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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Antiquities| ▸ |Antiquities by Type| ▸ |Seals||View Options:  |  |  |   

Ancient Seals

Both the objects used to make impressions and the impressions themselves are referred to as seals. Seal impressions served as a signature of the owner of the seal. Seals used to make impressions include cylinder seals and stamp seals. Often these seals are holed for stringing and some were probably never used to make impressions, but were rather worn as amulets. The most common form of seal impression is the bulla. A bulla (plural, bullae), is a lump of clay or lead molded around a cord and stamped with a seal that identifies the sender. With a bulla in place a container cannot be violated without visible damage to either the bulla or the cord, thereby ensuring the contents remain tamper-proof until they reach their destination.

Titus, 24 June 79 - 13 September 81 A.D., Imperial Seal Box

|Titus|, |Titus,| |24| |June| |79| |-| |13| |September| |81| |A.D.,| |Imperial| |Seal| |Box|
When the Romans sent important small packages by courier, such as documents or valuables, they were were placed in strong leather or cloth bags, which were sealed with a stout cord, the knot covered in wax and impressed with the sender's signet. To protect the wax seal, it and the knot were encased in a small, ornamental metal box with an hinged lid and two holes in the back for the cord. In addition, the lid could be kept closed by further cords sewn to the package and tied around it. Hinged boxes used for this purpose have been found in Britain, where they tend to date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries and are mostly of enameled bronze. However, they certainly started earlier. Hattatt illustrated an example found in Ostia bearing the portraits of Hadrian and Sabina (p. 464, 151) and seal boxes with portraits of Vespasian and Domitian have been found in London and must have been used by high officials (P. Salway, A History of Roman Britain [Oxford 2001], p. 381). This was certainly the case with this piece, especially given its splendid portrait of Titus, which was surely made by workers in the imperial mint in Rome and then sent out for official use in the provinces. See Roman| Seal| Boxes| by Colin| Andrews| - for more information, as well as other examples of the type.
AS75699. cf. Hattatt ABOA, pp. 461 ff. (for general type); Nomos I 144 (cover only, head right), nice green patina, hing broken, Piriform-shaped bronze box with hinged cover, decorated with laureate head of Titus left, done in repoussť work; base perforated with three holes; 3.51g, 24mm x 17mm, 9mm (depth); ex Triton XIII (5-6 Jan 2010), lot 314; very rare; SOLD

Roman, Intaglio Engraved Gem Stone, 1st - 3rd century A.D.

|Jewelry|, |Roman,| |Intaglio| |Engraved| |Gem| |Stone,| |1st| |-| |3rd| |century| |A.D.|
AS90832. Antike Gemmen Deutschen -, Marlborough -; Intaglio engraved translucent red carnelian, weight 0.406 g, maximum diameter 11.2 mm, Dioscuri standing facing, heads confronted, each holds a bow(?) in inner hand and spear in outer hand, star above each head, crescent moon with horns up above center, from The Jimi Berlin Caesarea Collection, found at Caesarea, Israel; SOLD

First Bulgarian Empire, Peter I, 927 - 969 A.D., Lead Bulla Seal

|Bulgaria|, |First| |Bulgarian| |Empire,| |Peter| |I,| |927| |-| |969| |A.D.,| |Lead| |Bulla| |Seal||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
This seal was reportedly found together with a hoard of Romanus I, Constantine II and Romanus II solidi, some of which are now available for sale in our Byzantine Gold section. The seal may have once tied a leather bag containing the coins; perhaps a Bulgarian imperial payment.

Peter was the son of Simeon the Great 893 - 927, architect of the Golden Age for the Bulgarian Empire. In 927 the Bulgarians and the Byzantines signed apeace treaty which recognized Peter's Imperial title, the borders and the Bulgarian Patriarchate. In addition, Peter married Maria Lecapene, renamed Eirene (Peace) for the event.

An inferior example (with a finder's cut defacing Peter) was estimated $1000 and sold for $650 plus fees in Triton XI, 2008.
SH33751. Lead bulla (tag seal), gVF, weight 18.524 g, maximum diameter 22.8 mm, die axis 0o, obverse + IhSuS XPI[...]+, facing bust of Christ, holding book of Gospels in left hand, cross behind head; reverse blundered legend naming Peter, facing busts of Peter, wearing chlamys, and his wife, Eirine (Maria) Lecapene, wearing loros, both crowned, holding patriarchal cross between them; well formed seal, nice round thick flan, attractive buff-grey patina; SOLD

South Arabian, Sabaean Hematite Seal, c. 1000 B.C.

|Seals|, |South| |Arabian,| |Sabaean| |Hematite| |Seal,| |c.| |1000| |B.C.|
AA31273. Sabaean hematite seal, 1.2 cm (1/2") long, horse rampant before seated God on X stool, drill and line cut design, the design and shape are most unusual; rare; SOLD

