restoration.

No. 65: Ptolemy’s Handy Tables (Byzantine calendar), mid 8th century, Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

This Illumination is the middle section of the Vatican copy of Ptolemy’s Astronomy, which shows the universe ruled by the Sun God, Helios, disguised in imperial purple as the emperor. It is in essence a byzantine calendar, created during the eighth century for medieval astronomers. What is most interesting about this calendar is the fact that it cleverly avoids depictions of religious figures banned during the period we know as Iconoclasm. The image of the Helios and the emperor, for example, are so unambiguously intertwined, that not even emperor Constantine V, who commissioned its creation, had a problem with it.

No. 66: Colossus of Barletta, mid 4th or 5th century, originally looted from Constantinople, Barletta, Italy.

This fourth century colossal bronze statue is believed to be the last of the triumphant Roman emperors, Valentinian I, who systematically patrolled and fortified the west. (Other suggests included emperors Theodosius II and Marcian.) It survives (much restored with stumpy legs) in the southern Italian town of Barletta. You may wonder what on earth does it have to do with Byzantium? Well, it is believed it was originally looted from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, but was subsequently lost at sea, before somehow managing to wash up off the coast of Barletta. Other than that we don’t know much more about its origins. 

No. 67: Vienna Genesis (biblical codex), 6th century, Syrian origin, Imperial Library, Vienna.

We have no way of really knowing who this biblical codex was made for or for what purpose. But it is assumed that it was likely made for a wealthy family or just maybe a member of the imperial Byzantine family. The remaining fragments of parchment, all dyed purple in colour, are associated with royalty, so maybe here lies our first clue?

Believed to be originally crafted and bound in Syria or Palestine, all that remains of this early Byzantine manuscript are twenty-four pages with Greek translations of the Book of Genesis. Its surviving pages are believed to have been part of a much larger manuscript of 96 pages. Each page was roughly set out with Greek text as the top, while the bottom half contained wonderful painted illustrations of people and events from the Genesis story.

Photo Credit: Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge where possible all the images used in this article.  All images appear to be in the public domain with the exception of a few, whose status seems unclear. I make use of them under the rationale of fair use for educational purposes. If any errors exist please let me know.

 

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