John Nesbitt

in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780199252466
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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The reading, dating, and interpretation of lead seals from the Byzantine Era is known as sigillography. In addition to lead, seals were made of gold, silver, wax, and, sometimes, fabric. A wax seal can be affixed by using a signet ring in metal or hardstone or a cone seal of the same materials. After at least 1074, wax seals were officially used to validate certain imperial decrees, including horismoi and certain chrysoboulla sigillia. Only the emperor used gold seals, which were attached to important state documents known as chrysoboulla. Gold seals and silver bullae are rare, whereas lead seals numbering about 17,000 are preserved in the Harvard Collections alone. Some 60,000 seals are probably spread across the globe. In order to fully understand the potential of lead seals as an important resource for historical and art historical research, a number of considerations must be made, such as who employed lead seals, what information is usually imparted by seals, and how that information is expressed.

Keywords: lead seals; gold seals; sigillography; wax seals; imperial decrees; horismoi; chrysoboulla sigillia; chrysoboulla

Article.  2564 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Middle Eastern Languages

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