Although Byzantine solidi continue the Roman imperial practice of devoting one side of the coin to a portrait of the emperor under whom the coin was issued, they reveal that the imperial portrait itself underwent a number of fundamental changes: firstly, the profile format for ruler portraits, used almost without exception on Roman coins, was replaced by a facing bust; secondly, the imperial portrait, which during the Roman period had been distinguished by the attempt to suggest a true likeness of the ruler, largely ceased to possess any element of characterized portraiture at all; and finally, new forms of imperial dress and insignia were adopted for the ruler portraits.

One of the most characteristic features of the imperial portraits on Roman coins was the use of the profile format. This format is especially well-suited to individualized portraiture in low relief as it permits a likeness to be established largely through an individual's distinctive silhouette. In the fourth century the profile format began to be replaced by a facing bust. A three-quarter facing bust-length portrait of the emperor in military dress was first developed for use on the solidus by Constantius II (A.D. 337-361) in the middle of the fourth century and it remained popular into the sixth century (e.g. nos. 130, 131). In this type of portrait bust, the emperor is depicted with his head turned slightly to the right but looking straight out at the spectator. During the course of the sixth century the facing bust portrait was modified slightly so that the emperor was shown turned full-face towards the spectator and the suggestion of a slight turn of the head found in the earlier solidi was eliminated altogether (e.g. nos. 132, 133). This was the format employed almost exclusively for the imperial portrait on Byzantine solidi from the middle of the sixth century onwards. Occasionally full-length facing figures were shown when the emperor was depicted accompanied by junior colleagues (e.g. no. 144). Although the facing full-length format became popular for individual imperial portraits after the replacement of the solidus in the tenth century, the change in denomination did not result in the complete elimination of the facing bust-length portrait format (e.g. nos. 146, 147).


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