previous next


λάβαρον and λάβουρον). The sacred banner or standard borne before the Roman emperors in war from the time of Constantine. It is described as a long pike intersected by a transverse beam. A silken veil, of a purple colour, hung down from the beam, and was adorned with precious stones, and curiously inwrought with the images of the reigning monarch and his children. The summit of the pike supported a crown of gold, which enclosed the monogram at once expressive of the figure of the cross, and the two initial letters (X and P) of the name of Christ. The safety of the Labarum was intrusted to fifty guards of approved valour and fidelity. In the Second Civil War, Licinius felt the power of this consecrated banner, the sight of which, in the stress of battle, animated the soldiers of Constantine with an invincible enthusiasm, and scattered terror and dismay through the adverse legions. Eusebius (Vit. Const. i. 2, 7 foll.) introduces the Labarum before the Italian expedition of Constantine; but his narrative seems to indicate that it was never shown at the head of an army till Constantine, about ten years afterwards, declared himself the enemy of Licinius and the deliverer of the Church. The Christian emperors, who re


spected the example of Constantine, displayed in all their military expeditions the standard of the cross; but when the successors of Theodosius had ceased to appear in person at the head of their armies, the Labarum was deposited as a venerable but useless relic in the palace of Constantinople. Its form is still preserved on the medals of the Flavian family; and there is extant a medal of the emperor Constantius, where the standard of the Labarum is accompanied with these memorable words: “By this sign thou shalt conquer.”

The history of this standard is a curious one. A contemporary writer (Caecilius) affirms that in the night which preceded the last battle against Maxentius (A.D. 312), Constantine was admonished in a dream to inscribe the shields of his soldiers with the “celestial sign of God,” the sacred monogram of the name of Christ; that he executed the command, and that his obedience was rewarded by a decisive victory at the Milvian bridge. The dream of Constantine may be naturally explained either by the enthusiasm or the policy of the emperor. While his anxiety for the approaching day, which must decide the fate of the Empire, was suspended by a short and interrupted slumber, the revered form of the Saviour and the well-known symbol of his religion might forcibly offer themselves to the active fancy of a prince who reverenced the name, and had, perhaps, secretly implored the power of the God of the Christians. As readily, on the other hand, might a consummate statesman indulge himself in the use of one of those military stratagems, one of those pious frauds, which Philip and Sertorius had employed with such art and effect.

The account given by Eusebius , however, is different from this. According to his statement, Constantine is reported to have seen with his own eyes the luminous trophy of the cross placed above the meridian sun, and inscribed with the following words in Greek: Ἐν τούτῳ νίκα. This appearance in the sky astonished the whole army, as well as the emperor himself, who was yet undetermined in the choice of a religion; but his astonishment was converted into faith by the vision of the ensuing night. The Saviour appeared before his eyes, and displayed the same celestial sign of the cross, directing Constantine to frame a similar standard, and to march, with an assurance of victory, against Maxentius and all his enemies.

The form of the Labarum and monogram may be seen, as we have already said, on the medals of the Flavian family. The etymology of the term itself has given rise to many conflicting opinions. Some derive the name from labor; others from εὐλάβεια, “reverence”; others from λαμβάνειν, “to take”; and others, again, from λάφυρα, “spoils.” One writer makes Labarum to be like S.P.Q.R., only a notatio, or combination of initials to represent an equal number of terms; and thus, L.A.B.A.R.V.M. will stand for Legionum aquila Byzantium antiqua Roma urbe mutavit.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: