History of Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire for Kids

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Byzantine Empire Crosses

The Eastern Orthodox Cross- The Byzantine Cross

The Eastern Orthodox Cross has three cross beams and is distinctly different from other Christian crosses.

The deep symbolism and the tradition of icons were preserved from Byzantium through the Christian Empire it created in Russia. (See also the heraldic Bezant Cross). Byzantine was the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, later renamed Constantinople and currently Istanbul. The culture of the area is a rich mixture of different traditions of iconography.


The top beam of the Byzantine Cross, also seen on the Patriarchal cross, represents the plaque bearing Pontius Pilate's inscription "Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews" (see INRI). The Latin for such a plaque is titulus which gives the name for this form: Titulus Cross. The upper beam of the Byzantine Cross rarely has any inscription; it is just symbolic of a titulus.


The lower beam of the Byzantine Cross represents a footrest (suppedaneum) and began appearing in Christian art in the 6th century. The purpose was to support the weight of the body. (Sometimes the victim would sit on a thin horn-like seat for the same reason.) Without such a device, the nails could tear through the flesh or the ropes could rip off the limbs. In effect, the seat or suppedaneum would prolong the agony of the victim. We do not know whether such a device existed on Jesus' cross.


The Elevation of the Holy Cross is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on September 14. This feast is also referred to as the Exaltation of the Cross. This is also a popular name day for Stavroula/Stavros (from "stavros" meaning cross). This is one of the two feast days which were held as a strict fast. The other is the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Forerunner on August 29.

The Roman artifact of early Christianity is that of a rare bronze reliquary cross. It was worn in battle by a soldier of the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire and found in association with weapons on an ancient battlefield site. The reliquary crosses of the Byzantine Roman world were wearable crosses made in two parts and assembled with hinges that allowed them to open lengthwise like a clamshell. They were often used to hold a piece of a saint's bone or hair and their power to heal and protect by the possession of the 'relic' inside was believed by all. Complete and intact specimens with both halves still attached are extremely rare.

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