Justin I (518–527)
The historian Prokopios mocked Justin as illiterate and dull and to some degree the charge was warranted. The son of a peasant family from the Balkans, Justin's only hope of rising in the world was to pursue a military career. He rose to command of the imperial guard and was therefore in a position to seize power on the death of the childless Anastasius I in 518. Justin was to be overshadowed by his nephew and successor Justinian I, but his reign was not without achievements. Justin reversed Anastasius’s religious policy, for which he would be favorably remembered by later historians, and ensured the succession of Justinian by purging families and officials raised up by Anastasius. Along the frontiers, in Lazica and Ethiopia as well as among the Huns and Arabs, Justin sought to cultivate client states. He established generally positive relations with the West, with the exception of the Ostrogoths under Theodoric, as well as with the papacy. Kavad I of Persia besought Justin to adopt his son Chosroes I in order to guarantee Byzantine protection for his succession, a plan which ultimately failed and soured relations. In his anti-Monophysite religious policy, relations with Persia, and overtures to the West, Justin charted a course that his nephew Justinian would follow.
The seals, and solidi, of Justin I continue the late Roman practice of depicting the emperor on the obverse, en buste. He is shown turned slightly, wearing military costume and holding a spear; the shield is decorated with a horseman device. This seal’s reverse shows an angel holding a globus cruciger and long staff; although the latter is obscure, it could be a long cross or staff topped by a Christogram, both of which are present on his coins. This is a very rare example of a seal attributed to Justin I. It is of special interest because a remarkable series of iconographic changes begins with this seal as the emperors alternated between pagan and Christian symbols. On this seal the traditional depiction of a female Winged Victory has been transformed into a male angel. This noteworthy change was abandoned by Justinian who returned to the pagan iconography, which would itself be replaced by the Mother of God under Tiberius II (578–582).
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