Pendants with Double Solidus of Constantine I

The consummate skill used to create this pendant places it among the most highly accomplished examples of gold jewelry from the early Byzantine period. The elaborate frame around the imperial medallion combines two techniques: chisel cutting of sheet gold masterfully worked to create lacelike tendrils, scrolls, and geometric designs; and hollow, three-dimensional heads formed by working the gold from both the interior and the exterior. The contrast of flat, silhouette patterns and heads in the round produces a dynamic counterpoint rarely seen in jewelry of this period.

The medallion shows the emperor Constantine wearing a crown of rays - an attribute of Apollo - while his sons Crispus and Constantine II are in consular robes on the reverse, co-celebrating their third consulate in 324. A similarly designed, although circular, pendant at Dumbarton Oaks contains a medallion celebrating the second consulate in 321 of these same imperial sons. In mint condition, these medallions were never put into circulation; they were framed so that both sides are visible, allowing all the imperial portraits to be seen. Despite their different shapes, the shared techniques, style, and decorative schemes confirm that these pendants were made as part of a set. Three additional pendants belong to this set judged by medallion type, techniques, designs, and superb execution: a circular pendant (Musée du Louvre, Paris); a hexagonal pendant (British Museum, London); and a slightly larger octagonal pendant (Cleveland Museum of Art). This latter pendant must have been the center piece of the most resplendent suite of gold jewelry to survive from early Byzantium.

The pendant and its companion pieces may have been an award from an emperor to an outstanding general or high ranking official, although their exact function is not certain. The key to interpreting their historical and political significance, including the identification and meaning of the busts, has yet to be discovered.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016