The Chi Rho. The letter Chi, the letter Rho. The first letters in the Greek rendering of Christ. Superimpose them and you have a monogram, a Christogram, that stood for Christ, pronounced like “Cairo”. When was it first used? It bloomed in the second part of the fourth century, in coins, mosaics, sarcophagi, as one of the new Christian visuals.
But what about this beauty?
Here’s the Serpent (the recently defeated Licinius) spiked by Constantine’s standard, a standard topped by the Chi Rho. The coin is a rare bronze issued in 327 by the new mint in Constantinople. Some of Constantine’s earlier coins have the Chi Rho too but some argue that these are merely mint marks. This Chi Rho is nothing of the sort. It tops the depicted standard, presumably Constantine’s famous labarum.
Why so rare? Why not more use? Why were it and other Christian symbols not spread widely by the first “Christian” emperor, as he lavished great basilicas on his previously modest cult? Just another piece of the puzzle that is the first part of this century, the puzzle of that man left standing afterwards as Rome’s sole leader.