A cross of light bearing the inscription “in hoc signo vinces” (in this sign you will conquer) miraculously
appeared to Roman Emperor Constantine before the battle of Milvian Bridge. His victory over his
brother-in-law and co-emperor Maxentius and subsequent conversion to Christianity had a profound
impact on the course of Western civilization.
Byzantine is the term commonly used since the 19th century to refer to the Greek-speaking Roman
Empire of the Middle Ages centered in the capital city of Constantinople. During much of its history, it
was known to many of its Western contemporaries as the Empire of the Greeks, due to the dominance of
the Greek language and culture. However, it is important to remember that the Byzantines referred to
themselves as simply as the Roman Empire. As the Byzantine era is a period largely fabricated by
historians, there is no clear consensus on exactly when the Byzantine age begins; although many
consider the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great, who moved the imperial capital to the glorious city
of Byzantium, renamed Constantinople and nicknamed the “New Rome,” to be the beginning. Others
consider the reign of Theodosius I (379-395), when Christianity officially supplanted the pagan beliefs,
to be the true beginning. And yet other scholars date the start of the Byzantine age to the era when
division between the east and western halves of the empire became permanent.
While Christianity replaced the gods of antiquity, traditional Classical culture continued to flourish.
Greek and Latin were the languages of the learned classes. Before Persian and Arab invasions devastated
much of their eastern holdings, Byzantine territory extended as far as south as Egypt. After a period of
iconoclastic uprising came to resolution in the 9th Century, a second flowering of Byzantine culture
arose and lasted until Constantinople was temporarily seized by Crusaders from the west in the 13th
Century. Christianity spread throughout the Slavic lands to the north. In 1453, Constantinople finally fell
to the Ottoman Turks effectively ending the Byzantine Empire after more than 1,100 years. Regardless of
when it began, the Byzantine Empire continued to carry the mantle of Greek and Roman Classical
cultures throughout the Medieval era and into the early Renaissance, creating a golden age of Christian
culture that today continues to endure in the rights and rituals of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Byzantine art and culture was the epitome of luxury, incorporating the finest elements from the artistic
traditions of both the East and the West.
This bronze oil lamp dates to the Byzantine era. The ring handle is surmounted by a leaf-shaped
attachment incorporating a Christian cross. The filling hole is covered with a hinged lid. The spout
terminates in a wide circular opening for the wick.The majority of lamps in the ancient world were
fashioned from clay. The use of bronze was a costly and luxurious alternative.