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Marriage Belt

Christian and pagan subjects comprise the imagery on this luxurious gold marriage belt. On the large medallions Jesus appears uniting a bride and groom as they clasp each other's right hand. This gesture, known as the dextrarum iunctio, had been part of the Roman marriage rite, and therefore not at first acknowledged as suitable for Christian use until the late fourth century. Framing the scene is the inscription, "From God, concord, grace, health." In contrast, the small medallions contain busts of pagan figures: all men, some draped, several bearded, others with leaves in their hair, a few holding the thyrsos - a staff associated with Dionysos - and some a caduceus, the rod of Mercury. It is a diverse and sedate group without a clear interpretation.

The marriage scene with Christ appears on the one other extant Byzantine marriage belt (Musée du Louvre, Paris) but in numerous variations on marriage rings. It expressed Christ's blessings on the marriage couple. More challenging is the integration of non-Christian figures with the Christian scenes. A reasonable analogy is the use of pagan imagery in poetry celebrating Christian marriage attested in the second half of the sixth century in Egypt. Although the belt was said to have been found in Antioch, it may reflect the same inclusive culture witnessed in Egypt at about the same time. No text records the use of a belt in the early Christian wedding ceremony, so the role of this example remains open. A later source mentions a belt given to the bride in the marriage chamber, signaling a private transfer rather than a public ritual. Whenever it was presented, the belt might symbolically "bind" the bride and groom together at the moment of one of the most basic changes in status of a young couple's social life.

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