Justinian I (527–65)

Accession Number:
BZS.1958.106.563 (formerly DO 58.106.563)

Previous Editions

DO Seals 6 no. 4.1; Zacos–Veglery, no. 3a.  For a similar specimen see Seyrig, no. 2

Details

Diameter:
22 mm
Field:
20 mm
Weight:
8.06 g
Condition:
Chipped.

Obverse

Justinian I (527–65)

Nimbate, beardless bust of Justinian I, facing forward, wearing both a helmet with diadem, trefoil ornament, and pendilia, and a chlamys. A circular inscription beginning at left. Indeterminate border.

Justinian I (527–65)

[D(ominus) n(oster) I]ustinianus p(er)p(etuus) aug(ustus).

Reverse

Justinian I (527–65)

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

Translation

Dominus noster Iustinianus perpetuus augustus.

Our lord Justinian, eternal augustus.

Audio

Commentary

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; he holds a spear behind the head. But this criterion has problems. To our knowledge, there are no seals of Justinian with this design. Accordingly we must admit the possibility 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. A nimbate Justinian is not unknown among coins struck during his sole reign. 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. On these specimens the emperor is shown nimbate standing with a spear (see 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. Finally, Justinian is depicted with a nimbus on glass weights. See, for example, Schlumberger, “Poids de verre,” 333, no. 39.

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.

 

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