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Lot 157

Byzantine Empire. Justinian II, Second Reign, 705-711 AD. Gold Solidus (4.43 g), Constantinople mint. Facing bust of Christ, nimbate, holding Gospels. Reverse: Facing crowned busts of Justinian and son, Tiberius. SBC 1414; D.O. 2a. Choice strike and style. Extremely lustrous. NGC graded Choice Uncirculated.

At the end of the 5th century, in the year 498 AD, the emperor Anastasius initiated currency reform as part of a package of reforms (mostly financial) following a century of disasters, which ultimately saw the loss of the Roman West to barbarian overlords. During all this time, Rome's gold solidus (this was the earlier, venerable gold aureus, revamped as a lighter coin by Constantine the Great over a century and a half earlier) continued to be used in Byzantium at a relatively consistent weight for the most part, and more so, at a consistent purity of 24 karats. This was the pattern for the solidus for the next five centuries.

In this otherwise static situation Justinian left his mark on the Empire's coinage by placing on his own gold coin, as a show of his religious devotion, an image of Christ. He was the first Christian ruler to do so. The image seen on the coins of the first reign differs widely from that employed in the second reign, and reflects the variety of icon portrait traditions then current -- the first being more realistic, and likely more accessible and approachable as a godhead to the viewer, even if these earliest coins with the Holy portrait may have at first proved shocking to the public (as they quite likely did).

The second, as seen above, shows Jesus in a very mannered portrayal -- with short, neatly trimmed beard, and his hair arranged into rows of precise curls. Here we have a decidedly "Imperial," perhaps even an authoritarian deity.

With Justinian, however, religiosity does not denote any excellence or superiority in personal or moral character. His despotic behavior, his bloody persecutions, the greed and rapaciousness of both he and his minions, coupled with the burden of costly building projects accompanied by loss of Empire to the Arabs, all led to his overthrow, wherein the deposed emperor's new status was made blatant by Justinian's tongue and nose being slit (thus his nickname "Rhinometus" or "no nose"). He was then forced into exile to the Crimea in 695 AD. He would return in 705 at the head of an army of Bulgarian allies and take back the thrown. Much of Justinian's energies in his second reign were devoted to satisfying his vendettas against his personal enemies. The Arabs, again benefiting from the Byzantine's internal conflicts, seized more territory in Asia Minor. Justinian's reign of terror finally ended when revolt arose in his disaffected army, and with the proclamation of a general as emperor. The hated Justinian and his six-year-old son were seized and put to death in December of 711.

Personal qualities aside, however, Justinian's artistic innovation would dictate the appearance (once the religious-political-artistic crisis of the "iconoclast" and "iconodules" factions of the 8th and early 9th centuries were resolved) of Byzantine coinage till the end of its existence. It would further spawn a host of imitators and would largely influence the look of European coinage for many centuries to follow.
Estimated Value $2,500 - 3,000.
Illustrated in Money of the World, coin 61.

Realized $7,188

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