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The labarum (Greek: λάβαρον) was a vexillum (military standard) that displayed the "Chi-Rho" symbol , formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Χριστός) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ).[1] It was used by the Roman emperor Constantine I. Since the vexillum consisted of a flag suspended from the crossbar of a cross, it was ideally suited to symbolize the crucifixion of Christ.

The etymology of the word labarum is unclear;[2] it is perhaps to be derived from Latin /labāre/ 'to totter, to waver' (in the sense of the "waving" of a flag in the breeze). Other proposals include a derivation from Celtic llafar ("eloquent"), from the Latin laureum [vexillum] ("laurel standard")[3] or from ancient Cantabri dialect labaro ('four heads') (in modern-day Basque the word is lauburu, with the same meaning), an ancient celtic symbol taken by the Legions during the Cantabrian Wars.

Later usage has sometimes regarded the terms "labarum" and "Chi-Rho" as synonyms. Ancient sources, however, draw an unambiguous distinction between the two.


Vision of Constantine

On the evening of October 27, 312, with his army preparing for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the emperor Constantine I had a vision which led him to fight under the protection of the Christian God.

Lactantius states[4] that, in the night before the battle, Constantine was commanded in a dream to "delineate the heavenly sign on the shields of his soldiers". He obeyed and marked the shields with a sign "denoting Christ". Lactantius describes that sign as a "staurogram", or a Latin cross with its upper end rounded in a P-like fashion, rather than the better known Chi-Rho sign described by Eusebius of Caesarea. Thus, it had both the form of a cross and the monogram of Christ's name from the formed letters "X" and "P", the first letters of Christ's name in Greek.

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