As powerful vehicles for propaganda, Byzantine coins also emphasized the close relationship between earthly monarchs and the heavenly realm, as does this solidus of Theophilus (ruled 829–42). A bust-length portrait of the emperor appears on the obverse (left); he wears a crown and is garbed in the imperial “loros,” a heavily jeweled ceremonial stole. In his hands are a globe and a scepter, both of which are surmounted by crosses. The patriarchal cross above three steps that appears on the reverse (right) represents the cross that was erected in the fourth century on the site of Christ’s crucifixion in Jerusalem. This motif of a cross and steps was first used on the coins of Tiberius II (ruled 578–82), and its increasing popularity reflected the progressive Christianizing of imperial iconography, in which symbols such as the cross replaced earlier pagan elements like winged Victory.
The imagery of Byzantine coins, as well as their use—or not—of religious imagery, reflects the different attitudes toward representation of divine figures as a result of the Iconoclastic (from the Greek “eikon,” or image, and “klao,” to break) Controversy, a fierce debate among Byzantine theologians over the appropriate role of images in religious worship that raged in Byzantium for over 100 years from about 730 to 843. Theophilus, the last imperial proponent of Iconoclasm, followed the examples of Heraclius (ruled 610–41) and Leontius (ruled 695–98) before him by linking his portrait with a potent visual symbol of Christ of the cross on four steps.