For centuries the Byzantines, from humble monks and laymen to highly placed grandees and emperors, used lead seals to “lock” official and private correspondence and to validate or authenticate documents. The inscriptions on the seals echo, as their images reflect, the beliefs and perspectives of people who but for the survival of their seals would be lost to history. Seals are a vital source for studying the structure of Byzantium’s civil, military, and ecclesiastical administrations, the careers and locations of its officials, and for charting the rise and decline of a family. The invocations or prayers in which so many inscriptions are phrased combine with a remarkable range of iconography express personal piety in a devoutly religious society. In this workshop we will explore how to read and date Byzantine lead seals, and how the data gleaned from them can be used to further research into the empire.
Jonathan Shea is Associate Curator of Coins and Seals at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, DC. He currently leads the project to catalogue and publish the 17,000 seals in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum.