|Christ enthroned upon the world. San Vitale, Ravenna.|
|Roman scepter, likely of Maxentius.|
One of the best examples of this is the use of an imperial scepter (Gr. σκῆπτρον "staff"; Lat. sceptrum) which came to have a globe on top that represented the world. The only one that survives was found but a few years ago at the base of the Palatine Hill in Rome, wrapped in linen and silk. It perhaps dates (based off of stratigraphic levels) to the time of Maxentius--an imperial claimant ultimately defeated by Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. Long before Maxentius, the scepter symbolized power and the imperium to lead others.
|Agamemnon and his staff.|
|Leaf of a Diptych for the|
consul Valentinianus (6th c.),
who holds a scepter and mappa.
Allegedly under Augustus and his establishment of the Principate, the scepter again had a revival--though largely (or perhaps covertly) still as a symbol of the consulship. Yet it is worth remembering that as Zeus had a scepter, so did the Roman analog, Jupiter, and Augustus was always mindful of the power of associative iconography.This is nowhere more evident than in the famous Grand Cameo of France, which dates to the reign of Tiberius. The scepter of Tiberius, who sits firmly in the center of the cameo, along with his mother and the wife of Augustus, Livia, connects visually with the scepter of the divine Augustus, who flies overhead. It is also worth noting that the scepter bears a strong resemblance with the spear that emperors are frequently depicted as carrying (e.g., the Augustus of Prima Porta).
Coinage was another medium where the scepter featured prominently, along with another object, a globe. On coinage, Roman emperors are often depicted as the rector orbis, the ruler of the world, which appears (if my numismatic research is accurate) to crop up around the time of Didius Julianus (r.193 CE) . This would be a familiar depiction on coinage from then on, and demonstrates not only that Greeks and Romans knew that the world was round (!), but that Roman emperors and usurpers often cast themselves as rulers of the world and not just the Roman empire. Didius Julianus' reign actually only lasted a few months, but his legacy persisted in terms of numismatic iconography. Only a few years later, Caracalla would be calling himself rector orbis on coins and carrying a scepter as well.
Ref Didius Julianus Aureus. RIC 3, Cohen 14v, BMC 7
|Detail of Roma holding a globe from the Peutinger Map (Tetrarchic date, and yes, I stand by this).|
It was only a matter of time before the two coalesced into one, as we see with the scepter of Maxentius. As the globe personifies, what is on top of the scepter is important to understanding the worldview of the emperor. The later Byzantine emperor Phocas, for instance, popularized the use of crosses on top of scepters--which served to advertise his Christian identity and legitimacy.
|Phocas, AV Solidus, 603-607 CE, Constantinople, Officina 7|
I have surely left out many references and connections (e.g., the fetial priests!), but this overview was just meant to contextualize a great find. I know that from now on, I will look at regalia just a little bit differently, and always make sure to note what adorns the top of the scepter.
|Scepter of Charles V (c.1379-1380).|