Girdle with Coins and Medallions

Date: ca. 583, reassembled after discovery

Culture: Byzantine

Medium: Settings: gold - sheet: wire - beaded. Coins: gold - stamped.

Dimensions: Overall: 26 9/16 x 2 3/16 x 1/4 in. (67.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 cm) Wt: 348g
diameter of 9 small medallions: 1 x 1/8 in. (2.5 x 0.3 cm)
diameter of 4 medium size medallions: 1 3/16 x 3/16 in. (3 x 0.5 cm)
diameter of 4 large medallions: 2 3/16 x 1/4 in. (5.5 x 0.6 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Gold

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917; Purchase, Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York, Stephen K. Scher and Mrs. Maxime L. Hermanos Gifts, Rogers Fund, and funds from various donors, 1991

Accession Number: 17.190.147; 1991.136


This incomplete, massive gold girdle was part of the treasure that contained the David plates (17.190.397,.396). It may have been worn as an insignia of office, which suggests that the owner of the hoard was closely connected with the imperial court in Constantinople.

The four medallions depicting the emperor Maurice Tiberius (r. 582–602) probably were minted for him to present as gifts to high officials and nobles when he assumed the office of consul in 583. On the front is a bust of him; he is in imperial dress and holds the mappa, or white handkerchief, with which a new consul opened the games that he was required to stage for the populace of Constantinople. On the back of the medallions the emperor is shown in military dress, standing in a chariot drawn by four horses. He holds a globe surmounted by a small Nike offering a crown of victory. To his side is a Christogram, symbolizing the religion of the Byzantine state.

This girdle also contains thirteen coins, including one from the reign of Theodosius II (408–50) and four from the brief joint rule in 527 of Justin I (r. 527–65) and Justinian I. Old coins were frequently used for jewelry, since under later rulers their historic value and their worth in gold often exceeded their worth as currency. All the coins and medallions are stamped CONOB, an abbreviation for Constantinopolis obryzum ("pure gold of Constantinople"), indicating that they were minted in the capital.