Solidus of Justinian II
Jesus Christ first appeared on Roman coins during the reign of Justinian II. He ruled the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine Empire) from 685 to 695 A.D. and again from 705 to 711 A.D.
Reign of Justinian II
Justinian II first ruled the Roman Empire alongside his father, Emperor Constantine IV. In 685, at the age of 16, Justinian II succeeded his father as sole emperor. Capitalizing on the relative peace and prosperity of the empire, Justinian sought to return it to its former glory.
Justinian II was successful in reclaiming territory and expanding the imperial army. In 688 A.D., he reached a treaty with the Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan to divide Cyprus with the Arabs. He was also able to defeat the Slavs and regain control over the Balkans. In 689 A.D., Justinian defeated the Bulgars of Macedonia and was finally able to enter Thessalonica, which had once been a major city of the Byzantine Empire.
On the home front, not everyone agreed with Justinian’s policies, particularly with regard to religion and taxation. After ruling for ten years, Justinian was overthrown. His nose was cut off, and he was forced into exile. In 705 A.D., Justinian II, backed by an army of Bulgars and Slavs, won back the throne. His revenge and mistrust fueled a despotic reign. A second rebellion, which began in the army, removed him from the throne. The general Bardanes was named Emperor, and Justinian II, along with his son, Tiberius, was put to death.
Solidus Featuring Christ
Justinian II was the first emperor to feature a bust of Christ on his coins. Because Christ took precedence over the earthly ruler, Christ was depicted on the obverse, while the image of the emperor was moved to the reverse.
The image of Christ first used on the Solidus is known as Christ as Pantokrator or Ruler of the World. The depiction reflects the Quinsextine Council of 692 A.D., which ruled that Jesus could no longer be portrayed as a Pascal Lamb but rather only be portrayed as a human figure.
In the coins minted during the second reign of Justinian II, the forward-facing bust of Christ is depicted with curly hair and a short beard. He is wearing a pallium and a colobium, with a cross behind his head. Christ is raising His right hand in benediction and holding book of Gospel. The obverse includes the following inscription: D N IhS ChS REX REGNANTIUM.
The reverse of the Solidus features the forward-facing crowned bust of Justinian, wearing a loros. He is holding a cross potent on three steps, and a patriarchal cross on a globe. The inscription is D N IUSTINIANUS MULTUS AN.