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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Second Known Gold ‘Two Solidi’ Bulla of Nicephorus III

Triton XV, Lot: 1648. Estimate $100000.
Sold for $80000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Nicephorus III Botaniates. 1078-1081. AV Bulla of ‘Two Solidi’ (24mm, 8.86 g, 12h). Bust of Christ Pantokrator facing; barred IC XC across field / [+ N]IKHΦ ΔεC Tω ROTAANIAT’, Nicephorus standing facing, wearing crown and loros, and holding labarum and globus cruciger. BLS I 96 = Grierson, Byzantine, 6 var. (rev. legend). VF, some minor roughness. An extremely rare and enigmatic type, with only one other published example of this weight class.

Used to seal official acts, imperial bullae, more commonly found in lead, were occasionally issued in gold for the Byzantine emperors’ most important acts (chrysoboulla). The weight of these impressive seals varied in accordance to the status of their intended recipients. For example, most dignitaries within the empire, along with a few outside of it, such as the Bishop of Rome, received gold seals set to the weight of one solidus (approximately 4.54g). A seal equivalent to the weight of two solidi would be sent to the Archon of Russia, kings of Georgia, Emirs of North Africa, and many other sovereigns of similar rank. Seals of three solidi weight were presented to the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, whereas the highest weight, those of four solidi, were reserved for the most important heads of state, such as the Caliph of Baghdad and the Sultan of Egypt.

Gold bullae in general are extremely rare, with those the weight of multiple solidi being even more so. Of this small group of interesting pieces, only a fraction remain in private hands, as the majority of them now reside in public collections. The only other published gold bulla of Nicephorus III of this weight is in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection; a similar piece of one solidus weight was sold in the Zacos Sale (Part I, Spink 127, 7 October 1998, lot 1), which realized £32,000, while two of a slightly higher weight are preserved at Mt. Athos.