The Chi Rho symbol was formed by overlaying the Greek capital letters chi and rho (X and P) so that the vertical stroke of the rho passes through the centre of the chi. These characters were used as they were the first two characters of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Khristos; or Christ). This version of the symbol is contained within a circle, which may be representative of a wreath, symbolising Christ’s victory over death through the Resurrection. The symbol was adopted for use as a military standard by Constantine the Great, and from then onwards became part of the official imperial insignia of the Byzantine Empire. In the ancient world, personal handwritten signatures were not used as a sole means of identification, and so most documents required a seal, whereby the sender’s insignia could be pressed into wax in order to verify the authenticity of the document.
To disocver more about Byzantine art, please visit our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire, Art and Christianity.