Garipzanov, Graphic Signs of Authority in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 300–900
Annotation author: Stabel, Andrea
Book author: Garipzanov, Ildar

Ildar Garipzanov, Graphic Signs of Authority in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 300–900, Oxford 2018

Graphic Signs of Authority in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 300–900 is a 2018 publication by University of Oslo‘s Professor for late antique and early medieval history, Idlar Garipzanov. It is a derivative of chapter 4 of his book The Symbolic Language of Authority in the Carolingian World (2008) and deals with the cultural history of what he calls „graphic signs“. These graphic signs are essentially symbols: Garipzanov examines specifically early Christian signs and monograms. He searches for their origins, history and usage in the early Christian religious world and analyses their function as symbols of divine and secular authority. Garipzanov argues that „graphic signs of authority should be viewed as an immanent part of symbolic communication pertinent to political culture and its media“ because they „functioned as a visual medium expressing and communicating widely shared ideas, assumptions, attitudes, beliefs, and patterns of symbolic behaviour relating to the nature, as well as the various sources and forms, of authority in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages“ (p. 13).

The book is divided into three major parts. The first part focusses on the late antique graphic signs of the Mediterranean, including the monograms of Christ (Chi-Rho and Tau-Rho) and traces the development from their religious usage to their role in representing roman rulership. The second part deals with the rise of monogrammatic signs as symbols of secular and transcendent power in the fourth through the sixth century. These monograms combine the name of an individual officer with crosses or Chi-Rhos, and therefore connect these individual signs with the power of Christian symbols. The last part explores the culture and traditions that surround monograms and goes on to examine the monograms in the Carolingian era. It focusses on how the cross developed into the almost exclusive symbol of power in the Middle Ages.

In his research, Garipzanov focusses on graphic signs, primarily on coins, architectural monuments, everyday-items, on objects used for liturgy and on objects representing power, such as ivorydyptichs or onionhead-brooches. He compares them with the written sources such as inscriptions, poems, etc. In doing so, Garipzanov has collected and analysed a great number of objects and pictograms that are useful for anyone interested in signs of power in this period. The book is a helpful tool to analyse for example the representations of emperors in Christian environments. It is valuable also for a general audience, because it broadens the (stereo-)typical view of early Christian signs.