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God’s Regents on Earth: A Thousand Years of Imperial Seals

A new online exhibition of Byzantine seals from Dumbarton Oaks' collection
God’s Regents on Earth: A Thousand Years of Imperial Seals

Seal of the emperor Philippikos (711-713)

For over a thousand years the Byzantine Emperor ruled over the empire as God’s regent on earth. His was the ultimate authority. The emperor was the granter of titles and offices, distributer of largesse, master of the Church, commander of the army, head of the bureaucracy, and supreme judge. The decisions of the individual who sat on the throne had repercussions throughout the Byzantine world and far beyond. Decrees, letters, judgments, and commands left Constantinople every day signed by the emperor in red ink and secured with the imperial seal. These seals not only protected and authenticated imperial documents, they also served as imperial propaganda.

Dumbarton Oaks is proud to announce the online exhibit, God’s Regents on Earth: A Thousand Years of Byzantine Imperial Seals, curated by Jonathan Shea, Post-Doctoral Associate in Byzantine Sigillography and Numismatics with assistance from Seals Intern, Lain Wilson. Displaying seals from the Dumbarton Oaks collection, the exhibit offers high resolution images, presents comparative views of the obverse and reverse, and enables the viewer to juxtapose distinct seals. Each seal is accompanied by a brief outline of the life of the ruler who issued it, and an assessment of what the object reveals about that ruler’s character, beliefs, and policies.

For a further exploration of the collection of seals at Dumbarton Oaks, please visit the Byzantine Seals Online Catalog. With a collection numbering over 17,000, Dumbarton Oaks is home to the world’s largest collection of Byzantine Seals.

Thanks are due to Eric McGeer, Kathy Sparkes, Lisa Wainwright, Noah Mlotek, and Prathmesh Mengane for their help in preparing the exhibit. All photographs were taken by Joe Mills who is tirelessly photographing all 17,000 seals in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection.

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