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Lead Seals in Dumbarton Oaks and the Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire

Michael John Jeffreys, University of Oxford, Summer Fellow 2008

The Prosopography of the Byzantine World (PBW) project, which I manage, had on its website details of some 3,300 Dumbarton Oaks seals, more than half not from Dumbarton Oaks publications. Many of these references were wrong or suspect. After energetic checking and detective work during the summer, our website will soon acquire information on more than 200 new Dumbarton Oaks seals and 350 others with corrected references. I hope the availability of good references will drive out the bad. During this process dozens more improvements were made in the seal descriptions.

I offered expertise in two areas of John Nesbitt’s current work, metrical seals and twelfth-century prosopography. Metrical work was eliminated and prosopography extended at John’s suggestion. I first spent ten days on an electronic index to Varzos’s badly flawed but indispensable book on twelfth-century prosopography. The index has already saved two days of my time, and an hour or more for two other fellows. John Nesbitt and I then picked out and photocopied about 500 record cards of seals from three major twelfth-century families, the Komnenoi, Doukai, and Kontostephanoi. I have made the easy identifications of owners, and worked out some more difficult cases, leaving others for the future. For cases where identification is probably impossible I am writing helpful summaries of the possibilities.

About one week was spent on other essential work: proofs for the edition of the Letters of Iakovos Monachos, the final version of an article on Psellos, a collaborative article on the First Crusade for which I found useful bibliography, and a lecture on the European discovery of popular Byzantine historical poetry.