Near East/Holy Land, Byzantine Empire, Medieval Period, ca. 10th to 12th century CE. A beautiful and wearable round medieval amulet, cast from 95% silver, featuring a series of seven serpent heads - a hydra - ringed by Greek text on one side and two groups of Greek text on the other. The front-facing text translates to, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts, full is the heaven and the earth of your glory," a reference to Isaiah, 6, 3 and the Apocryphal Apocalypse of John 17. The back translates to a frequently seen formula on amulets like this one, "womb, black, blackening, as a snake you coil and as a serpent you hiss and as a lion you roar and as a lamb lie down!" Around this is text that translates to, "All Holy Mother of God, help your servant Mariam [giving birth?]" with the final words somewhat obscured by patina. Size: 2.25" W (5.7 cm); total weight 36.9 grams with modern cord and clasp.
As Jeffrey Spier writes in the text referenced below, this is one of a diverse yet very distinctive type of magical amulets designed to help women with "hystera" or anything relating to the womb. They all feature the image of the abstract face with the serpents radiating outward from it, alongside prayers.
c. f., Jeffrey Spier, "Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets and Their Tradition," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 56 (1993), pp. 25-62.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-Frances Artuner collection, Belgium, collected in the 1960s
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