Objects from the Byzantine period range in date from 330 CE, the year in which Constantine the Great established Constantinople as the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire, and 1435 CE, the date of the sack of the city by the Ottoman Turks. Originally known as Byzantium, Constantinople was situated on the Black Sea between Turkey and Greece, and this Greek speaking capital was a prosperous, central trading hub for the larger Mediterranean region.
Many of these objects and artifacts are Christian-themed, while also drawing on traditions in pagan, Jewish, and Classical Greek and Roman sources from across the culturally-diverse empire. The items in our collection span the realms of imperial and ecclesiastical artwork, and also include many secular objects from day-to-day life.
Cross Pendants and ReliquariesNumerous, simple cross-shaped pendants survive from the earliest Christian periods, which would have been worn by believers. Often such pendants featured small hollow spaces meant to hold objects or fragments of objects of religious significance, such as a saint's relic, piece of the true cross, or other blessed objects. Known as reliquaries, these were worked in gold, silver, and enamel, and mass-produced throughout the empire in bronze workshops from the ninth to the twelfth centuries AD.
Byzantine CoinageAncient coinage was introduced for trade and commercial purposes, but as durable, mobile, and valuable objects they also provided a venue for the dissemination of religious and political ideas and iconography. Byzantine coinage often features variations of the figure of Christ on the obverse, with varied Christian iconography on the reverse, and both design and iconographic choices show the influence of early Islamic coinage, as well as that of the first Western kingdoms.
Also included in this collection are numerous day-to-day objects, such as beads and buckles, ancient keys, candlestick holders, examples of pottery and pottery fragments, statuettes, blown-glass objects, and terracotta oil lamps ranging from simple and utilitarian, to ornately worked.