Antiquities > Seals and Tesserae

"Foreigners" or Non-Greeks owning Byzantine seals

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Byzantine seals give a unique perspective into the Eastern Roman empire. As for the names of the seals' owners, they are of course mainly Greek. But throughout history, many people from outside the borders of the Byzantine empire found their way to the Capital or to employment in the armies. Those who rose to high positions would commission a seal, like the 'regular' Byzantine aristocracy, courtiers and high military & clergy. This has always been a fascination of mine, and in this thread I want to show some seals of non-Greeks, "barbarians" and "foreigners".

Let's begin close to my home, with the Goths, a Germanic people. Especially during the reign of Justinian I, many Goths entered into Byzantine service and at times achieved very high positions in the imperial army. They also served in the elite brigades that were privately employed by generals like Belisarius and Johannes Troglita.

The first three seals belong to Goths named Tzittas, which is a relatively common name. Several Goths named Tzittas appear in narrative sources, especially the military commander known in the first half of the sixth century. Another Tzittas, who held the ranks of spatharios and kandidatos is attested for the year 605 as being beheaded on the orders of emperor Phokas.

The 4th seal belongs to a person named Tangila, which is also a Gothic name, though much rarer.

1 Tzittas. Obv. Mother of God. 6th century
2 Tzittas. Obv. Latinized Greek invocation [T]hEO/[T]hK b/… (“Mother of God, help”). 6th/7th century
3. Tzittas, stratelates. 2 monograms. 6th/7th century
4. Tangila. Monogram and legend. 2nd half 6th-1st half 7th century

The Goths are mainly described as an East-Germanic people. This seal, that must have been produced contemporaneous to Tzittas and Tangila, belongs to a west-German as evidenced by his name: Siggo. It is transcribed into Greek as Singōn, and the seal gives its genitive form Singōnos. The monogram on the reverse probably reads 'illoustriou', a court rank that derived from late Roman 'vir illustris'. Another person named Siggo is attested as a referendarius in the courts of Merovingian kings Sigebert I, then Chilperic I and finally Childebert II (2nd half 6th century).

Siggo. Obv. CIΓΓ/WNOC within wreath. Rev. Monogram IΛΛOVCTPIOV within wreath. c. 550-650.

This seal belongs to another Westerner, but this Westerner, or as the Greeks would have called him, this "Phrangos" (Frank") lived almost half a millennium later, in the 11th century. The William who owned this seal served the high military command of strategos of Seleucia, on the eastern border. He was also a "man of the emperor", which means he had a special bond of trust and loyalty to the throne.

William (Geleelmos), magistros, strategos of Seleukia and “man of the emperor”. Byzantine lead seal c. 1068-1085
Saint George standing facing, holding speer and shield; to left, Θ | Γ | E; to right, W | P | Γ’
+KE R,Θ, | ΓHΛHEΛMW | MAΓICTP, CTPA | TIΓ, CEΛEVK, S | ANW TU RACIΛ | HMWN TOV AΓ, in six lines ("Lord, help William, strategos of Seleucia and man (anthropos) of our holy emperor")
Seibt/Zarnitz, exhibition catalogue “Das byzantinische Bleisiegel als Kunstwerk”, 2.3.2; 21mm, 10.08 gram; very fine

Fascinating thread Gert, thanks for this


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