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Anonymous (tenth/eleventh century)

 
 

Obverse

Bust of St Nicholas, his right hand is indistinct and holds a gospel book with his left. Inscription in two columns (only right survives): |Λ : [ὁ ἅ(γιος) Νικ]ώλ(αος). Border of dots.

Reverse

Uncertain symbols; see commentary.

Obverse

Bust of St Nicholas, his right hand is indistinct and holds a gospel book with his left. Inscription in two columns (only right survives): |Λ : [ὁ ἅ(γιος) Νικ]ώλ(αος). Border of dots.

Reverse

Uncertain symbols; see commentary.

Accession number BZS.1947.2.1850
Diameter 20.0 mm
Previous Editions

DO Seals 7, 19.1. 

Commentary

V. Laurent described the reverse as a large central cross, with intersecting lobes at the cross-arms, surmounted on a globe and three steps and flanked by two smaller crosses with flaring arms and terminal spheres. However, the central symbol may not be a cross since there does not appear to be any trace of a left transverse arm nor any remains of an extended central vertical arm. John Nesbitt, who has studied the photograph, has suggested that the central object is possibly a palm tree, recalling those found on North African Carthaginian coinage, and to the right of the lower small cross on the left are the remains of a letter, possibly an Η, while above at the right of the tree are the remains of an inscription: ΘΕ̣ :  of God. If it is correct to read the reverse as a central tree flanked by crosslets and accompanied by an inscription related to the divine, then possibly there is a direct relation with the image of Saint Nicholas on the obverse. From the Vita of the Saint, there is the episode that recounts how Nicholas felled the cypress tree of Plakoma, in Lycia, in which a demon dwelled. The episode was depicted in a number of illustrated cycles of the Saint’s life (see Ševčenko, The Life of Saint Nicholas, 91-94, pls. 3.6, 10.6, 14.6, 15.1, 17.1, 18.6, 21.7, 28.6, 37.4, 38.5 and 41.7). Here, the tree, associated with evil, is disempowered by the accompanying inscription referring to God and the power of the flanking crosslets. The “neutralizing” or controlling of pagan or demonic devices by Christian symbols was a well-known Byzantine practice as seen in the classical marble relief of a nude pagan figure incorporated on the exterior northern façade of the late twelfth-century church of the Virgin Gorgoepikoos in Athens, which was subsequently re-carved with flanking crosses as if to control or destroy its inherent evil powers (see Dauterman Maguire-Maguire, Other Icons, 125-132, fig. 122).