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Creation Date

6th–9th centuries


Eastern Mediterranean






2 x 2 x 1/4 in. (4.8 x 4.8 x 0.7 cm)
4 oz. (113.9g)

Credit Line

Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris; the dealer and date of purchase are unknown, but likely from Julia Schottlander (Tetragon) in the 1990s. The hand-written label on the back of the seal indicates that it was formerly part of the collection of Jean Vinchon (1918–2003).


This seal features a monogram of a personal name at the center, enclosed by a circle. The monogram is formed by five or six Greek letters arranged in the shape of a cross. Three crosses with flared arms are incised in the interstitial areas of the design. These crosses are incised at a shallower depth than the monogram, meaning that the impression would result in a monogram in higher relief and the crosses in lower relief. The design of the seal is in reverse, so when it was pressed into wax, it would leave behind a positive relief impression of the design in the correct rotation, so as to be legible. The back of the seal is equipped with a small ring that would allow the seal to be worn on a chain or strap for ease of access while carrying it. This would imply to us that the seal would have been used multiple times, therefore needing a method to access it easily throughout their daily life. We can estimate that this seal was worn at the side of the owner’s body, or at their chest with the chain or strap going around their neck.

In the Byzantine era, seals such as this were usually used for high ranking officials or government workers who would need to attach their names to official documents. Seals were not just used to sign documents, but were also used for locking household items and securing personal property. In the Late Roman period, wax seals might be enclosed within seal-boxes that secured cords around the item that needed to be locked. A broken seal would indicate the the item had been opened. While the name on this seal has not yet been deciphered, we can recognize letters that would suggest it was for a man. Its unusually large size and portability may suggest that it could have emphasized the masculinity of a male owner and the status that he would have.

Sources Consulted
Alexis Castor, "Etruscan Jewelry and Identity," in A Companion to the Etruscans, eds. Sinclair Bell, and Alexandra A. Carpino (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2016), 275–292.

Gary Vikan and John Nesbitt, Security in Byzantium: Locking, Sealing, and Weighing (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1980).

Fred Pardue ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).

2020.271-2.JPG (4518 kB)
Alternate view

2020.271-scale.JPG (4703 kB)
Scale Comparison