Featured Justinian, and the Sufferings of the City of God

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by ValiantKnight, Sep 25, 2021.

  1. ValiantKnight

    ValiantKnight Well-Known Member

    My newest acquisition is an attractive Justinian follis minted in Antioch, when it was known as Theopolis. I've been turning more of my attention and efforts lately towards folles of Justinian, namely those that still have clear facial features and are the earlier, larger types (although I'd be willing to make exceptions for rarer types/mints). I'm also tempted to start a subcollection of Justinian folles from each mint that struck them (I already have Constantinople, Antioch, Rome, and Carthage).

    I feel that these large, impressive coins represent well the height of the Byzantine Empire, when, driven by the ambition of Justinian, it was close to re-establishing total Roman control over western Europe and the Mediterranean basin.

    Justinian I, Byzantine Empire
    AE follis
    Obv: D N IVSTINI-ANVS P P AVG, diademed, helmeted, cuirassed bust facing, holding globus cruciger and shield, cross to right
    Rev. Large M, cross above, officina letter Δ below, ANNO to left, XX to right, mintmark QHЧΠ in ex
    Mint: Theopolis (Antioch)
    Date: 546/7 (year 20)
    Ref: SB 220
    Size: 19.9 gr., 39 mm



    The early to mid 6th century AD was not kind to the city of Antioch (near modern Antakya, Turkey), the "Cradle of Christianity" and one of the principal cities of the Roman Empire. In 526, the last year of the reign of Justin, a massive earthquake and subsequent fire largely destroyed the city. It was reported that only the houses built close to the mountain that bordered Antioch stayed standing. The earthquake killed an estimated 250,000 people in Antioch and the surrounding areas, with the Patriarch of Antioch being one of the fatalities; he had fallen into a cauldron full of hot pitch and was burned to death, with only his head untouched. Many of the casualties had travelled to the city to celebrate Ascension Day. The fire that engulfed the city afterwards created a firestorm that finished off much of what remained after the earthquake itself, including the Great Church of Antioch, called the Domus Aurea, which had been constructed 200 years previously during the reign of Constantine the Great. Lawlessness, theft, and murder abounded in Antioch after the disaster.

    (Possible depiction of the Domus Aurea of Antioch, to the right of the imperial palace)

    Rescue efforts were established, but many of those rescued from the rubble succumbed to their injuries. The imperial government in Constantinople provided funds for the relief and reconstruction of the city, with the new Patriarch of Antioch leading these efforts. But most of what was rebuilt was subsequently destroyed in another earthquake two years later. Around this time, Antioch was renamed (either by Justinian or what remained of the city's population) Theopolis, "city of God". Many of the public buildings (including the Domus Aurea) were rebuilt/restored under Justinian's rule.

    (Justinian I)

    Another disaster struck in the form of a Persian invasion. Only 12 years after the 528 earthquake, the Sassanian king Khosrau I invaded the Roman east in response to an appeal from the Ostrogoths to open a second front for the Byzantines and weaken their Italian invasion. Khosrau and his army made their way to Antioch, which fell after a siege. Its remaining inhabitants were taken by the Persians to help build and found a new city in the Persian Empire: Weh Antiok Khosrow ("better than Antioch, Khosrow built this").


    After the Persian invasion, Justinian embarked on a second rebuilding and restoration of the city, which is described by Procopius in On Buildings:

    Above all he made Antioch, which is now called Theopolis, both fairer and stronger by far than it had been formerly. In ancient times its circuit-wall was both too long and absolutely full of many turnings, in some places uselessly enclosing the level ground and in others the summits of the mountain, and for this reason it was exposed to attack in a number of places. But the Emperor Justinian, contracting this wall as would best serve the need, carefully remade it so as to guard, not the same districts as before, but only the city itself. As for the lower part of the circuit-wall, where the city was dangerously spread out (since it lay in a soft plain and could not be defended because of a superfluity of wall), he changed its course by drawing it inward as much as possible, it having gained protection by being compressed. And the River Orontes, which had flowed past the city, as it formerly was, in a winding course, he thrust over so that it ran in a new bed, hugging the circuit-wall. He did this by winding the stream round again by means of an artificial channel as near the wall as possible. In this way he both relieved the city of the danger arising from its excessive size and recovered the protection afforded by the Orontes. And by building other bridges there he furnished new means of crossing the river; and after changing its stream for as great a distance as was necessary, he then restored it to its former course. The upper part, in the mountainous portion, he managed as follows: on the summit of the mountain which they call Orocassias there happened to be a rock outside the wall and very close to it, nearly matching in height the circuit-wall in this place and making it quite vulnerable. It was from this point in fact that the city was taken by Chosroes, as is related in my description of the event. The region within the circuit-wall was for the most part bare and difficult to traverse, for high rocks and impassable ravines divide up that district, so that the paths from that place have no outlet. Thus the wall there is just as if it belonged to some other city and not to Antioch at all. So he bade a long farewell to the rock, which, being close to the wall, was fiendishly devised to make the wall easy to capture, and decided to build the defences of the city as far away from it as possible, having learned from the experience of events the folly of those who had built the city in former times. Moreover he made quite level the region within the wall, which formerly had been precipitous, building ascents there which would in the future be passable, not only for men on foot, but for cavalry, and would even serve as waggon-roads. He also built baths and reservoirs on these hills inside the wall. And he dug a cistern in each tower, remedying by means of rain-water the want of water which had previously existed there.​

