Early Byzantine Steelyard Weights: Potency and Diffusion of the Imperial Image

  • Anne McClanan
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The image of the empress was broadly disseminated throughout early Byzantine visual culture. Modest bearers of the imperial sign offer a new way of understanding the meaning and distribution of the rulers’ symbolic presence throughout the Empire. The resplendent images of the emperor and empress on luxury goods such as gold mosaic or ivory preoccupy art historians, but—as tantalizing as these objects are in their visual richness—they represent only a narrow sampling of the varied imperial image of this time. The study of the imperial image has gravitated toward the opulent things that we imagine befit the imperial milieu, but has neglected the imperial image as it was constituted on the objects of everyday life. In contrast with the empresses’ images on luxury goods, ordinary objects such as steelyard weights and bronze coinage represented imperial rule to a much wider audience. This chapter will show that the identification of empress steelyard weights as portraits of specific historical figures is no longer tenable, and offers a counterpoint to the “cult of personality” that swirls around our discussion of the individual historical figures represented on luxury goods.The distribution and chronology of these weighing implements also needs reassessment.


Imperial Image British Museum Luxury Good Sixth Century Seventh Century 
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© Anne McClanan 2002

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  • Anne McClanan

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