Chi-Rho ☧ originally a Symbol of the Centurion

May 2011
2,643
Rural Australia
#1
A common Christian legend has it that the Roman emperor Constantine first used the Chi-Rho symbol ☧ on his vexilla (military standards) to represent a christogram formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Χριστός) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ).
"By this, conquer!”

Eusebius, Life of Constantine,
Chapter XXVIII:
How, while he was praying, God sent him a Vision
of a Cross of Light in the Heavens at Mid-day,
with an Inscription admonishing him
to conquer by that.
Epigraphic evidence reveals however, that this symbol was at that time used as a symbol for, among other things, the centurion in the Roman army.... ἑκατόνταρχος ‎(hekatóntarkhos‎) (See Michael Avi-Yonah, Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine (Jerusalem: Government of Palestine, 1940) As reprinted in Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions Al. N. Oikonomides, Professor of Classics Loyola University Chicargo. Illinois,ARES Publishing 1974., p.112, also see a variation of the Chi-Rho in the Meggido inscription - “the Chapel of the Centurion”)


https://www.larp.com/legioxx/signum.html
LEGIO XX--THE TWENTIETH LEGION
SIGNUM AND VEXILLUM
Each century in a cohort had a signum or battle standard. It was carried by the signifer, who wore a bear or wolf pelt over his helmet and hanging down his back.
Very few if any vexilla are preserved.
Vexillum and Victory
Author(s): M. Rostovtzeff
Source: The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 32, Parts 1 and 2 (1942), pp. 92-106
Published by: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
Stable URL: Vexillum and Victory on JSTOR


To what extent, if any, do people here think that this symbol was used retrospectively in the Christian legend, on the basis that the symbol was in epigraphic use at that time as the symbol for the centurion?
 
Last edited:
Feb 2017
325
The Rainforests
#3
A common Christian legend has it that the Roman emperor Constantine first used the Chi-Rho symbol ☧ on his vexilla (military standards) to represent a christogram formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Χριστός) —
I agree. And I am almost tempted to "proselytize".....but then again naah (cause it's against the rules)
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Jan 2018
283
Netherlands
#4
Christians might have adopted the chi-rho symbol because it was already used as an abbreviation for "chreston", but I fail to see a connection between the early church and Roman centurions - unless perhaps you want to speculate about the existence of some sort of secret tradition of Roman Christians associating themselves with Cornelius from the New Testament, but that seems far fetched.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,490
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#5
I repeat here what I've already noted about this hypothesis:

to put on the armor of all Marines the symbol of the lieutenant would be quite curious ... the same about thinking that Constantine decided to put on the shield of all his warriors the symbol of the Centurion.

P.S. But this doesn't mean I exclude the hypothesis ... it sounds odd. Nothing else.
 
May 2011
2,643
Rural Australia
#6
That seems extremely unlikely and more context of the epigraphic inscriptions needs to be presented in order for me to make a judgement.

Here is an extract from the source cited in the OP.



The CHI-RHO seems to have been an abbreviation for - apart from "Christos" - the following:

ἑκατόνταρχος ‎(hekatóntarkhos‎) centurion (multiple occurrences)
χιλιάρχης ... Chiliarch ("commander of a thousand"; "thousandman")
χρεοφυλάκειον ..... (Chreophylax) Dura, Seleucid Financial Magistrate?
χρήσιμος ..... (Chrestos) useful, serviceable, good for use, good, apt. Strong's Greek: 5543
χρόνος .... • (chrónos)
χρυσός .... • (chrysós) gold (metal element, see above)

The context of these inscriptions may need further research, although it appears (from the above) that one of the occurrences for the symbol as representing "centurion" is dated in the later 2nd century
 
May 2011
2,643
Rural Australia
#7
Christians might have adopted the chi-rho symbol because it was already used as an abbreviation for "chreston", but I fail to see a connection between the early church and Roman centurions - unless perhaps you want to speculate about the existence of some sort of secret tradition of Roman Christians associating themselves with Cornelius from the New Testament, but that seems far fetched.
The CHI-RHO as a symbol for Christ does not seem to unambiguously appear in the historical record until the rule of the Christian emperors, starting with Constantine, where it appears on their coinage (c.317 CE onwards) and is then associated with Christian inscriptions.

While it is true that the Chi-Rho symbol was also used as an abbreviation for "chreston" (among other things -- see the above post), it appears to be rather well substantiated in an epigraphic context as a symbol for two Roman military terms - centurion (multiple occurrences) and chiliarch.

The OP is not suggesting any type of secret tradition. Rather it is suggesting that - in the context of the Christian "legend" that Constantine conquered by this inscription, the Chi-Rho - this inscription already had a known Roman military context as a symbol for the centurion.
 
May 2011
2,643
Rural Australia
#9
I repeat here what I've already noted about this hypothesis:

to put on the armor of all Marines the symbol of the lieutenant would be quite curious ... the same about thinking that Constantine decided to put on the shield of all his warriors the symbol of the Centurion.

P.S. But this doesn't mean I exclude the hypothesis ... it sounds odd. Nothing else.
It seems to be a fact that the Roman army worked in units of centuries, and that each century in a cohort had a signum or battle standard. It also seems to be a fact that the symbol of the Chi-Rho was employed in the epigraphic evidence as a symbol of a centurion.

The hypothesis here being considered is whether this same symbol may have appeared at the top of the battle standards carried by the signifier of each century. As indicated in the OP there appears to be no primary evidence for this because no vexilla (with perhaps one exception) have survived or have been preserved by the ravages of time.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,490
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#10
Generalized or Eastern?

It seems to be a fact that the Roman army worked in units of centuries, and that each century in a cohort had a signum or battle standard. It also seems to be a fact that the symbol of the Chi-Rho was employed in the epigraphic evidence as a symbol of a centurion.

The hypothesis here being considered is whether this same symbol may have appeared at the top of the battle standards carried by the signifier of each century. As indicated in the OP there appears to be no primary evidence for this because no vexilla (with perhaps one exception) have survived or have been preserved by the ravages of time.
So we are in a not rare situation of absence of confirmations and absence of counter evidences.

Anyway we are not considering something appearing on the shields of all legionaries ...

A part this detail, in this hypothesis was the usage of this symbol generalized, or limited to the Eastern Legions?

[I'm going to make some research about the vexilla and I will check also the "cantabrum" of some cavalry units].
 

Similar History Discussions