    It is proper to describe also what he did with the torrent which comes down from these mountains. Two precipitous mountains rise above the city, approaching each other quite closely. Of these they call the one Orocassias and the other is called Staurin. Where they come to an end they are joined by a glen and ravine which lies between them, which produces a torrent, when it rains, called Onopnictes. This, coming down from a height, swept over the circuit-wall and on occasion rose to a great volume, spreading into the streets of the city and doing ruinous damage to those who lived in that district. But even for this the Emperor Justinian found the remedy, in the following way: Before that part of the circuit-wall which happens to lie nearest to the ravine out of which the torrent was borne against the fortifications, he built an immense wall or dam, which reached roughly from the hollow bed of the ravine to each of the two mountains, so that the stream should no longer be able to sweep on when it was at full flood, but should collect for a considerable distance back and form a lake there. And by constructing sluice-gates in this wall he contrived that the torrent, flowing through these, should lose its force gradually, checked by this artificial barrier, and no longer violently assault the circuit-wall with its full stream, and so overflow it and damage the city, but should gently and evenly glide on in the manner I have described and, with this means of outflow, should proceed through the channel wherever the inhabitants of former times would have wished to conduct it if it had been so manageable.​

    This, then, was what the Emperor Justinian accomplished concerning the circuit-wall of Antioch. He also rebuilt the whole city, which had been completely burned by the enemy. For since everything was everywhere reduced to ashes and levelled to the ground, and since many mounds of ruins were all that was left standing of the burned city, it became impossible for the people of Antioch to recognise the site of each person's house, when first they carried out all the debris, and to clear out the remains of a burned house; and since there were no longer public stoas or colonnaded courts in existence anywhere, nor any market-place remaining, and since the side-streets no longer marked off the thoroughfares of the city, they did not any longer dare to build any house. But the Emperor without any delay transported the debris as far as possible from the city, and thus freed the air and the ground of all encumbrances; then he first of all covered the cleared land of the city everywhere with stones each large enough to load a wagon. Next he laid it out with stoas and market-places, and dividing all the blocks of houses by means of streets, and making water-channels and fountains and sewers, all those of which the city now boasts, he built theatres and baths for it, ornamenting it with all the other public buildings by means of which the prosperity of a city is wont to be shewn. He also, by bringing in a multitude of artisans and craftsmen, made it more easy and less laborious for the inhabitants to build their own houses. Thus it was brought about that Antioch has become more splendid now than it formerly was. Moreover, he built there a great Church to the Mother of God. The beauty of this, and its magnificence in every respect, it is impossible to describe; he also honoured it with an income of a very large sum. Moreover, he built an immense Church for the Archangel Michael. He made provision likewise for the poor of the place who were suffering from maladies, providing buildings for them and all the means for the care and cure of their ailments, for men and women separately, and he made no less provision for strangers who might on occasion be staying in the city.

    (retrieved from https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/procopius/buildings/2*.html )
    Around 540 or 541, a pandemic of plague that would later be known as the Plague of Justinian, reached Antioch, further reducing the population and causing additional hardship and decline to the city. More earthquakes followed in the 550s, and later, in the next century, the Muslim Arabs would conquer the city for their caliphate.


    (Roman road connecting Antioch and Chalcis)

    (Church of St. Peter, on Mount Starius, near Antioch)

    Sources for information/pictures:










    Please feel free to post any coins or information related to Justinian, Antioch/Theopolis, Khosrau I, plague, earthquakes/disasters, or anything else you feel is relevant!
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2021
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  3. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Mine isn't as nice as yours but it ticks off two blocks: Justinian and Theopolis. This is one of the nicer Byzantine folles I have. I know that's not saying much haha. I still like it :)
    Justinian I, Follis, Theopolis.png
    Justinian I
    529-538 AD
    Obverse: DN IVSTINIANVS PP AVG, pearl diademed, draped, cuirassed bust right
    Reverse: Large M, star to left, cross above, star to right, officina letter below, mintmark ☩THЄЧPº☩
    tibor, Curtisimo, Spaniard and 12 others like this.
  4. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    Justinian is perhaps my favorite Emperor. Not only did he codify Roman law, but he was also a hymnographer. His hymn, "O Only-Begotten Son" (which is really a poetic rewording of parts of the Nicene Creed) is still sung today. He wrote it as his response to the decisions of the 5th Ecumenical Council, which took place in 551 AD.
  5. Dearborn

    Dearborn Above average collector - Is that an Error?

