The writers of the four Gospels, which relate the story of Christ’s life, were often symbolized by animals. Winged creaturees stood for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke, and an eagle for John. These symbols were based upon the vision of Saint John in the Book of Revelation (4:6–7). On this ivory plaque, the animal symbols, holding their Gospels, are arranged around the cross. At the center appears the Lamb of God, a symbol of Christ. Originally, this plaque would have decorated the cover of an Evangiliary, a manuscript containing all four Gospels.
These dramatic, colorful earrings were most likely made in Constantinople, perhaps as an imperial gift to a Visigothic ruler of medieval Spain, where the earrings were found. The Visigoths, a migratory group that ultimately settled in Spain, had by the 6th century established trade and diplomatic contacts with the Byzantine court, whose jewelry they much admired.
Images of the Varangian Guard as pictured in the Skylitzis Chronicle
"The only surviving illuminated chronicle is version of John Skylitzes’ Chronicle held in Madrid (Bibl. Nac. vitr. 26-2)…The manuscript is a unique source for our visualization of imperial ceremonial (triumphal processions, receptions, embassies), costume, weaponry and even technology We are also offered rare illustrations of other peoples: Byzantium’s enemies, allies, mercenaries such as the Varangians, Rus, Bulgarians and Arabs." (Skylitzis Chronicle)
The above images depict the elite Varangian guard: personal bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors who enlisted from across Europe to serve in the court. The majority of these guardsmen were of either Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon descent, including the Icelander Bolli Bollason of the Laxdæla Saga and King Harald Hardrada of Norway (post-Viking Age).
Joining the guard became so popular that Västergötland had to ban people from receiving inheritance while they were serving in “Greece.”
In The Alexiad, Anna Comnena describes the Varangian Guard and their loyalty to the Byzantine court:
“The Varangians too, who carried axes on their shoulders, regarded their loyalty to the Emperors and their protection of the imperial persons as a pledge and ancestral tradition, handed down from father to son, which they keep inviolate, and will certainly not listen to even the slightest word about treachery.” (1)
However, even before the inception of the Varangian Guard, “Varangian” Viking merchants had settled the regions along the Baltic Sea, in modern day Russia, Turkey, and several Eastern European countries. Many of these Viking settlers intermarried with Slavic or Anatolian women and eventually assimilated into the regional cultures. Varangian mercenaries were also known to take Middle Eastern or Anatolian wives while campaigning for the Byzantine court in the Byzantine-Arab wars. There is even archeological evidence to suggest that the Varangians connected with the populace at the Muslim cultural epicenter of Baghdad during or immediately after the Viking Age.
Gold signet-ring, Byzantine
© The Trustees of the British Museum
c. 7th century
Gold finger-ring with engraved and nielloed ornament. Flat octagonal hoop with applied eight-foil bezel depicting four figures on exergual line: Christ and Virgin, the former blessing bridegroom and the latter the bride.
Each face of the hoop depicts a scene from life of Christ: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation in the Temple, Adoration, Crucifixion and Angel at the Tomb. The figures are engraved in outline, the lines being flled with niello.
Bezel engraved with a Greek cruciform monogram.
Object reg. no: PY AF.231
Department of Prehistory & Europe
' the British Museum
With both its magnificent defences (both natural and manmade) and its capacity to store large amounts of both grain and water, Constantinople withstood numerous attacks over the centuries. One of the most notable was by combined Avar, Slav, and Persian forces, in 626. This particular attack was relatively brief compared to some sieges Constantinople went through, but it was serious because the Emperor at the time, Herakleios, was not in the city at the time - he had undertaken a campaign against Persia, leaving Patriarch Sergios and the general Bonos to watch over the city and empire in his absence.
It began with the Avars and Slavs blockading the capital by land (using Constantinople’s usually-advantageous position against it) and cutting off its water supply by destroying the main aqueduct. At the same time, a Persian force arrived on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphoros.
Bonos acted quickly. He instructed naval forces to prevent the Slavs from ferrying Persians across the Bosphoros, and began attempting to negotiate with the Avar Khagan (an imperial rank among the Avars). He also led deployments of small groups of soldiers against the besiegers.
Meanwhile, the patriarch rounded up the entire civilian population and led them in a religious procession around the walls of the city. The procession carried icons of Christ and of the Virgin, and chanted the Akathistos hymn, which calls upon Mary for divine assistance.
Negotiations with the Avars did not seem to be going well, for the Avars built siege weapons and began attacking the city’s massive walls. However, according to eyewitnesses (and I only present this to show what is said of the event, not my own opinion of it), the people saw a woman leading the defence. She was identified as the Virgin Mary herself - the survival of Constantinople against such fearsome people without their Emperor had required divine assistance.
This story became a very important one in the history of Constantinople, which had already claimed the name “Theotokoupolis”, the City of the Mother of God, whose relics protected it.
Intricate Marble Ornamentation at Little Hagia Sophia
Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, 6th century, Istanbul
Built by Justinian before the Hagia Sophia, the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus is like a little treasure tucked away in a little street between the Sea of Marmara below the Hippodrome. The Church is thought to be second in beauty only to the Hagia Sophia. The Inscription that runs along the colonnade is a dedication to Justinian, Theodora and Saint Sergius the patron saint of the Roman army. The ornamentation is a superb example of Constantinople 6th century workmanship.
History Meme - 1/6 Women - Irene, Byzantine Emperor
Irene, born AD 752, died AD 803, ruled as Emperor of the Byzantium Empire (aka the Eastern Roman Empire,) firstly from 780 as guardian of her son Constantine VI, and then from 797 in her own right, until 802 when she was deposed.
Her key legacy was the restoration of the use of icons in the Eastern Empire, one of the most important doctrinal disputes in Europe at the time. At the Council of Nicea in AD 787, a meeting that supposedly included all of Christendom, icons were officially reinstated as per her wishes.
Her influence was clearly considerable, yet her power was not as absolute as she wished. Upon reaching maturity in 790 her son Constantine VI removed her from power. She was banished from court completely and Constantine ruled as sole Emperor.
However in 792 Constantine foolishly allowed his mother to return to court, he even went so far as to reinstate her as co-ruler. While at court Irene plotted. Using the Bishops and Courtiers in her son’s employ she masterminded as coup and placed herself back on the throne in 796/7. To ensure he was not able to take the throne from her again she had Constantine blinded to make him incapable of holding office and thereafter ruled in her own name. Constantine meanwhile died from his wounds.
She then ruled Constantinople as Emperor (not Empress) for five years, engaging in key diplomacy with Pope Leo III and the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne. She was a clearly a skilled diplomat - Charlemagne was in a position to claim her title but he never did so. It is possible (although unlikely - the Frankish sources make no mention of it) that in 802 there was a plan to wed Irene and Charlemagne and therefore a possibility of uniting much of the former Roman Empire.
If such plans did exist they never came to fruition, and if anything the peaceful negotiation with the Franks weakened Irene’s position in Constantinople. In choosing diplomacy not war she alienated some of her court and strengthened her opponents.
Therefore in 802 her reign was ended by a conspiracy of officers and generals within her government. They deposed her and placed the leader of the plot, the Minister of Finance, on the throne. Irene was once again exiled.
She died approximately a year later on the 9th of August 803, she is immortalised as a Saint by the Greek Orthodox Church.