Panel of a Diptych Announcing the Consulship of Justinian

Date: 521

Geography: Made in Constantinople

Culture: Byzantine

Medium: Ivory

Dimensions: Overall: 13 15/16 x 5 7/8 x 3/8 in. (35.4 x 14.9 x 1 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.190.52


Justinian, who would be the greatest emperor of the Early Byzantine period, presented this handsome ivory panel (one of two forming a diptych, see acc. no. 17.190.53) to a member of the Roman Senate announcing his election as consul, once the highest rank in the Roman state and still one of great honorific importance. The eight elegantly carved lion's heads surrounded by acanthus leaves at the borders of the panels focus attention on the inscriptions written in Latin, the official language of the empire. Across the top of the panels is the donor's name and titles: "Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus, noble, officer, and chief of the cavalry and commander-in-chief of the infantry and consul entering his office at the proper time"; in the center medallions is "These gifts, slight indeed in value but rich in honors, I as consul offer to my senators." Only the small crosses at the top and bottom of the central medallions offer evidence of the donor's religion.

Once hinged together with the names of the other consuls inscribed in wax on the interior, these panels were probably presented as an invitation to the great public games that new consuls hosted in Constantinople's hippodrome (stadium). Earlier consular diptychs, also of ivory, often displayed events from the games, including animal fights and gladiator contests.