    Very nice presentation.
    ValiantKnight likes this.
  6. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    Nice write up.

    Justinian I, 527-565. Follis (Bronze, 33 mm, 14.71 g, 7 h), Theoupolis (Antiochia), 533-537. D N IVSTINIANVS P P AVG Diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust of Justinian I to right. Rev. Large M between two stars; above, cross; below, Γ; in exergue, +THEЧP+. DOC 210c. MIB 126. SB 216.

    Justinian I. AD 527-565. Follis AE

    Condition: Very Fine

    Weight: 22.50 gr

    Diameter: 40 mm

    Always love the big bronzes of the time.
  7. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Well, since you asked for coins of Khusro I, here's a drachm from Darabgard:
    Khusro I Darabgard.jpg
  8. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    I'm in the process of re-picturing my entire collection with a new setup. Here's a large follis from the City of God. The Romans really knew how to make coins those days.

    Justinian the Great
    AE Follis
    539 - 540 A.D., Antioch Mint, 4th Officina
    21.50g, 39.5mm, 6H

    Emperor, helmeted and cuirassed bust facing, holding cross on globe and shield with horseman motif, cross to right

    Reverse: -,
    Large M, ANNO to left, cross above, regnal year to right, officina letter below

    Exergue: ϴYΠO

    Provenance: Ex. eBay 2019

    Reference: SBCV 218
  9. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Artist & Historian Supporter

    +VGO.DVCKS and ValiantKnight like this.
  10. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Nice write-up - very informative.

    Earlier this year I got a Justinian follis that really confused me - the mintmark was partially obliterated and from what I could see, I thought it was Constantinople; rather it was from Antioch; I was not aware of the ϴYΠOΛS mintmark:

    Byz - Justinian I Antioch follis SB 217 Jun 2021 (0a).jpg
    Justinian I Æ Follis
    n.d. (c. 536-539 A.D.)
    Antioch Mint

    DN IVSTINIANVS [PP AVG], pearl diademed, draped, cuirassed bust right / Large M, star to left, cross above, star right, Γ below, [ϴYΠ]OΛS in exergue.
    SB 217; DOC 212.
    (13.47 grams / 34 x 28 mm)
    eBay June 2021

    Here are a couple of others with the more typical mint name. It seems to me that the portraits on these Antioch issues are better in execution than from the other mints.
    Justinian I - Follis, Antioch $9.99 Dec 13x.jpg
    Justinian I Æ Follis
    (c. 529-531 A.D.)
    Antioch Mint

    DN IVSTINIANVS PP AVG, diademed, draped, cuirassed bust right / Large M, star left, cross above, star right, Officina Γ below, mintmark +THЄV o-over-P+ in exergue.
    SB 216; DOC 210.
    (13.96 grams / 28 mm)
    eBay Dec. 2013

    Justinian I Follis Antioch (0).jpg
    Justinian I Æ Follis
    (c. 529-531 A.D.)
    Antioch Mint

    DN IVSTINI[ANVS PP AVG], diademed, draped, cuirassed bust right / Large M, star left, cross above, star right, Officina Є (?) below, mintmark +THЄV o-over-P+ in exergue.
    SB 216; DOC 210.
    (15.22 grams / 32 mm)
    eBay Feb. 2014
  11. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    V.Kinght, Excellent article with great illustrations :happy:. Antioch-Syria has always been my favorite Roman provincial mint :D. So much history has taken place in this city you could spend a lifetime studying it. Nice pickup on your 40 nummi coin ;). I sold my last Byzantine Theopolis bronze 10 years ago pictured below.

    Justinian, 40 nummi, Antioch.jpg
    Byzantine Empire, Justinian I, AD 527-565 (struck Year 16, AD 542/3). Antioch Mint. AE 40 Nummi: 22.71 gm, 42 mm, 5 h. Sear 219.
  12. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    Great write up and very interesting.
    My entire Byzantine collection consists of these three folles of Justinian, two from Nikomedia and one from Antioch....

