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Justinian I (527–65)

Accession number BZS.1958.106.558 (formerly DO 58.106.558)
Diameter 23 mm
Condition Chipped.
Previous Editions

DO Seals 6 no. 4.2.


Nimbate, beardless bust of Justinian I, facing forward, wearing both a helmet with diadem, trefoil ornament, and pendilia, and a chlamys. Remains of a circular inscription at right. Border of dots.


[D(ominus) n(oster) Iustini]anus p(er)p(etuus) a[ug(ustus)].


Winged Victory advancing, wearing a long chiton and holding a victory wreath in each hand. A small cross visible at right. No epigraphy. Border of dots.


Dominus noster Iustinianus perpetuus augustus.

Our lord Justinian, eternal augustus.


One could argue on the basis of the depiction of Justinian as a nimbate facing bust that this seal and others were issued after 538. A facing bust first appears on solidi issued by Justinian between 538 and 545. On issues of earlier date the emperor’s head is turned slightly to the right, and he holds a spear behind the head; however, currently  there are no seals of Justinian with this design. The possibility, then, is that none were ever struck and that from 527 onward the chancery regularly employed seals bearing a representation of the emperor as a facing bust. Then there is the matter of Justinian’s nimbus. On solidi issued during the joint reign of Justin I and Justinian (4 April 527–1 August 527) the two emperors are shown seated and nimbate (see, for example, DOC 1:1a [pl. 12]). One could maintain that Justinian’s nimbus is rooted in a tradition stemming from gold emissions of April to August of 527 and that the use of the nimbus for decoration on seals was present early in Justinian’s reign, and is not unknown among his coins. Although rare, there is the case of the famous medallion with triumphal scene stolen from the Paris Collection in 1831 (see MIB 1: p. 46, and pl. 14, no. 1; also BNC 1: pl. 8). In addition there is a special issue of silver coinage struck at Constantinople after the issuance of silver was reorganized in 537 (nimbate emperor with a spear: MIB 1: p. 55 and pl. 18, nos. 42–45; also BNC 1:4/Cp/AR/3–4; pl. 10) . If the nimbus on seals is linked to coin decoration, one could point to these silver issues and reasonably suggest that their influence took hold after 537, but such an argument is hardly conclusive.

The image of Winged Victory holding a wreath is encountered on tremisses issued by Justinian between 527 and 565. With the addition of crosses the reverse of this seal has become somewhat more “Christian” than the reverse of the tremissis.

Usually Winged Victory holds wreaths from which two ribbons hang, while this specimen depicts three.