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Art and Identity in an Amulet Roll from Fourteenth-Century Trebizond

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image of Church History and Religious Culture

This article examines a unique survival from the Middle Ages: an amulet roll, now divided between libraries in New York City and Chicago, which now measures approximately 5 m in width and 8–9 cm in width, which has Greek texts on the obverse and Arabic on the reverse, and a series of very fine illustrations on the Greek side. Analysis of the roll reveals that it originated in Trebizond in the second half of the fourteenth century, and the roll is therefore considered within the cultural and political context of that small but active Greek kingdom. The article pays particular attention to the text and representation of a rare figure, Evgenios of Trebizond, who is included among a series of saints and prophets in order to enact that saint's protection of the (evidently elite) patron of the roll. And through the series of texts and images about the letter and self-portrait of Christ, the Mandylion, the roll also stated the sacred destiny of Trebizond. The roll generated identity through its Greek Christian texts and images, and made clear the special role God had chosen for Trebizond.

Affiliations: 1: University of Texas at Austin;, Email:


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