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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Byzantine Coins| ▸ |Byzantine Seals||View Options:  |  |  | 

Byzantine Seals

During the Byzantine period, lead bullae (singular, Bulla) were widely used to seal and identify the sender of correspondence and containers in shipment. An iron, pliers-shaped instrument, a boulloterion, was used to impress the designs on a lead bulla seal. After the cord was wrapped around the package or document and the ends inserted in a channel in the blank seal, the seal was placed between the disc shaped engraved dies on the jaws of a boulloterion. The boulloterion had a projection above the jaws, which was struck with a hammer to impress the design on the seal and close the channel around the two ends of the cord. With a bulla in place a container cannot be violated without visible damage to either the bulla or the cord, ensuring the contents remain tamper-proof until they reach their destination.

Theodosius I, 19 January 379 - 17 January 395 A.D.

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This type of lead conical bulla seal is commonly attributed to Theodosius I with his sons, Arcadius and Honorius. While the attribution is not certain, there is reason behind it. The form is correct for the period and the type is very common for a seal. Forum has handled a few examples and there are at least four on Coin Archives. The large number of specimens supports attribution to the emperor, in whose name there was a lot of correspondence. Theodosius and his two sons are the best imperial fit for these three facing busts.
AS89555. Lead bulla (tag seal), conical type, commonly attributed to Theodosius I and his sons Arcadius and Honorius, VF, gray and buff surfaces, weight 9.316 g, maximum diameter 18.0 mm, obverse three bare-headed and draped busts facing, center bust larger, two flanking busts smaller; reverse domed back, pierced for the cord; ex CNG e-auction 233 (26 May 2010), lot 504; $150.00 (Ä132.00)

Byzantine Lead Bulla Seal, Sergios Mesopotamites, Late 11th - Early 12th Century

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The first part of the inscription reads "Graphas sphragizo kai logous" - "I seal the writings and words of..." The last lines read the well-known family name "Mesopotamites," with eta for iota. The personal name is most likely Sergios, with one C shared by both logous and Sergios.

The Mesopotamitai were a prominent Byzantine family in the late 12th and early 13th century. They originated either from Mesopotamos (in modern Albania) or some place called Mesopotamia. Sergios was likely related to Constantine Mesopotamite, the de facto chief minister under emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexius III Angelos (1193 - summer 1197) and the archbishop of Thessalonica (c. 1197 - 1227, but in exile 1204 - 1224, when the city was occupied by Latin Crusaders).
AS63897. Lead bulla (tag seal), unpublished in references examined by Forum; DOCBS -, Zacos BLS -, Zacos -, Jordanov -, gVF, high relief, attractive patina, weight 4.861 g, maximum diameter 16.0 mm, die axis 0o, obverse nimbate facing bust of the Virgin Orans, MP - OV across fields; reverse ΓPA(phas) / CΦPAΓI(zo) / S ΛOΓOU(c) CE[P]/ΓIOTOU M[E]/COΠOTA/MHTOU (S abbreviates KAI and the OU's are ligate); SOLD

Byzantine Lead Bulla Seal, John Melek, 12th - 13th Century A.D.

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A number of Byzantine dignitaries in 13th and 14th centuries shared the patronym Melek but they probably were not all from the same family. The name is foreign and perhaps derived from the Seljuk name malik, meaning prince. Presumably John Melek was a Seljuk prince who converted, was baptized adopting the name John, and served the Empire.

The office and title of the owner is not included in the inscription, which during the period, was a common practice of the representatives of noble ruling families.

The owner of the seal might be a certain John Melek associated with the stay of the army headed by Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in Beroe in 1155/1156.

A 13th century possiblity, is that the owner was one of the sons of the sultan Izedin, who after their father escaped captivity, were baptized and served in army of the Empire with the patronym Melek.

SH58238. Lead bulla (tag seal), Jordanov 456 (Historical Museum, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, no. 10 C3-11, found in the town); DOCBS -, Choice, near complete imprint, weight 17.593 g, maximum diameter 26.9 mm, obverse MP − ΘY, half-length figure of Virgin Orans standing facing, nimbate, hands raised, medallion of the infant Christ on breast; reverse Inscription: IWANHN / CKEΠOIC ME / MEΛHK / KOPH; large, high-relief seal; SOLD



Jordanov, I. Corpus of Byzantine Seals from Bulgaria. (Sofia, 2003).
Jordanov, I & Z. Zhekova. Catalogue of Medieval Seals at the Regional Historical Museum of Shumen. (Sofia, 2007).
Metcalf, D.M. Byzantine Lead Seals from Cyprus. (Nicosia, 2004).
Morrisson, C. "Monnaies en plomb byzantines" in RIN LXXXIII (1981).
Nesbitt, J. et al., eds. Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and the Fogg Museum of Art. (Washington, DC. 1991-2005).
Spink. Byzantine Seals from the Collection of George Zacos, Part I. Auction 127 (7 October 1998). London.
Spink. Byzantine Seals from the Collection of George Zacos, Part II. Auction 132 (25 May 1999). London.
Spink. Byzantine Seals from the Collection of George Zacos, Part III. Auction 135 (6 October 1999). London.
Youroukova P. & V. Penchev. Bulgarian Medieval Coins and Seals. (Sofia, 1990).
Zacos, G. Byzantine Lead Seals. (Berne, 1972-84).

Catalog current as of Monday, October 14, 2019.
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Byzantine Seals