Important Byzantine Gold and Niello Inlaid Marriage Ring
Period: 5th - 6th century A.D.
Material: Gold and Niello
Dimensions: D. 2.5 cm.
Ex- European private collection; K. Pegler collection, London, before 1995; private collection, acquired in 2004.
The square bezel intaglio engraved with the bust of the couple, a cross between them, the bust of Christ within a halo above and inscribed (in positive) OE OY OMONOIA, translating: ‘Concord in God’.
This ring belongs to a series of marriage rings used throughout the Byzantine period and exemplifies the survival of pagan Roman customs in a Christian context. Roman marriage contracts were signed before the Emperor’s image, illustrated on the solidus depicting the nimbed Theodosius II (AD408-450) conferring his blessing on the marriage of Valentinian III and Licinia Eudoxia (Philip Grierson & Melinda Mays: Catalogue of late Roman Coins Dumbarton Oaks (Washington 1992), no, 395, This coin is inscribed ‘Feliciter Nubiis’). By AD 450 this formula had been Christianised when the medallic coins distributed at the marrage of Pulcheria and her consort Marcian show the couple clasping hands (dextarum junction ) and enfolded in the arms of Christ. The only known example of this coin is now in the Hunterian Collection , Glasgow (Grierson & Mays; Op. cit., p. 158). This last documentary coin for this series of rings is illustrated in : A.S. Robertson: Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet Vol. IV, (London 1982), p. 485, no. 2 & pl. 99)
There is a ring of similar type in Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C. of Aristophonas and Vigilantian which is Ex. G. Guilhou collection (Hirsch, Mrs H. Walters, Joseph Brummer, Melvin Gutman (Ref. Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin , Vol XVIII, p. 207, no. 128) = Exhibition catalogue: Early Christian and Byzantine Art (Baltimore 1947), no 502. The inscription is in negative.
Another example is in the Bristish Museum (Sir Augustus W. Franks bequest) Ref. F.H. Marshall: B.M.C. Finger Rings (London 1907) and in the British Museum Exhibition: Wealth of the Roman World (1977), no. 120. There are similar silver rings in Berlin (ref. Exhibition catalogue: Kunst der Spätantike im Mittelmeeraum (Berlin, August 1939), p. 16, no. 28 and pl. 6 and another in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which pressing time has prevented your cataloguer referring to in detail. Finally there was on inscribed ‘Omonoia’ in the Ralph Harari Collection (catalogue by John Boardman & Diana Scarisbrick London, 1977, no. 115)
Marriage rings were not part of the ceremony as they are today. The couple in this ring is blessed, as indicated, by the bust of Christ above them and the Greek Inscription that means “Harmony of God”.
PRICE J., “Masterpieces of Ancient Jewelry, exquisite objects from the cradle of civilization”, Philadelphia, 2008
Moscow Art Fair, 2005