Apotropaic armband

Type: Amulets, Jewelry
Date: Mid- to late sixth century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Turkey, Syria
Medium: Silver
Dimensions: 2.8 high × 7.7 cm diameter
Description: This silver armband is composed of four oval medallions connected by a Greek inscription. The medallions depict the Theotokos, seated frontally on a lyre-backed throne and holding the Christ child; two Women visiting the Tomb of Christ; the Trisagion prayer, "Holy, holy holy, Lord" in Greek; and a nimbed equestrian figure holding a cross-topped staff, known as a Holy Rider, with the word "Health" incised below. The medallion of Mary bears a prayer to her: "Theotoke, help Anna. Grace." The armband was therefore made as a protective device for a woman named Anna.

The Trisagion and Psalm 90:1 are common apotropaic verses, used on jewelry across the eastern Mediterranean and on house lintels in Syria. The Holy Rider was a common amuletic image used by pagans, Jews, and Christians around the Mediterranean. Most Holy Riders are spearing a demonic figure under the horse, but this one resembles images of the martyr saint Sergius, whose important pilgrimage site was a Resafa in Syria. The text that links the four medallions is drawn from Psalm 90:1 in the Septuagint (Ps. 91 in most later versions): "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High." The armband implies, but does not include, the conclusion of the biblical verse, "will dwell under the shelter of God in Heaven." The texts and images inscribed on the armband thus formed a protective and hopeful ring around the woman who wore it.

This armband is one of over twenty such objects that survive in silver or bronze. It was allegedly found in eastern Anatolia (Turkey) as part of a small hoard of silver objects containing amulet cases, rings, belt fittings, a key, spoon, and coins from the reign of the early Byzantine emperor Justinian (r. 527–65). The similarity of the Holy Rider to images of St. Sergius may support a findspot farther east, in Syria.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 3
Image Credits: Linda Safran

« Back

Anna's armband, Holy Women at the Tomb of Christ Anna's armband, Trisagion prayer Anna's armband, Psalm 90 inscription and Holy Rider Anna's armband, Holy Rider inscribed