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John imperial spatharokandidatos and kommerkiarios of Hieron and Pontos (tenth/eleventh century)

Accession number BZS.1951.31.5.108
Diameter 17 mm
Condition Chipped; blank too small for die.
Previous Editions

DO Seals 3, no. 72.1.


Bust of the Virgin holding a medallion of Christ before her. Sigla: ..Θ: [Μήτηρ] Θ(εο)ῦ. Remains of circular inscription. No visible border.


Θεοτόκε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ


Inscription of six lines. No visible border.


Ἰωάννῃ βασιλικῷ σπαθαροκανδιδάτῳ καὶ κομμερκηαρίο Ἱεροῦ τε κὲ Πόντου


Θεοτόκε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ Ἰωάννῃ βασιλικῷ σπαθαροκανδιδάτῳ καὶ κομμερκηαρίο Ἱεροῦ τε κὲ Πόντου.

Mother of God, help your servant John, imperial spatharokandidatos and kommerkiarios of Hieron and Pontos.


The restoration of "basilikos" (imperial) is tentative but highly likely.

It is not possible to identify with certainty the administrative unit that the Byzantines called Pontos because this term indicates all the southern coast of the Black Sea, particularly the half stretching to the east of Paphlagonia. This last meaning appears on some eighth-century seals of kommerkiarioi, as shown by Zacos-Veglery, no. 2765 (cf. Šandrovskaja, in SBS 3 (1993) 86-88, for more seals) and in De Adm. Imp., chap. 53, line 524 (πλαγίτικα τοῦ Πόντου = the littoral of the Armeniakon and more to the East). See also D. Sullivan, The Life of Saint Nikon (Brookline, Mass., 1987), 38; and Vie de Syméon le Nouveau Théologien, ed. I. Hausherr - G. Horn (Rome, 1928), 60. The city of Sinope definitely belonged to the Euxeinos Pontos (Zacos-Veglery, no. 2894; IXth c. kommerkiarios). On the usage of Euxeinos Pontos in Byzantine sources, see. I. Irmscher, "Die Benennung des Schwarzen Meeres bei den Byzantinern," ByzSl 23 (1962) 6-18.

Leo the Deacon makes the first mention of the presence of a strategos at the "Euxeinos and all the littoral" in 963.  As this concerns operations with the purpose of cutting off communications between Europe and Asia Minor, one is attempted to locate the Euxeinos at the straits.

This opens another possibility, also suggested by seal no. 72.1, which puts Pontos in close relationship with Hieron, the location of which, at the mouth of the Bosporus, is well known (cf. DO Seals 3, no. 81). In this place one would expect to find kommerkiarioi controlling maritime trade between the Black Sea and the region of Constantinople. Several other texts show the military importance of this point for controlling Constantinople and for defending it from any threat from the North (the Russians); this would explain the existence of strategos of the Stenon (i.e. the Bosporus), on whom see DO Seals 3, no. 73. See Listes.

We place the Pontos in the neighborhood of Hieron without much conviction only because this solution seems to us more probable than to place it in the eastern Pontic regions. We know of more seals of kommerkiarioi of the Pontos from the eighth and the ninth centuries: Zacos-Veglery, nos. 2765, 2077A, 2480B, 2671A; Lihačev, Molivdovuly, 145.