    2Xnpj5AHWxQ6MT9w8Jt7KaR47YdXKb.jpg 5dnYiLs6B8ba4BjTG3KzRr9N7XcDZ7.jpg 1426_empire-byzantin-justinien-ier-follis.jpg
  13. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Justinian I (527-565 A.D.) Pre-reform 40 nummi piece.

    AE Follis, Constantinople Mint, 10 grams, 28mm

    Obverse: Diademed, Draped and Cuirassed Bust Right, DN IVSTINIANVS PP AVG

    Reverse: Large M, cross above, star to left and right, officina letter below

    Reference: SB 160, Dumbarton Oaks Collection 30.



    Justinian was not averse to re-naming cities as well. In addition to Theopolis there was the renaming of the city of Coptos (modern day Qift) in Egypt as Justinianopolis.
  15. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    I got these from a group coin lot, they are both later years so smaller than the early year pieces.

    Antioch, 18.4gm 33mm
    17.7gm and 33mm
  16. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Great coin and fantastic write-up. I love the maps of Antioch and all the detail about the catastrophies that befell the city.

    Here is a Half-Follis of Justinian from Antioch from my collection:

    Screenshot 2021-09-26 at 17.51.32.png
  17. ValiantKnight

    ValiantKnight Well-Known Member

    Thanks all for reading and for your comments! All nice and wonderful coins posted!

    Yours has a clear bust and complete legends, so those are a win in my book :woot:

    Very interesting. I'll have to look this up and listen to it sometime.

    Yes I noticed that as well. Antioch had always been one of the better mints IMO in both the Roman and Byzantine periods.
    Very nice. Nicomedia seemed to do consistently good job centering the die so all of the design ends up on the flan and the coin itself doesn't look off overall. Which is why an early, forward-facing Nicomedia follis is high on my list right now.

    I remember once reading about this. I wouldn't have expected any less from the guy that tried to re-unite the entire Roman Empire from Britain to Egypt!
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2021
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fantastic OP, @ValiantKnight, resonantly doing justice to the significance of the subject matter. No pics of anything relevant here (true of more stuff than one could wish), but the other contributions are terrific.
    ...One fun detail is that, from the 6th century, Aksumite coins start imitating the facing-portrait motif of Justinian. ...Well, wait! Here's one recent enough acquisition to have pics (...also posted before). Justinian was in active diplomatic contact with Kaleb, who invaded a part of Yemen, partly in defense of its Christian population. This corresponds more or less to a Byzantine tremissis.
    And here's a later-6th-century AE of Hataz, imitating Byzantine facing portraits. (While Kaleb is still using legends mostly in Greek, the ones here are entirely in Ge'ez.)
  19. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    Justinian I + Theoupolis? :)

    This one is just a half-follis, but FWIW, it's on the high end of diameter and weight. I bought it immediately upon sight because of the combination of the lifelike (comparatively) portrait style, tall-slender Cross, and longer abbreviation of the city name.
    Justinian I, 527-565, AE Half-Follis (20 Nummi)
    Mint: Theoupolis (Antioch), 533-537AD.
    Obv.: D N IVSTINI-ANVS PP AVG, diademed, draped & cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev.: Large K, Δ to right (4th officina); T-H/Є-Ч/O/P and long cross to left.
    Diam.: 28 mm.
    Weight: 9.65 gr.
    Attrib.: DOC 211d. MIBE 134. SB 226.
    Notes: VF. Natural sand patina. Elegant, tall slender Cross. Scarce.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2021
  20. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @ValiantKnight.....Super looking coin!...Byzantine coinage is not my collecting area but found the write up most informative and interesting, learnt a great deal, Thank you!....
    Khusro I 531-579AD-AR Drachm-Max 31mm diameter-3.84 grams
    Obverse..Facing bust, head right, wearing merlon crown with tassel to left and surmounted by crescent with 3 vertical lines. Crescents at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock. Right of portrait kings name.
    Reverse..Fire altar with two attendants standing facing either side of fire altar, wearing tall headgear, both hands on sword hilt. Star and crescent flanking flames of altar. Right-Mint HWC (Gunde-Shapur, Khuzistan) /Left- Regnal year 26 = 557AD.

    sassanian k.jpg
  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Many thanks, @Spaniard, for showing up with a solid example of Khusro, replete with an impressively literate attribution.
    Thanks to you, I'm feeling the need to do another plug for this book. A little masterpiece of concision, and the only continuous overview of the Sasanian Empire in English that I know of. If you're like me, and didn't know Jackety Jack, besides peripheral references in late Roman, Byzantine and Aksumite histories, this Might Be for You. (Caveat: I can't recommend the seller --if you buy from them, be sure to Get Off their mailing list! But this was the only place I found a copy that wasn't either nonexistent, or dumbly overpriced.)
    Spaniard and ValiantKnight like this.
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