Solidus (Coin) Portraying Heraclius and His Son Heraclius Constantine

A work made of gold.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of gold.

Date:

613/616

Artist:

Byzantine; minted in Constantinople (now Istanbul)

About this artwork

Portraits of important people appear on local currency all around the world. The same was true in ancient Rome, which began producing its first coinage in the late 4th century BC. Early coins depicted the heads of gods and goddesses on the front side, often in profile, while the back depicted animals, natural resources, symbols, and references to historical events. It was not until 44 BC that the portrait of a living person—Julius Caesar—appeared on coins. Thereafter, profile portraits of rulers or other members of the imperial family became the standard subject on coins throughout the Roman Empire.

Inscriptions on coins help identify the ruler. While the front side depicted the sovereign’s portrait, the back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or aspirations. Until Late Antiquity, portraits usually appeared in profile. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, with one for the front and another for the back. The coins were then struck, one by one, in a process similar to how coins are created today.

Coins were the ideal way for Byzantine rulers to rapidly circulate their images throughout the empire and beyond, since they were used to pay for imported merchandise and foreign mercenaries. They could also be employed as powerful vehicles for propaganda, promoting messages of dynastic legitimacy and the divine
source of the emperor’s right to rule.

After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine emperors adopted Christian themes and symbols, most notably the cross, to stand for both the religion and the political state. The previously ubiquitous profile portrait head was replaced by frontal or full-body depictions. Christ dominated the iconography, and Greek titles and phrases came to replace the Latin ones.

On View

Ancient and Byzantine Art, Gallery 153

Artist

Byzantine

Title

Solidus (Coin) Portraying Heraclius and His Son Heraclius Constantine

Origin

Byzantine Empire

Date

613 AD–616 AD

Medium

Gold

Dimensions

Diam. 2.1 cm; 4.41 g

Credit Line

Gift of Emily Crane Chadbourne

Reference Number

1940.13

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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