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Inspired by what anthropologists have called the social life of things, this article traces the shifting significations of the Royal Crown of Hungary. As an object central to notions of legitimacy in a land that served as a battleground for Eastern and Western powers during the medieval and modern eras, the crown over its contested history has come to be seen as a composite symbol of political independence and Western cultural affiliation. A thorough archaeology of the crown, however, reveals its origins as an eleventh-century diadem designed for a Byzantine princess. Subsequently this open crown was transformed into the closed crown worn by the king of a powerful and emerging Western monarchy. In the process of this re-gendering, the object was reconceived as papal gift. Bridging both instantiations is the crown's status as a gift, replete with associations of power and subjugation that anthropologists of gift-giving practices have long recognized.