Southern Mesopotamia, Cylinder Seal, Jemdet Nasr Period, c. 3200 - 2900 B.C.

|Seals|, |Southern| |Mesopotamia,| |Cylinder| |Seal,| |Jemdet| |Nasr| |Period,| |c.| |3200| |-| |2900| |B.C.|
Very early cylinder seal from the dawn of writing. The earliest cylinder seals, such as this one, are from the Jemdet Nasr Period in Mesopotamia.
AS48859. Cylinder seal; Malloy Artifacts 394 (this seal), cf. Buchanan 203, Superb, fine quality seal, clear calcite cylinder seal, linear opposing triangles indicating mountains and valleys; 17 mm long; ex Alex G. Malloy sale 5/99, #1326; SOLD

Elam, Cylinder Seal, Middle Ellamite Period, c. 1600 - 1200 B.C.

|Western| |Asiatic| |Antiquities|, |Elam,| |Cylinder| |Seal,| |Middle| |Ellamite| |Period,| |c.| |1600| |-| |1200| |B.C.|
AS35627. Cylinder seal; black serpentine; animals and birds with appearance of movement in two levels; 20 mm X 9.5 mm, Superb, SOLD

Egyptian, Carved Steatite Plaque Amulet, Late Period, c. 712 - 332 B.C.

|Egyptian| |Antiquities|, |Egyptian,| |Carved| |Steatite| |Plaque| |Amulet,| |Late| |Period,| |c.| |712| |-| |332| |B.C.|
AS31141. Egyptian steatite plaque amulet, Choice, 2.2 cm (7/8") by 1.7 cm (5/8"), holed for suspension; SOLD

Egyptian, Carved Steatite Seal Amulet, Hyksos Period, 1786 - 1567 B.C.

|Egyptian| |Antiquities|, |Egyptian,| |Carved| |Steatite| |Seal| |Amulet,| |Hyksos| |Period,| |1786| |-| |1567| |B.C.|
An attractive piece in the archetypal style of the Hyksos period.

In Egypt, few seals were actually used to make impressions and seal documents. Although they are almost always holed for stringing, an absence of wear on them shows that they were not usually carried during life, but were engraved to place as amulets with the dead.
AS31142. Hyksos amulet, Choice, 3 cm (1 1/8") by 2 cm (3/4"), holed for stringing; a few small edge chips; SOLD

Neo-Assyrian Faience Cylinder Seal, 900 - 700 B.C.

|Western| |Asiatic| |Antiquities|, |Neo-Assyrian| |Faience| |Cylinder| |Seal,| |900| |-| |700| |B.C.|
AS31153. 2.6 cm (1") high, Choice, green faience, hero shooting arrow at serpent; SOLD

Byzantine Lead Bulla Seal, Soterichos, Patrikios and Strategos of Thrace, 10th Century A.D.

|Seals|, |Byzantine| |Lead| |Bulla| |Seal,| |Soterichos,| |Patrikios| |and| |Strategos| |of| |Thrace,| |10th| |Century| |A.D.||seal|
SH60400. Lead seal, cf. Jordanov-Zhekova Shuman 297, Zacos BLS -, Zacos -, Metcalf Seals -, DOCBS -, VF, undersized leaving some elements off flan, weight 15.156 g, maximum diameter 29.8 mm, die axis 90o, obverse ΘEOTOKE BOHΘEI in cruciform monogram, TW - CW/ ∆OV- ΛW in the angles (God-bearer [the Virgin], help your servant); reverse [CWTH]/PIXW ΠAT[PI]/K∋ KAI CTPA/THΓW... / ΘPAKH (or similar); SOLD


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Andrews, C. Roman Seal-Boxes in Britain, BAR British Series 567. (Oxford, 2012).
Buchanan, B. Ancient Near Eastern Seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection. (New Haven, 1981).
Dissard, P. La Collection Režcamier. Catalogue des Plombs antiques (sceaux, tesseres, monnaies et objets divers). (Paris-London, 1905).
Hattatt, R. Ancient Brooches and Other Artifacts. (Oxford, 1989) Holmes, S. "Seal boxes from Roman London" in The London Archaeologist 7.15 (1995), pp. 391 - 395. 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. Byzantine Lead Seals from Cyprus. (Nicosia, 2004).
Milovanovic, B. & A. Raickovic Savic. "Seal Boxes From the Viminacium Site" in Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade, STARINAR LXIII (2013), pp. 219 - 236.
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.
Still, M. Roman Lead Sealings. (University of London, 1995).
Youroukova P. & V. Penchev. Bulgarian Medieval Coins and Seals. (Sofia, 1990).
Zacos, G. Byzantine Lead Seals. (Berne, 1972-84).
Zwalf, W. ed. Buddhism Art and Faith. (New York, 1985).

Catalog current as of Thursday, December 3, 2020.
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