The term Hypsistos refers to the worship of Theo Hypsistos, the most high God, sometimes referred to simply as Hypsistos. The cult was henotheistic in ideology and from iconographic evidence, had Jewish associations. The cult developed from the 1st century AD to the 4th century, with its height of popularity occurring in the 2nd – 3rd century AD. Hypsistarians, the term given to followers of the cult, are associated with the ‘God-fearers’ mentioned in the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles. They are mentioned by name in the 4th century writings of Christian authors and were described as practising a mixture of pagan traditions and Jewish practices. The evidence from dedications shows a deliberate lack of attribution to the ‘most-high God’ and instead the epithet seems to be attached to a mixture of Zeus, Theos and localised deities. Thus, it shows a widespread shift in pagan worship, from a pantheism to pagan monotheism.
A Late Roman Bronze Lamp Handle Dedicated to Theos Hypsistos
A late Roman fitting, most likely a lamp handle, formed from bronze depicting stylised dolphins. The prominent strap consists of an initial square set protrusion, which acts as the dolphin’s jaw. This then curves upwards to form a fin and flows downwards towards the rectangular attached plaque, terminating in a tail. A stylised, inscribed scroll also leads from the body, as a further decorative element. The tail and lower section of another dolphin also remain; however the head and fin are now lost. The square-set ends of the dolphin would have attached to the main body of a lamp. The lamp and handle would have then been attached via the loop to a fitting, to hang suspended. The rectangular plaque is inscribed with two rows of text to both sides. The obverse features the following: ΘΕΩ ΥΨΙ/CΤΩ ΟΝ Η with a palm motif interspersed in the centre. The reverse features the lines CIMOCANE ΘΗΚΕ, with two similar palm motifs looped above the inscription. The plaque then leads to a loop, for attachment, decorated with a ropework pattern. The inscription transliterates as THEOS HYPSISTOS and SIMOSANES THIKE, translating as ‘God Most High, Simosanes dedicates’.
Measurements given include the width and height of the stand. The fitting itself measures: 13cm H x 6.5cm W.
Condition: Very fine. Second dolphin now missing. Slight erosion to attachment loop. Comes with a custom made stand.