(134) Phocas - AV solidus, A.D. 602-610, 4.28 g. (inv. 91.274).
Obverse: Facing bust of Phocas, wearing paludamentum and crown with cross, holding globus
in r.; D(OMINVS) N(OSTER) FOCAS PERP(ETVVS) AVG(VSTVS): Our lord Phocas, perpetual Augustus.
Reverse: Standing angel facing, holding staff with Christogram in r., globus cruciger in l.;
VICTORIA AVGV(STI): Victory of the Augustus; in exergue, CONOB: gold of Constantinople.
Provenance: Frederick Knobloch, 1959.
Bibliography: P. Grierson, Byzantine Coins (London 1982).

In A.D. 602 Phocas, a junior officer of barbarian descent, led his troops in a mutinous revolt against the imperial government and succeeded in taking the throne. He initiated a reign of terror aimed particularly at the aristocracy, and in the ensuing chaos the Persian army advanced on the Balkans and Asia Minor. The situation was saved with the intervention of Heraclius, who deposed Phocas.

The coins of Phocas are unusual because they revive an interest in portraiture, which the engravers of the stylized portraits of most early Byzantine emperors had long ignored. In contrast to the busts of other sixth-century emperors, the portrait of Phocas emphasizes his barbarian heritage. His pointed beard and his straight, shaggy hair give him a distinctly foreign appearance, and he wears a simple crown and a military cloak, the paludamentum, fastened with a fibula or pin on the right shoulder. His beard set a precedent for most later emperors.

The inscription on the reverse abandons the usual legend VICTORIA AVCCC, the abbreviation of the plural Augustorum indicating the joint rule of more than one Augustus (see nos. 130-133). In this period of sole rulers the legend had long been anachronistic, but Phocas' decision to change it to refer to a single Augustus may have been intended to emphasize his determination, in the face of mounting opposition, to rule alone.


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