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A New Addition to the Kyrenia Girdle


Maurice Tiberius. 582-602. AV mounted solidus (37x26mm, 10.67 g, 6h). Constantinople mint. Struck 583 or 602. D N M[AVRC] TIЬ P P AVC, emperor enthroned facing, wearing consular robes, holding mappa in raised right hand and cross in left / VICTORI-A AVCC S, Victory standing facing, holding staff surmounted by staurogram in right hand and globus cruciger in left; in exergue, CONOB. DOC 2 var. (unlisted officina); MIBE 2; SB 474 var. (unlisted officina). Circular mount has two raised edges to either side of central groove, and is soldered at 9 o’clock. One ring is attached on the left side of mount, two on the right. Coin VF. Minor impact damage to mount.

Ex Alexander White III Collection.

The form of the mount is identical to certain pieces belonging to the so-called Kyrenia Girdle in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. nos. 17.190.147 and 1991.136), and there can be little doubt that the current solidus originally belonged to the belt. The majority of the pieces comprising this girdle were found in the Second Kyrenia Treasure, discovered in 1902 in Kavaros, six miles west of Kyrenia in northern Cyprus, which consisted of exceptional silver plate in addition to ornate gold jewelry.1 John Pierpont Morgan purchased a portion of the hoard, including most of the surviving pieces of the girdle, in 1906 and donated them to the Metropolitan Museum in 1917.2 An extremely rare joint-reign solidus of Justin II and Tiberius II in the Cyprus Museum, Nicosia, also belongs to the girdle3, while another solidus of Maurice was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1991 (1991.136).

The known pieces of the girdle, including the mounted solidus in the possession of CNG, are as follows:

Theodosius II (402-450)

1) AV Solidus. D N THEODOSIVS P F AVC, diademed, helmeted, and cuirassed bust of Theodosius facing slightly right, holding spear in right hand and shield in left / IMP XXXXII COS XVII P P, Constantinopolis enthroned left, right foot on prow, holding globus cruciger in right hand and scepter in left; star to right; in exergue, CONOB. [Grierson p. 63, 1].

Justin I and Justinian I (April-August 527)

2) AV Solidus. D N IVSTIN ЄT IVSTINIAN P P AVC, two emperors enthroned facing; in exergue, CONOB / VICTORIA AVCCΓ, angel standing facing, holding long cross in right hand and globus cruciger in left; in right field, star; in exergue, CONOB. [Grierson p. 63-4, 2].

3) AV Solidus. Similar to last, but officina S. [Grierson p. 64, 3].

4) AV Solidus. Similar to last, but officina I. [Grierson p. 64, 4].

Justin II and Tiberius II (September-October 578)

5) AV Solidus. D N IVSTINI ЄT CONSTAN, crowned, cuirassed, and draped busts of two emperors facing; above, cross; in exergue, P P AVC / VICTORIA AVCCCZ, angel standing facing, holding long cross in right hand and globus cruciger in left; in exergue, CONOB. [Grierson p. 64, 5].

Maurice Tiberius (582-602)

6) AV Medallion of 6 Solidi. D N MAVRIC TIЬЄR P P AVC, crowned bust of emperor facing, wearing consular robes, holding mappa in right hand and eagle-tipped scepter in left / D N MAVRI TIЬ P P AV, emperor standing facing in quadriga, nimbate and wearing crown and military attire, raising his right hand and holding globus surmounted by crowning Victory in left; in left field, Christogram; in right field, star; in exergue, CONOB. [Grierson p. 58].

7-9) From the same dies as last.

10) AV Solidus. D N MAVRC TIЬ P P AVC, emperor enthroned facing, wearing crown and consular robes, holding mappa in right hand and globus cruciger in left / VICTORIA AVCCA, angel standing facing, holding long staff surmounted by staurogram in right hand and globus cruciger in left; in exergue, CONOB. [Grierson p. 65, 6].

11) Similar to last. [Grierson p. 65, 7].

12) Similar to last, but officina Δ. [Grierson p. 65, 10].

13) Similar to last, but officina S. [This piece].

14) Similar to last, but officina H. [Grierson p. 65, 8].

15) Similar to last. [Grierson p. 65, 9].

16) Similar to last, but officina Z. [Grierson p. 65, 11].

