Myth and Magic in Early Byzantine Marriage Jewelry

The Persistence of Pre-Christian Traditions


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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  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
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© Anne L. McClanan and Karen Rosoff Encarnación 2002

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