Knight Salomon’s medallion

Fabio Spadini, University of Fribourg

 

The Bible+ORIENT Museum owns a bronze medallion (50 x 32,7 x 0,8 mm with suspension ring) depicting King Knight Salomon fighting Evil which is personified by a female demon named Gillô, Gulou, Abyzou or Obuzouth in literary sources.

One side shows Knight Salomon, with a halo above his head, striking down a female demon with his cross-like spear. The demon lies on the floor and one can distinguish her long hair and the cloth wrapped around her. A Greek inscription reveals the outcome of the fight: εἷς θεὸς ὁ νικῶν, ‘a single God is the winner’. On the back, another Greek inscription is distributed in four lines: ο κ ο ικον εν βοηθια. This engraving has been read as ὁ ικῶν ἐν βοηθίᾳ, namely ‘an icon which can help when despairing’. However, the opening suggests a different reconstruction as follows: ὁ κα̣τ̣οικ<ῶ[1]>ν ἐν βοηθίᾳ[2], namely ‘that finds shelter in protection’. This is the opening of the Psalm 90, an imprecation formula, which is part of the Greek Bible, the Septuaginta.

This medallion can be dated between the 5th-6th centuries AD according to iconographic and stylistic elements. The most ancient version of the Salomon scheme appears during the 4th century AD and is engraved on haematite stones. The Knight wears military clothes, without an halo, and kills the demon with a spear. The inscription on the front names him Salomon and the demon ‘the hatred one’, while the inscription on the back defines the object as the sphragis theos, namely ‘the seal of god’. During the 5th century AD, Salomon gets the attributes of holy knights, such as Saint Michael and Saint Sisinnios, in particular the halo and the cross-like spear. Since this period Salomon’s name is no longer widely engraved on amulets. The absence of his name and the two new attributes allow us to place the medallion in the last stage of the development of this scheme.

Despite stylistic differences, the function of this amulet is the same. It aims to imitate the power of the ring that God gave to Salomon according to the Testamentum Salomonis, written between the 1st and the 4th century AD. Every demon is responsible for a specific disease. When a servant of the Evil is slayed, the affliction is defeated as well. Obuzouth is a demon who ‘does not sleep at night’ and hunts pregnant women and newborn babies. She can also harm the health of anyone, make blind and deaf, lose the mind, damage eyesight, and overall bring pain inside the body. Blessed with the power to dominate demons, the King thus could free men from all diseases, as the historian Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) sums up: “God granted him knowledge of the art used against demons for the benefit and healing of men. He also composed incantations by which illnesses are relieved, and left behind forms of exorcisms with which those possessed by demons drive them out, never to return.” (Jewish Antiquities, VIII, 45-47, transl. R. Marcus, Harvard, Loeb Edition, 1934).

The power of the amulet is enhanced by the inscription of the sentence opening Psalm 90 which is still is used in monasteries to ease the healing process. The medallion of the Bible+ORIENT Museum thus belongs to the category of amulets with apotropaic and therapeutic functions.

 


[1] Here the engraver commited an error, engraving an omega instead of an omicron.

[2] The points under the letters shows that they left only equivocal traces, that could belong to other letters to the ones I considered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bronze

50 x 32,7 x 0,8 mm
5th-6th century AD
Inv.-No. GA 2010.1

 


A Selective Bibliography

COSENTINO, Augusto, « La tradizione del re Salomone come mago ed esorcista », in A. Mastrocinque (ed.), Gemme gnostiche e cultura ellenistica, Bologna, 2002, 41-59.

 

DASEN, Véronique, « Magic and Medicine: the Power of Seals », in Chr. Entwistle et N. Adams (éds.), ‘Gems of Heaven’. Recent Research on Engraved Gemstones in Late Antiquity c. AD 200-600, London, 2011, 69-74.

 

DULING, Dennis, « Solomon, exorcism, and the Son of David », The Harvard Theological Review, 68, 1975, 235-252.

 

HERRMANN Christian, STAUBLI, Thomas, 1001 Amulett. Altägyptischer Zauber, monotheisierte Talismane, säkulare Magie, Fribourg, 2010.

 

JOHNSTON, Sarah Iles, « The Testament of Solomon from late antiquity to the Renaissance », in J. Bremmer et J. Veenstra (eds.), The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, Leuven-Paris-Dudley, 2002, 35-49.

 

PATERA, Maria, Figures grecques de l’épouvante de l’antiquité au présent : Peurs enfantines et adultes, Leiden, 2014.

 

SPIER, Jeffrey, « Medieval byzantine magical amultes and their tradition », Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 56, 1993, 25-62.