17) Similar to last, but officina Θ. [Metropolitan Museum 1991.136].

18) Similar to last, but officina I. [Grierson p. 65, 12].

19) Similar to last, but officina indistinct. [Grierson p. 65, 13].

A terminus post quem for the girdle hinges on the dating of the consular issues of Maurice Tiberius, which could have been struck on the occasion of his first consulship in January of 583 or his second in January of 602. Grierson at first dated the consular medallions and solidi to 6024, but later revised the date to 583 based on the stylistic similarities of the girdle’s medallions to the “Epiphany Medallion,” also from the Second Kyrenia Treasure and now in the collection of Dumbarton Oaks. He argued that the Epiphany Medallion would have been presented to a high official on the occasion of the baptism of Maurice’s first-born son and heir Theodosius in 584.5

Alfred Bellinger did not specify if the consular issues were struck in either 583 or 602, finding valid arguments for both dates, but slightly favoring an association with the second consulship for both the medallions and solidi.6 Wolfgang Hahn and Michael Metlich have contended that the abbreviation of the emperor’s name was shortened from MAVRIC TIBER to MAVRC TIB toward the end of the second year of his reign.7 Following this argument, the medallions would date to the assumption of the first consulship in 583, while the solidi date to the second consulship of 602.

Gold medallions of 6 solidi were reserved for officials of extremely high rank, and it has been suggested that the girdle may have belonged to a governor.8 According to Grierson, “There can have been few dignitaries in the empire able to afford a girdle weighing nearly a pound of gold, the equivalent of a quarter of a year’s salary of an average provincial governor.”9 Noting the association of such girdles with baptismal and nuptial ceremonies, Hahn and Metlich’s proposal that the owner of the girdle took part in the wedding of Maurice’s son Theodosius in 601/2 is highly interesting but rather speculative.10

Grierson believed the Second Kyrenia Treasure to have been “…buried in 609/10, when Cyprus and Syria were involved in the revolt of Heraclius against Phocas, or during the Persian invasion of Syria a few years later, which must have resulted in the hurried flight of refugees to places of safety in Cyprus or farther afield.”11 The counterstamps on the silver plate found in the hoard, however, have since been identified as dating from the reign of Heraclius, circa 613-629/30, and the plates themselves were very likely created to celebrate Heraclius’ victory over the Persians in 628.12 A possible date of burial may be 653/4, when Arab forces sacked the nearby town of Lapethos.13

1 O. M. Dalton, “A second silver treasure from Cyprus,” Archaeologia LX (1906), pp. 1-24.

2 O. M. Dalton, “Byzantine plate and jewelry from Cyprus in Mr. Morgan’s collection,” Burlington Magazine X (1906-7), pp. 355-62.

3 Philip Grierson, “The Kyrenia Girdle of Byzantine medallions and solidi,” Numismatic Chronicle XV (1955), pp. 64-5, pl. VIII, 5.

4 Grierson, “Kyrenia Girdle,” p. 70.

5 Grierson, “The date of the Dumbarton Oaks Epiphany Medallion,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 15 (1961), pp. 221-4. See also Marvin C. Ross, “A Byzantine gold medallion at Dumbarton Oaks,” Dumarton Oaks Papers 11 (1957), pp. 247-61.

6 Alfred Bellinger, Catalogue of the Byzantine coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whitttemore Collection (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1966), p. 294, notes (I) and 2.

7 Wolfgang Hahn and Michael Metlich, Money of the incipient Byzantine Empire: Justin II – Revolt of the Heraclii, 565-610 (Wien: Universität Wien, 2009), p. 44.

8 Grierson, “Kyrenia Girdle,” p. 69; Kurt Weitzmann, ed., Age of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979), p. 72.

9 Grierson, “Kyrenia Girdle,” p. 69.

10 Hahn and Metlich, Money, p. 44, note 96.

11 Grierson, “Kyrenia Girdle,” p. 70.

12 Helen C. Evans, “Heraclius,” Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (New York: Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 16-7; Steven H. Wander, “The Cyprus plates: the story of David and Goliath,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 8 (1973), p. 103.

13 Grierson, “Kyrenia Girdle,” p. 70; Weitzmann, ed., Age of Spirituality, p. 72.