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On an Assyriological interpretation of Constantine's labarum

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This article discusses Constantine's labarum from an Assyriological viewpoint.
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On an Assyriological interpretation of Constantine's labarum
Article · April 2015
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OnanAssyriologicalinterpretationofConstantine’slabarum
AccordingtothebookbyEUSEBIUS,“VitaConstantini,”1:31,labarumdenotesabannerdevelopedbyRoman
EmperorFLAVIUSVALERIUSAURELIUSCONSTANTINUSAUGUSTUS(c.272—337CE)followinganoontimevision.
Intranslation[1]–towhichIhaveaddedtheword“verytoindicateaGreeksuperlative–EUSEBIUSdescribesthe
bannerasmadeinthefollowingmanner: Αlongspear,overlaidwithgold,formedthefigureofthecrossby
meansofatransversebarlaidoverit.Onthetopofthewholewasfixedawreathofgoldandpreciousstones;and
withinthis,thesymboloftheSavior'sname,twolettersindicatingthenameofChristbymeansofitsinitial
characters,theletterρ beingintersectedbyχ inits[very]center.” Furthermore,LACTANTIUS[2],Chap.44
describesthebannerascoelestesignumdei,acelestialsignofGod.
WhilelabarumhasatbestuncertainetymologyinLatin–fromlabare: “tobereadytofall,tobegintosink,toerr,
giveway,totter,declineorwaver,”–theAkkadianwordlabārummeans“toendure”. TheLewis&Shortdictionary
[3] indicatesanequivalenceofLatinlabarumtoGreekλαβαρόν.IspeculatethattheAkkadianwordmayhave
enteredtheGreekvocabularyasaloanword,perhapsduringthecultural interaction between the Babylonians and
the Seleucid Greeks or the Trojans of Wilusa, Anatolia and the Hellenistic Sea Peoples.
ItseemsplausiblethatEmperorConstantineselectedanamemeaning“toendure”statingthat“theywhohad
trustedinmanygodshadalsofallenbymanifoldformsofdeath,withoutleavingbehindthemfamilyoroffspring,
stock,name,ormemorialamongmen,”accordingtoEUSEBIUS1:27,op.cit.
ThecuneiformsignANwhichmaybereadDINGIR(AN:Akk:heaven,DINGIRAkk:God)isindeedacelestialsignof
God,whoseevolutionisshowninFig.1accordingtoLABAT&MALBRANLABAT,p48[4].Thefirstforminthe
secondpanelcloselymatchesthedescriptionofConstantine’slabarumandmayplausiblyrelatetoavisionofthe
noontimeSun.
Bibiliography
[1] EUSEBIUS,“VitaConstantini,”retrieved
from
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[2] LACTANTIUS,“Demortibuspersecutorum,Chap.44,translationbyVanderspoel,J.,retrieved
from
http://people.ucalgary.ca/~vandersp/Courses/texts/lactant/lactperf.html
[3] LEWIS,C.T.&SHORT,C.(1879),ALatinDictionary.FoundedonAndrews'editionofFreund'sLatindictionary.
revised,enlarged,andingreatpartrewritten.Oxford:ClarendonPress,retrievedfromhttp://www.perseus.tufts.edu
[4] LABAT,R.&MALBRANLABAT,F.(1988)“Manueld’ÉpigraphieAkkadienne”,6°
edn
Figure1Evolutionofthesign
AN
ImmanuelFREEDMAN,Ph.D.,SMIEEE
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