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Neophytos imperial protospatharios and epoptes of the Islands (eleventh century)

Accession number BZS.1958.106.862
Diameter 25 mm
Field diameter 21 mm
Condition Break along channl, which ran from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock; poorly printed on the sides.
Previous Editions

DO Seals 2, no. 43.1.


Bust of St. Athanasios dressed as a monk and wearing a hood, his left hand open in front of his chest. Vertical inscription: |Α.|Ν|ΑΣ: Ὁ ἅγιοςθανάσιος. Along the upper border of dots, inscription.


Ἄγηε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ


Inscription of five lines. Border of dots.


Νεοφύτ βασιλικῷ πρωτοσπαθαρίῳ καὶ ἐπόπτ τῶν Νίσων


Ἄγηε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ Νεοφύτῳ βασιλικῷ πρωτοσπαθαρίῳ καὶ ἐπόπτῃ τῶν Νίσων.

Holy one, help your servant Neophytos imperial protospatharios and epoptes of the Islands.


It is not clear which St. Athanasios is depicted here: as he is a monk, he could be St. Athanasios Paulopetriou, St. Athanasios the miracle worker (Syn. Eccl. CP, 483, 725), or the famous St. Athanasios the Athonite.

The reading of the placename at the end cannot be considered as secure per se because only the missing last letters would tell whether we deal with an official of the "islands" (Νίσων) as we have accepted, or of Niš (Νίσου), Naissus on the Morava (DO Seals 1, no. 32.1). We prefer the reading Νίσων because Niš was part of the Bulgarian state of Samuel, and we know that at least until the very late 30s of the 11th century there has been no attempt to impose on these regions the usual Byzantine taxation (Ostrogorsky, History, 287)--and when this was attempted, it provoked the revolt of Peter Deljan. Thus, the presence of an epoptes, that is, a revisor of the cadaster, in Naissus seems unrealistic for the time of the present seal.

In the sixth century, a province called Νήσων (of the islands) is attested in the Synekdemos of Hierokles (32, no. κθˊ): it comprised what we call today the Dodecanese, the islands of Siphnos, Paros, Tenos, Andros as well as those to their east, Samos, Chios, Mitylene and Tenedos (the western islands of the Aegean were attached to the province of Hellas). It is practically identical to the ecclesiastical province of the Cyclades with the main differences being that some of the islands of the province had not bishop, and one, Mitylene, was an archbishopric and for this reason was not under the authority of the metropolitan of Rhodes. We understand that the early Byzantine trakteutai (DO Seals 2, no. 43.5) collected taxes from this province ton Neson. For administrative purposes, this province was under the control of a praefectus (Zacos-Veglery, no. 2928).

In the late seventh century we find seals of kommerkiarioi of the Cyclades. In the eighth century we find thsoe of the Nesoi (which appears to be a different name for the Cyclades): in 721/22, we have a kommerkiarios of Asia, Karia (i.e., west Asia Minor), and of all the islands of the Greek land (τῶν νήσων ὅλων ... Ἑλλήνων χώρας: Zacos-Veglery, no. 226, but see the new reading in Lihačev, Molivdovuly, 216-17, esp. note 3), obviously indicating that his authority went beyond the province ton Neson and comprised all the Aegean islands, including those of Hellas. Thirteen years later, in 734/35, we find a kommerkiarios of the islands of the Aigaion Pelagos (Αἰγαίου Πελάγου νήσων: Zacos-Veglery, no. 249) showing that by now the islands were a separate entity attached to the new administrative unit called the Aigaion Pelagos. In 784 we meet a droungarios tes Dodekanesou, see DO Seals 2, § 40 (p. 110).

The islands disappear as an administrative unit until the second half of the 10th century--and it is apparent that many of them had been deserted because of the Arab raids from Crete. Then the Cyclades reappear as a theme (see DO Seals 2, § 42), and we believe that it is to this administrative unit that all the eleventh-century seals of judges, epoptai, and strategoi of Nesoi that we publish refer.