Overlooked by collectors and museums visiting our website to acquire higher profile antiquities, such as Greek vases, Egyptian burial items or Roman sculptures, is a group of 3 tiny buttons in various materials, dating to the middle Byzantine era. These are exceptionally rare and deserve to be highlighted here. Link: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i205.html
The history of buttons is rather hazy, with button-like objects of uncertain use appearing in the archaeological record as far back as 2000 BCE. The first functional buttons, appearing in the Roman Imperial age, were limited in their use to elite members of society and were intended as much for decoration as practicality. But with the infusion of migratory cultures from the Eurasian steppe into Western Europe and the Balkans at the end of Antiquity and during the early Middle Ages, functional buttons became widespread. There is conjecture that the use of buttons in place of other fasteners (brooches and pins) resulted as much from colder climate conditions beginning around the same time as the fall of the western provinces Roman Empire, as much as from new cultural influences. In any case, Byzantine society adopted the use of buttons quickly.
The 3 buttons in our group are each made from different materials: bone, rock crystal and what appears to be steatite (soap stone). The simple steatite example is relatively common, with other examples in a variety of common stones known from excavations. By contrast, the bone example is quite elaborately worked with multiple fields of decoration involving both incision and infilling the incised decoration with a resistant material, possibly pitch. Very similar examples have been found in Byzantine layers at Corinth. This belonged to an elite individual whose clothing must certainly have reflected their status. Although its function is obvious, the small rock crystal example may be unique; we have not yet found documentation of another excavated and dated example in rock crystal, which was highly valued. Such a button would also have come from the garments of a high status individual.
Tiny as these objects are, they do offer just a glimpse into Byzantine society in its middle phase, the 9th to 13th Centuries. Their survival is, as with so many antiquities, a minor miracle.
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