Seal with a Victory Holding a Cross
This bronze object is roughly the size of a quarter. Engraved on the flat circular surface is a figure in profile. The figure, which faces left, and has a large wing attached to its back, appears to b..more »
This bronze object is roughly the size of a quarter. Engraved on the flat circular surface is a figure in profile. The figure, which faces left, and has a large wing attached to its back, appears to be an angel or victory. A “victory” also known as a “nike” is a winged goddess from Greek mythology. The wing consists of curved lines feathered down the figure's back. Attached to the feathered indentations is a larger curved indent that spans from the top of the wings to the bottom of the figure's body. The figure’s left hand is extended forward holding a long cross. Attached to the backside of the object is a small loop, roughly 1.5 centimeters across. Seals such as this functioned in two ways: as a seal and as an amulet. During the Byzantine period, there was significant concern surrounding evil forces, demons, and security. Bronze amulets were considered one of the most powerful weapons against demons. To protect themselves and their prized material possessions, the owner may have worn this object as an amulet and used it to seal goods. The small loop on the back could be attached to a chain, suggesting that this piece doubled as a seal and jewelry. Depending on the specific date that this object was made, the figure could be intended to depict a winged victory or an angel. In the fifth century, beginning with the solidus of the Empress Pulcheria, minted in 420–22, the winged victory takes on a Christian identity by holding a long cross. Christians associated this iconography with Christ’s victory over death; therefore, the figure can be identified as a victory or a protective angel. Not only did seals represent historical changes and religious affiliations, but specific iconography helps to uncover the identity of the owner. Often, families would mark their documents with specific sealings that legitimized their status and linked them to their family. Details such as the object's material further reveal the identity of the owner. Since bronze is a cheaper material, this seal most likely belonged to someone of a lower socioeconomic status. A signet ring with similar iconography to the seal is housed at the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks (no. BZ.1953.12.6). This gold ring is said to have been from 5th-century Constantinople. The iconography on the bezel depicts an archangel holding a small cross with a box monogram underneath. Considering the expensive gold material and elaborate detailing engraved on this ring, it was most likely owned by someone wealthy. The historical context associated with the victory iconography engraved on the seal indicates that it belonged to someone from the Eastern Mediterranean during the 5th century. The material and iconography on the seal have no historical correlation with a specific gender, so a man or woman could have interacted with this object. This object is incredibly special because it suggests possible identities of people during the 5th century, and represents the various uses of seals during this period. Sources Consulted Keneth G. Holum, “Pulcheria's Crusade A.D. 421-22 and the Ideology of Imperial Victory,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 18 (1977): 153–172. Anna Kartsonis, “Protection against All Evil: Function, Use and Operation of Byzantine Historiated Phylacteries,” Byzantinische Forschungen 20 (1994): 73-102. Anna Kartsonis, “The Responding Icon,” in Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium, ed. Linda Safran (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998). 58–80. Asen Kirin, ed. Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC (Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2005). Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989). Gary Vikan, “Sacred Image, Sacred Power,” in Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World, ed. Eva R. Hoffman (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 135–146. Gary Vikan and John Nesbitt, Security in Byzantium: Locking, Sealing, and Weighing (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1980). Rory Rubin ('23) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
0.67 x 0.62 in. (1.7 x 1.6 cm) 0.233 oz. (6.6 g)
Eastern Mediterranean; possibly from Turkey