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Photios, patriarch of Constantinople (858–67, 877–86)

Accession number BZS.1947.2.2
Diameter 33 mm
Previous Editions

DO Seals 6, no. 113.1; Zacos, Seals 2: no. 7b; Laurent, Corpus 5.1: no. 7; Oikonomides, Dated Lead Seals, no. 53.


Bust of the Mother of God, holding before he a medallion of Christ. Circular inscription within a double border of dots.


Θ(εοτό)κε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ


Inscription of six lines preceded and followed by a row of three pellets. Double border of dots.

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Φωτί[ῳ] ἀρχιεπισκόπῳ Κωνσταντινουπόλεως Νέας Ῥώμης.


Θεοτόκε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ Φωτίῳ ἀρχιεπισκόπῳ Κωνσταντινουπόλεως Νέας Ῥώμης.

Mother of God, help your servant Photios, archbishop [patriarch] of Constantinople, the New Rome.


Photios was born into a prominent family some years before 825, possibly 810 (see Ahrweiler, “Carrière de Photius,” 350–51 and 361). His father was the brother of Patriarch Tarasios. He participated, perhaps in 838, in an embassy to the Arabs (idem, 356–61); later he became protasekretis, that is, head of the imperial chancery (Oikonomidès, Listes, 310). After Ignatios’s resignation, Photios succeeded to the patriarchal throne. Ignatios replaced him on 23 November 867. In the end Basil I brought Photios back from exile and placed his sons’ education in his care. Photios sought peace with Ignatios and, after succeeding him, brought about his sanctification (see commentary to BZS.1951.31.5.862). Photios stepped down after Basil’s death in 886. Although the date of his death is not mentioned in the sources, he was not forgotten, later becaming a saint; his feastday, 6 February, was celebrated in Constantinople in the monastery of St. John Prodromos, in the quarter of Eremias (Syn. Eccl. CP, col. 448). See ODB 3:1669 and Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit 3, no. 6253.

Photios employed two types of seals. The first, like the present specimen, depicts on the obverse a bust of the Mother of God.  The second, shows the Mother of God standing, holding Christ in her left arm. Although three examples of the latter type are known, the one commonly illustrated is a specimen preserved in the Vatican collection (Laurent, Vatican, no. 152; Laurent, Corpus 5.1: no. 8; and Oikonomides, Dated Lead Seals, no. 54). As with the two types of Ignatios, there is no convincing reason to assign our specimen to one or the other of Photios’s two reigns.