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Myth and Magic in Early Byzantine Marriage Jewelry

The Persistence of Pre-Christian Traditions
Chapter

Abstract

The material culture of early Byzantine marriage, as represented by a small corpus of marriage rings and belts, indicates a clear appropriation and adaptation of pre-Christian traditions. In this paper, I investigate the melding of pagan and Christian cultures in early Byzantine marriage art, taking as my departure point the issue of the amuletic properties of early Byzantine marriage rings. In a series of articles that appeared during the 1980s and early 1990s, Gary Vikan interpreted the rings to be medical magical devices, foregrounding their role as amulets for healthy parturition.1 As I have argued elsewhere, a connection with birth facilitation is not strongly supported by the iconography or inscriptions of the rings;2 rather, these features indicate—as Ernst Kitzinger had proposed3—a more general concern for the protection of marital union.4

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Ernst Kitzinger, “Christian Imagery: Growth and Impact,” in Age of Spirituality: A Symposium, ed. Kurt Weitzmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980 ), 151. Gary Vikan later specified the amuletic intent of the loca sancta rings—and Byzantine marriage rings in general—to be the promotion of healthy parturition. See Gary Vikan, “Art, Medicine, and Magic in Early Byzantium,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 38 (1984): 65–86, esp. 83–84 and Ibid., ‘Art and Marriage in Early Byzantium,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 145–63, esp. 154–57.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alicia Walker, “A Reconsideration of Early Byzantine Marriage Rings,” in Between Magic and Religion, ed. Corinne Pache et al. ( Totowa, N.J.: Row-man and Littlefield, 2001 ).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See especially L. Reekmans, “La ‘dextrarum iunctio’ dans l’iconographie romaine et paleochrétienne,” Bulletin de l’Institut Historique Belge de Rome 31 (1958): 23–95;Google Scholar
  4. and Ernst Kantorowicz, “On the Golden Marriage Belt and the Marriage Rings of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14 (1960): 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 40.
    John G. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1992 ), 111–12.Google Scholar
  6. 41.
    Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed. ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992 ), 291–92.Google Scholar
  7. 45.
    Marvin Meyer, Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power ( San Francisco: Harper, 1994 ), 218–22.Google Scholar
  8. 60.
    M. Simon, “Bellerophon chrétienne,” Mélanges d’archéologie, d’épigraphie, et d’histoire offerts à Jérôme Carcopino ( Paris: Hachette, 1966 ): 889–903.Google Scholar
  9. 61.
    For discussion of the questionable identity of Bellerophon as a Christian figure, see George A. Hanfmann, “The Continuity of Classical Art: Culture, Myth, and Faith,” in Age of Spirituality: A Symposium, ed. Kurt Weitzmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980 ), 85–86.Google Scholar

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© Anne L. McClanan and Karen Rosoff Encarnación 2002

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