Antiquities > Seals and Tesserae

"Foreigners" or Non-Greeks owning Byzantine seals

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Joe Sermarini:
Thanks for sharing this. I never thought about the possibility. Very interesting.

Jay GT4:
Great thread.  Looking forward to more

Thanks for the comments - I do intend to expand. Looking at some more Franks, then Arabs!

The seal on top is in the Dumbarton Oaks collection. They have attributed it to Mounsour (lord?) of Great Loulon. However, as Werner Seibt already mentioned in his review of DO Seals V in 2003, it probably has nothing to do with the Loulon fortress. He attributed the seal to Abu Nasr al-Mansur ibn Lu'lu, the Emir of Aleppo (

Seibt was pretty sure about this attribution on the basis of the DO specimen alone, but the seal below from my personal collection proves him correct. It is not the article 'to' on the second line of the reverse (Mansur of Great Loulon) nor an abbreviation for "K(uri)o" (Mansur, Lord of Great Loulon). My seal shows a clear V, reading "(h)u(i)o" (Son of Lu'lu the Great).

This seal belongs to the period of Byzantine reconquest of a good part of its eastern territories, beginning with Nikephoros Phokas in the latter part of the 10th century. The reconquest of Antioch was a major one, but another important effort was the reduction of the emirate of Aleppo to vassal status after the sack of the city in 962 by Nikephoros Phokas. It remained so for several decades until it fell to the Fatimids in 1017. Its ruler, who was the owner of this seal, went into exile to Antioch after a palace coup. He was granted asylum by Basil II and became a military commander in Byzantine service. Mansur was present in the entourage of Romanos III during the battle of Azaz.

Mounsour, son of Lu'lu the Great. Byzantine seal 1017-c. 1030
Obv. +KE ROH/ΘEI TW CW/ΔOVΛW in four lines (Lord, help your servant)
Rev. +MUNCUP / VW TU ME/Γ’ ΛUΛU (Mounsour, son of Lu'lu the Great)

(seal above photo courtesy of DO)

The seal below is tied to the same period of Byzantine reconquest in Syria as the example above. It names one of the few (only?) Arab women on Byzantine seals. She is named Anna Mousaraphene, which means she was a daughter of a Mousaraph, an undoubtedly Arabic name.

Several persons bearing the family name Mousaraphas are known from the middle to the end of the 11th century. The family traced their descent to Nasr ibn Musharraf, an Arab emir who initially allied himself with the Byzantines in their campaigns into Syria. His seal is known from the Seyrig collection (no. 395). It shows Saint George on the obverse while the Arabic legend on the reverse calls him patrikios. Musharraf constructed the Menikon fortress with the aid of Michael Spondyles, doux of Antioch. It was intended as a defence of the newly captured Byzantine territories against the emir of Tripoli. However, Musharraf turned against the Byzantines and through a ruse he captured the fortress in 1027, planning to establish an independent principality for himself. Four years later, the katepano of Antioch Niketas recaptured the fortress, after several failed attempts. He took over 800 prisoners, including the family of Musharraf. After this, as the seal record shows, the family entered into Byzantine service (they have mainly military commands). This seal type of an Anna Mousaraphene shows they also married into Byzantine military aristocracy – as her title of katepanissa shows, Anna was married to a katepano, a major military command.

Anna Mousaraphene, katepanissa. Byzantine lead seal (15 mm, 4.02 gram) 2nd half 11th century
Nimbate facing bust of Saint George, holding a spear over his right shoulder, and resting a shield on his left arm
BBÖ 270 (citing a single example in Vienna).


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