Gold Glass

The disc depicts a husband and wife and a small image of the Greek hero Herakles. The man is dressed in a tunic with a red strip and a toga, while she wears a gemstone necklace with pendant pearls, painted red and white. Herakles wears the skin of the Nemean lion and carries his club in his right hand and in his left, three painted apples. The Latin inscription may be translated: 'Orfitus and Constantia. Live happily in the name of Herakles, conqueror of the Underworld'. The fact that Herakles carries the apples of Hesperides, which were his wedding present to Jupiter and Juno, suggests that this was made specifically as a wedding gift. It is possible that Orfitus is Memmius Vitruvius Orfitus, a pagan aristocrat and prefect of Rome in the mid-fourth century AD. This gold-glass 'medallion' originally decorated the bottom of a bowl. Many similar objects have been found mounted in the walls of the Christian catacombs in Rome. It is thought that after the death of one of the partners, the bottom disc of the bowl was used to mark their burial place.

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This gold-glass 'medallion' bears the busts of a man and woman are encircled by a plain border and inscription. The beardless man has short curly hair and wears a toga contabulata. The stripe on his right shoulder is a symbol of rank. The woman's hairstyle was favoured by empresses in the fourth century: it is drawn back in plaits and coiled on the top of her head, leaving a row of curls across her forehead. Her robe has been engraved with spirals to suggest a rich fabric. She wears earrings and a pearl and gem necklace. Between the two figures a youthful man dressed in a cloak and tunic holds wreaths over their heads. The inscription reads: DULCIS ANIMA VIVAS ('Sweetheart, may you live [long]'). The medallion would have originally decorated the base of bowl made as a wedding present. We know that the small figure represents Christ as similar images on other bowls are actually inscribed with His name. The man and woman, then, although they are clearly as aristocratic as the couple on the gold-glass medallion showing Herakles also in the British Museum, were Christians rather than pagans. In the Late Antique period, old and new religions were often practised side by side.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016