The Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection is one of the finest collections of artifacts from the Byzantine Empire. Spanning the imperial, ecclesiastical, and secular realms, the collection comprises more than twelve hundred objects from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. Among the most important objects are treasures of gold, silver, and bronze vessels used for the celebration of the Eucharist. Other outstanding objects are late Roman and Byzantine jewelry, cloisonné enamels, glass and glyptics, ivory icons, and illuminated manuscripts. The collection's emphasis on objects of precious materials underscores the conception of Byzantine art as luxury art. Nevertheless, many of these objects—plates, boxes, belts, lamps, and even jewelry—had a practical function in Byzantine life.
The collection includes also large-scale works of art such as mosaics from Antioch and relief sculpture from the late Roman to Middle Byzantine periods, as well as more than two hundred textiles and comprehensive holdings of coins and seals. Although the collection focuses on Byzantine art, it comprises objects of Greek, Roman, and western Medieval art; works from the Ancient Near East; Pharaonic and Ptolemaic Egypt; and Islamic cultures.