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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton VII, Lot: 1082. Estimate $50000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 12 January 2004. 
Sold For $45000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

JUSTIN II and TIBERIUS II. 26 September- 5 October 578 AD. AV Solidus (4.39 gm). Constantinople mint. DN IVSTINI ET CONSTAN PP AVG, crowned and draped busts of Justin and Tiberius facing, cross between / VICTORI A AVCCC, angel standing facing, holding long staff surmounted by a Christogram and globus cruciger; Z/CONOB. DOC I 1; MIB II 1.1 (this coin—illustrated from a copy in the BM); SB 417. EF, traces of mounting on edge. Extremely rare; one of the supreme rarities of the Byzantine series. [See color enlargement on plate 20] ($50,000)

From the Glenn Woods Collection. Ex Sotheby's 2 November 1998, lot 121; William Herbert Hunt Collection (Sotheby's, 5-6 November 1990, lot 124.

It is likely that no more than four or five of these joint-reign solidi exist. Considering the brevity of the joint reign, it is remarkable that such coins were struck or that any have survived, but their existence proves the ceremonial and legitimizing value of coinage. Justin II ascended the throne after the long and awe-inspiring reign of his uncle by marriage, Justinian I. It would have been daunting enough to be measured against the glory of that reign, but Justin was further hampered by ill health, probably including epilepsy and mental instability. Pressure from his influential wife Sophia, daughter of Theodora, and the imperial court led to the nomination of Tiberius as Caesar in 574 AD. Tiberius proved a competent administrator, and opinion mounted that the junior ruler should be elevated to full co-Augustus. The fragile Justin acceded to this, and Tiberius became Augustus on 26 September 578 AD. Rather "conveniently" the senior Augustus died nine days later.

The production of joint reign solidi must have been planned and probably implemented in advance, and attests to the importance attached to such coinage. This is hinted at in a publication concerning the first recovered example of this coinage (P. Grierson, "The Kyrenia Girdle of Byzantine Medallions and Solidi", in NumChron (1955), pp. 54-70). A massive gold belt was discovered in Cyprus in 1902, ornamented with four six-solidi consular medallions of Maurice Tiberius (dated to 582 AD) and thirteen solidi—an IMP XXXXII of Theodosius II, three Justin I and Justinian I joint reign, the Justin II and Tiberius, and eight consular solidi of Maurice. Grierson notes the rarity of the solidi, but does not emphasize the theme linking them. Theodosius' solidi mark his 42nd year as ruler, equal to the reign of Augustus; the joint reign solidi denote dynastic continuity; and the consular solidi of Maurice record the preservation of an ancient traditional office. All the solidi promote the theme of imperial and dynastic continuity, and it is tempting to see the belt as associated with celebrations surrounding the birth of Theodosius, son of Maurice, in 583 AD, the first prince "born to the purple" since Theodosius II. (There is also the possibility that one or both of the consular issues are connected to Maurice's second consulship in 602 AD. At that time, the celebrations would have been for the marriage of Theodosius [see lot 806 above].) The belt, embellished with one-half pound of coined gold plus one solidus (maybe some pieces were a little light?) must have been a donativa presented to a high ranking official, maybe even a member of the imperial family. The pieces were selected not for their rarity, but for their propaganda value. The joint reign solidi of Justin II and Tiberius were struck for the same reason—a tangible reminder of the solidity of the imperial succession.