Tag Archives: Byzantium

Conference Proceedings: Gemstones in the first Millennium

Researchers from different fields like archaeology, history, philology and natural sciences present their studies on ancient gemstones. Using precious minerals as an example, trade flows and craftsmanship, but also utilisation and perception are discussed in a cross-cultural and diachronic approach. The present volume aims at three main questions concerning gemstones in archaeological and historical contexts: »Mines and Trade«, »Gemstone Working« as well as »The Value and the Symbolic Meaning(s) of Gemstones«.


This volume contains the proceedings of the conference »Gemstones in the first Millennium AD« held in autumn 2015 in Mainz, Germany, within the scope of the BMBF-funded project »Weltweites Zellwerk – International Framework«.

You can preview the table of content and a preface here.

Introducing the International Framework project

Dieter Quast and Alexandra Hilgner from the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM) in Mainz explain the initial questions of the project “Weltweites Zellwerk – International Framework” regarding the origin and development of garnet cloisonné jewellery in the early middle ages. Garnet gemstones from India arrived in a vast amount during the 6th century in the Merovingian kingdom in central Europe. In the 7th century, the cloisonné jewellery style was suddenly disappearing. Was it because of a change in fashion or did something happen to the former trade routes? The International Framework project, organised by the RGZM, the SAI Heidelberg and the LVR-LandesMuseum, Bonn with partners in Sweden, the UK and Hungary tries not only to find answers to these questions regarding the value and the meaning of the gemstone garnet, but also to understand the international trade and economic interactions in the “dark ages”.

Symbolism of precious stones in Byzantium

Lecture held by Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie, Mainz

Surprisingly, magic played an important part throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire, although it was a Christian state. Wide-spread representatives of the material culture of magic are amulets made from different materials, but prevailingly preserved in metal and stone. Most examples date from the Early Byzantine period (4th-7th century), however, later examples as well as written sources prove that amulets must have existed until the end of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century. A great number was made of precious stone such as sapphire, emerald, agate, sardonyx, carnelian, jasper, amethyst or haematite. Their protective character was usually defined by a representation, e.g. of a demon or a figure defeating a demon. Beyond that, the material itself played an important role. We learn from written sources that magical properties and healing powers were ascribed to gemstones. One example is the amethyst, which was supposed to protect the wearer from insobriety (amethystos, Gr., ‘not drunk’). Byzantine writers such as Epiphanius of Salamis (4th century) or Michael Psellos (11th century) provide an insight into the magical properties ascribed to the stones which can vary depending on the source.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 22nd, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Garnets in Byzantine texts

Deutsche Version | Team

This part of the International Framework focuses on the use and especially on the interpretation of carbuncles in the Byzantine cultural area. The focus of this study is the question of the typically Byzantine simultaneous existence of interpretations in the ancient tradition on the one hand, and in the biblically tradition on the other hand. Furthermore, it is intended to establish the significance of carbuncles (gr. Ἄνθραξ) within a “hierarchy of gems” in Byzantium. Continue reading Garnets in Byzantine texts

The Perception of Byzantine and Oriental Objects in the Merovingian Empire

Deutsche Version | Team

The project is focussing on the question, to what extent people wearing garnet jewellery were aware of the exotic origin of the red garnet. Consequently, it concentrates upon the perception of the gem stones, which were evidently imported “en masse” to Central Europe and Western Europe. These imports are not isolated events but testament to the context of an extensive stream of imports from the Byzantine Empire and the Mediterranean continuing throughout the entire Merovingian period. Continue reading The Perception of Byzantine and Oriental Objects in the Merovingian Empire

The Development of Cloisonné between India and the Byzantine Empire

Deutsche Version | Team

This subproject is concerned with basic research that is to say with the question of origin and stylistic development of cloisonné between India and the Byzantine Empire. Following a careful chronological classification, significant insight will be gained through a combination of published finds and some of the objects from the collections of the RGZM originating in this vast geographic area. Continue reading The Development of Cloisonné between India and the Byzantine Empire