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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.

Roman Syria-Palestina, Jewish, Lead Bulla Seal, 7 Branched Menorah, c. 5th - 6th Century A.D.

|Seals|, |Roman| |Syria-Palestina,| |Jewish,| |Lead| |Bulla| |Seal,| |7| |Branched| |Menorah,| |c.| |5th| |-| |6th| |Century| |A.D.||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
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, revealing the tampering. Bullae depicting a menorah are known but very rare and not well documented. Dattari-Savio p. 327, 3 is a 1901 rubbing of a very similar menorah sealing. Michael Still lists two menorah sealings in his thesis on Roman seals, 1696 with a Latin inscription reverse, 1765 with a Hebrew inscription reverse. The recently published catalogue of the Vossen collection by Gert Boersema and Bill Dalzell, has two Menorah seals, numbers 181 and 182, both with blank reverses. There are also a few examples known from auctions. A FORVM member posted a bulla of this exact type from his collection on the Classical Numismatic Discussion on the Forum Ancient Coins website. We received three examples of this type on consignment, all with the same fire damage, suggesting they were found together.
JD98655. Lead bulla (tag seal), VF, chip on reverse, light earthen deposits, raised bumps from exposure to an ancient fire that heated and expanded air bubbles within the lead, weight 4.679 g, maximum diameter 15.9 mm, c. 5th - 6th century A.D.; obverse seven branched menorah with tripod base; reverse lulav, uncertain Syriac inscription; very rare; $670.00 SALE PRICE $603.00


Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, From the Marcopoli Collection

|Antiquities| |Books|, |Ancient| |Near| |Eastern| |Cylinder| |Seals,| |From| |the| |Marcopoli| |Collection|
Ex Libris Joel L. Malter.
BK21981. Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, From the Marcopoli Collection by Beatrice Teissier, 407 pages, 643 seals, illustrated, hardcover, very good condition, international shipping at actual cost of shipping; $360.00 SALE PRICE $324.00


Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, From the Marcopoli Collection

|Antiquities| |Books|, |Ancient| |Near| |Eastern| |Cylinder| |Seals,| |From| |the| |Marcopoli| |Collection|
Ex Libris Alex G. Malloy
BK21982. Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, From the Marcopoli Collection by Beatrice Teissier, 407 pages, 643 seals, illustrated, hardcover, dust cover wear, international shipping at actual cost of shipping; $350.00 SALE PRICE $315.00


Roman Syria-Palestina, Jewish, Lead Bulla Seal, 7 Branched Menorah, c. 5th - 6th Century A.D.

|Seals|, |Roman| |Syria-Palestina,| |Jewish,| |Lead| |Bulla| |Seal,| |7| |Branched| |Menorah,| |c.| |5th| |-| |6th| |Century| |A.D.||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
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, revealing the tampering. Bullae depicting a menorah are known but very rare and not well documented. Dattari-Savio p. 327, 3 is a 1901 rubbing of a very similar menorah sealing. Michael Still lists two menorah sealings in his thesis on Roman seals, 1696 with a Latin inscription reverse, 1765 with a Hebrew inscription reverse. The recently published catalogue of the Vossen collection by Gert Boersema and Bill Dalzell, has two Menorah seals, numbers 181 and 182, both with blank reverses. There are also a few examples known from auctions. A FORVM member posted a bulla of this exact type from his collection on the Classical Numismatic Discussion on the Forum Ancient Coins website. We received three examples of this type on consignment, all with the same fire damage, suggesting they were found together.
JD98656. Lead bulla (tag seal), VF/Fair, light earthen deposits, raised bumps from exposure to an ancient fire that heated and expanded air bubbles within the lead, c. 5th - 6th century A.D.; obverse seven branched menorah with tripod base; reverse lulav, uncertain Syriac inscription (obscure); very rare; $340.00 SALE PRICE $306.00


Roman, Conical Lead Bulla Seal, c. Late 3rd Century A.D., ANAK...

|Seals|, |Roman,| |Conical| |Lead| |Bulla| |Seal,| |c.| |Late| |3rd| |Century| |A.D.,| |ANAK...||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
 
