Justinian and Theodora     Justinian's reign     Imperial iconography

Imperial iconography and ideology
  The victorious emperor, restorer of the Roman world, propagandized his successes with images of imperial triumphs. In his description of the Bronze Gate (Chalke) of the Great Palace at Constantinople, Prokopios mentions a series of mosaics completed after 540, depicting Justinian's general, Belisarios in scenes of conquest, as well as the emperor, Theodora and the Senate in formal triumph over the Vandals and Goths. In 530, imperial victory against the Persians near Dara (Mesopotamia) was memorialized by an equestrian statue of Justinian placed in the Augustaion. At imperial banquets, meals were served on gold plates decorated with reliefs of Justinian's triumphs, while coins and medallions with similar iconography were issued to commemorate actual events.
  Imperial iconography is exemplified by an ivory diptych leaf, known as the Barberini ivory. It shows an equestrian emperor (opinions as to which emperor is represented range from Zeno to Justinian), his horse rearing above a personnification of Earth. A subject barbarian hides behind the animal, while, at the bottom, Africans and Asians bear goods. The emperor is celebrated by a winged Victory, and presented with a statue of Victory by a soldier. His role as defender of Faith is stated by a pair of flying angels displaying a bust of Christ. Similar iconography is to be found on the copy of a gold medallion issued to commemorate the victory against the Vandals and the conquest of North Africa (534). Both sides show Justinian in armor and helmet. On the obverse, the equestrian emperor follows a winged Victory holding a palm branch and a trophy. The medallion weighed the equivalent of thirty six gold coins (solidi).
  A different approach to imperial iconography is illustrated by Justinian's portrait at St Vitale (Ravenna). The emperor is surrounded by deacons, officials and guards, in a solemn procession of religious character. The pendant panel depicts his wife, Theodora, with her own retinue of court officials and ladies. Both Justinian and the empress are distinguished by their central position, purple mantels, lavish jewellery, and hallos. They bear a paten and chalice as gifts to the church. Next to the emperor, carrying a jewel studded processional cross, stands the bishop of Ravenna Maximianus (546-556), under whom the church was dedicated. The presence of the imperial couple at St Vitale symbolizes the re-establishment of Byzantine stately and religious dominion over the country. St Vitale was founded in 526, while Italy was still under Ostrogothic rule, and paid for by the banker Julianus Argentarius; when dedicated in 548, Italy was once again Byzantine. Ostrogoths favoured Arianism, a heresy condemned by the Byzantine church, therefore the return of Italy to Byzantine control in 540 also meant the return to orthodoxy.