The labarum, was a type of Roman cavalry standard, a vexillum with a military ensign marked with the Christogram (Greek monogram of Christ). It was an object of religious veneration amongst the soldiers, who paid it divine honors.
DICTIONARY OF ROMAN COINS
|Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.|
Labarum, a Roman military ensign, which is described to have been a more distinguished species of vexillum, or cavalry standard, and, like the rest, was an object of religious veneration amongst the soldiers, who paid it divine honours.
That the Labarum dated its desgnation as the imperial standard from an early period fo the empire, is a supposition confirmed by a colonial medal of Tiberius (dedicated to that Prince by Caesarea-Augusta --Saragozza), on which may be remarked the form of that ensign. It was originally a kind of square banner of purple bordered with gold fringe, attached to the upper end of a long pike or spear; on the drapery of this banner an eagle was painted, or embroidered, in gold tissue, and it was hoisted only when the Emperor was with army.
But Constantine the Great, after having abandoned paganism, caused a decided change to be made in the ornaments of the labarum. The staff of the pike was crossed at a certain height by a piece of wood, forming a cross. At the upper part, above this crosspiece, was fastened a brilliant crown of gold and precious stones, in the middle of which appeared the monogram of Christ, formed by two Greek initials, X. P., joined together thus and often accompianed by two other letters, A. and W., placed on each side, indicating the belief of Our Saviour's divinity, in the words of St. John's Apocalypse, as noted in Eusebius's Life of Constantine. From the two arms of the cross-piece, hung the purple banner, richly ornamented with jewels and with gold embroidery. And, instead of the Roman Eagle, the former object of the soldiers' idolatry, Constantine caused the monogram of Christ to be placed on the banner also. In the space between the crown and the flag, the Emperor placed his bust in gold, or those of his childeren. But this feature is not engraved on the medals.
Fifty chosen men were charged by him with the appointment of carrying and defending this sacred standard at the head of the army, when commanded by the Emperor in person, and were thence called Labariferi.
The Labarum marked with the monogram of Christ is seen on coins of Constantine the Great, also of Constans, of Jovianus, of Valentinianus, etc. A vexillum or cavalry standard, resembling the Labarum, appears on several colonial coins, such as Acci, Antiochia Pisidiae, Caesar-Augusta, etc.
It is also found in the left hand of emperors, on some military figures, on coins of Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Septimius Severus, and other princes anterior to Constantine, with whose family and successors it appears on coins with the Christian symbols to the end of the imperial series.
The Labarum, or at least the vexillum, is an attribute which accompanies the numismatic personification of many of the Roman provinces, viz.:
-Africa, under Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, Constantius Chlorus.
-Armenia, under Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus.
-Britannia, under Antoninus Pius, and Septimius Severus.
-Cappadocia, under Hadrian, and Antonine.
-Dacia, under Antonine, Philip Senior, Trajanus Decius.
-Ilium, under Caracalla.
-Pannonia, under Aelius Caesar.