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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Chapter XXXI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXI.—A Description of the Standard of the Cross, which the Romans now call the Labarum. 3110

Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the p. 491 figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, 3111 the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: 3112 and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, 3113 a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, 3114 bore a golden half-length portrait 3115 of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner.

The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.



[From the Bretagnic lab, to raise, or from labarva, which, in the Basque language, still signifies a standard.—Riddle’s Lat. Dict. voc. Labarum. Gibbon declares the derivation and meaning of the word to be “totally unknown, in spite of the efforts of the critics, who have ineffectually tortured the Latin, Greek, Spanish, Celtic, Teutonic, Illyric, Armenian, &c., in search of an etymology.”—Decline and Fall, chap. 22, note 33.—Bag.] Compare the full article of Venables, in Smith and Cheetham, Dict. 1 (1880), 908–911, with its references and cuts.


Thus rather than “on.” Compare cuts in article of Venables. “It [the monogram of Christ] is often set within a crown or palm branch.”—Wolcott, Sacred Archæalogy, p. 390.


[Χιαζομένου τοῦ ῥ κατὰ τὸ μεσαίτατον. The figure ΧΡ would seem to answer to the description in the text. Gibbon gives two specimens, Ρ and ×Ρ as engraved from ancient monuments. Chap. 20, note 35.—Bag.] The various coins given by Venables all have the usual form of the monogram ×Ρ . Compare also Tyrwhitt, art. Monogram, in Smith and Cheetham; also the art. Monogramme du Christ, in Martigny, Dict. d. ant. (1877), 476–483.


That this was no new invention of Constantine may be seen by comparing the following description of an ordinary Roman standard, “…each cohort had for its own ensign the serpent or dragon, which was woven on a square piece of cloth, elevated on a gilt staff, to which a cross-bar was adapted for the purpose…under the eagle or other emblem was often placed a head of the reigning emperor.” Yates, art. Signa militaria, in Smith, Dict. Gr. and Rom. Ant. (1878), 1044–1045.


“Which in its full extent was of great length.”—Bag., according to suggestion of Valesius of a possible meaning, but better as above, meaning the part below the cross-bar. So Valesius, Christopherson, 1709, Molzberger.



Next: Chapter XXXII