Skip to Content

From Individual Stories to Imperial Policy

March 17, 2022
04:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Seals and the Reign of Basil II

In conjunction with the Dumbarton Oaks special exhibition Lasting Impressions: People, Power, Piety, this lecture explores how seals, both singly and collectively, can provide fresh insights on Byzantine history. Inscriptions on seals are a snapshot of a person’s life at the time the seals were struck.Examining the seals of individuals who lived during the reign of Basil II (976–1025), Jonathan Shea enhances the generally accepted image of this great warrior-emperor. A single seal of a reformed rebel opens a new window onto the civil wars that rocked the early years of Basil’s reign. The vast body of material struck in Constantinople uncovers what the emperor was doing when he was not fighting with his neighbors.

Jonathan Shea is Associate Curator of Coins and Seals at Dumbarton Oaks. His book Politics and Government in Byzantium: The Rise and Fall of the Bureaucrats is an exploration of how information from seals can cut through the distortions in the historical record and reveal the domestic policies of Byzantium’s much maligned eleventh-century emperors. Shea is curator of the Dumbarton Oaks exhibition Lasting Impressions: People, Power, Piety, an exploration of Byzantine expressions of identity, faith, and visual culture through seals.