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Justinian II gold solidus coin with image of Christ

Justinian II gold solidus coin with image of ChristThis is the first known Byzantine coin with an image of Christ on the front of the gold solidus coin. A full length likeness of the emperor, Justinian II, is on the back side of the coin.

Current numismatic scholarship figures that this coin was minted in 692. Justinian ruled, off and on, between 685 and 711. This coin was issued before his reign was interrupted in 695 by Leontius. and Tiberius III. They removed the use of the image of Christ on the coins of the realm. However, when Justinian regained the throne in 705.

The image on the coin matches many of the Vignon markings suggesting that it may have been inspired directly or indirectly from the Image of Edessa (presumed to be the Shroud of Turin). Notice in particular the two wisps of hair in the center of the forehead, the uneven length of hair on each side of the face, the large, owlish eyes, the characteristics of the beard.

Philip Grierson, writing in the Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and Whittemore Collection argues that that the likeness of Christ was derived from an image of Christ in the Chrysotriclinos, the Golden Pavilion in Constantinople. The Golden Pavilion served as a church and a throne room for the emperor. The problem is that don’t know exactly when it was built or when a Christ image was installed. The original image was replaced later and we don’t know anything about the original image.  It is possible that original pavilion image was created about the time that the St. Catherine icon was painted and we might speculate that it might have been inspired by the Image of Edessa.  The historical problem is that we don’t have enough information.

Even so, the Vignon markings comparison to the Shroud of Turin image, is compelling.

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