During the Byzantine era, weights and measures were under the strict control of a centralized administration. The weight system was based on the Byzantine litra, derived from the late Roman pound. This unit of measure was equal to the weight of seventy-two solidi, the standard gold coin of the Byzantine Empire introduced by Constantine the Great in 309 A.D. Furthermore, the litra could be divided into twelve ounces, the ounce in turn into multiple of the scripulum, the smallest unit of measure. Three materials were traditionally employed in the manufacture of Byzantine commodity and currency weights: bronze, glass, and lead. Only in rare instances were gold or silver used. There were also three common shapes for these standard weights: flattened spheres with truncated sides, squares, and discs. It is believed that the square was the predominant shape from the 4th to the 6th century.
This square-shaped weight dates from this era and is especially notable due to the inlaid silver busts of the Virgin and Christ. An “S” inscribed underneath the two busts reveals that this weight would have been equal to the weight of a solidus. While inlaid silver portraits on weights are well-known, they are generally imperial figures, and the depiction of saints and religious figures is quite rare. Mary and Jesus are portrayed crowned with stylized nimbus halos. They are flanked by columns and a pair of arched lines that rise over their heads and connect the columns together, as if the artist was attempting to recreate an architectural framework. Without such weights, corruption and counterfeiting would have run rampant. This gorgeous weight reveals that religious piety was omnipresent in all facets of Byzantine life, even in very foundations of the economy. - (X.0171)