AR83616. Lead bulla (tag seal), cf. Boersema-Dalzell 157 (very similar size and style with inscription ΠA−NΦV), gVF, weight 3.13 g, maximum diameter 13.1 mm, die axis 0o, obverse bare-headed, draped male bust right, ANAK... upward behind; reverse conical with rounded top, pierced for cord; $135.00 SALE PRICE $122.00


Eastern Roman Empire, Leo I (and Leo II?), 18 Nov 473 - Nov 474 A.D.

|Leo| |I|, |Eastern| |Roman| |Empire,| |Leo| |I| |(and| |Leo| |II?),| |18| |Nov| |473| |-| |Nov| |474| |A.D.||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
Leo II was Roman emperor for about one year, from 18 Nov 473 to Nov 474 A.D., when he was a child aged six or seven. He was the son of Zeno, the Isaurian general and future emperor, and Ariadne, a daughter of the emperor Leo I, who ruled the eastern Roman empire. Leo II was made co-emperor with his grandfather Leo I on 18 November 473, and became sole emperor on 18 January 474 after Leo I died of dysentery. His father Zeno was made co-emperor by the Byzantine Senate on 9 February and they co-ruled for a short time before Leo II died in November 474.
BZ85466. Lead bulla (tag seal), aVF, weight 2.229 g, maximum diameter 12.1 mm, die axis 45o, obverse two facing busts, cross above center; reverse monogram of Leo I (as seen on reverse of his bronze nummi, RIC X 681 - 693); $135.00 SALE PRICE $122.00


Roman, Lead Conical Bulla Seal, c. 3rd - 4th Century A.D., Attis in Phrygian Cap

|Seals|, |Roman,| |Lead| |Conical| |Bulla| |Seal,| |c.| |3rd| |-| |4th| |Century| |A.D.,| |Attis| |in| |Phrygian| |Cap||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
During the late Roman and Byzantine periods, 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 disk 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.
AR83608. Lead bulla (tag seal), Boersema-Dalzell 189, Leukel (1995) N67, gVF, weight 4.45 g, maximum diameter 14.8 mm, die axis 0o, c. 3rd - 4th century A.D.; obverse draped bust of Attis(?) right, wearing Phrygian cap, pedum behind shoulder; reverse flattened conical back, pierced for cord; $100.00 SALE PRICE $90.00


Roman, Conical Lead Seal, Late 4th - Early 5th Century A.D.

|Seals|, |Roman,| |Conical| |Lead| |Seal,| |Late| |4th| |-| |Early| |5th| |Century| |A.D.||bulla| |(tag| |seal)|
Most likely an imperial seal with a senior Augustus between two junior Augusti, perhaps Theodosius I with Arcadius and Honorius (393 - 395). The similar but smaller Boersema-Dalzell 142 (4.6g) attributed to Arcadius, Honorius and Theodosius II (402 - 408) has DDD NNN above the busts, abbreviating Dominorum Nostrorum (meaning, in this instance, our three lords).
AR83656. Lead bulla (tag seal), cf. Boersema-Dalzell 142 (4.6g), Leukel (1995) 118 - 121, aVF, weight 9.238 g, maximum diameter 19.0 mm, late 4th - early 5th century A.D.; obverse laureate and draped bust of emperor facing between two smaller laureate and draped busts turned facing center and seen in profile (Theodosius I with Arcadius and Honorius?), possibly DDD NNN above; reverse domed cylindrical back with hole and channel for cord; $80.00 SALE PRICE $72.00







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REFERENCES

Andrews, C. Roman Seal-Boxes in Britain, BAR British Series 567. (Oxford, 2012).
Boersema, G. & B. Dalzell. Roman Lead Tesserae and Seals from the Tom Vossen Collection. (Hasselt, Netherlands, 2021).
Buchanan, B. Ancient Near Eastern Seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection. (New Haven, 1981).
Dissard, P. La Collection Recamier. 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).
Leukel, H.-J. Rmische Bleiplomben aus Trierer Funden. (1991 - 2015).
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. (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, May 19, 2022.
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