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Byzantine Seals with Family Names in Dumbarton Oaks

Werner Seibt, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Summer Fellow 2009

My summer fellowship arose from an invitation to serve as coeditor of the Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, volumes 7–9 (focusing on seals with family names; forthcoming) with John Nesbitt, which I accepted. In order to publish Dumbarton Oaks's collection of seals of family names, John Nesbitt first must identify the relevant seals and then pull the seals cards on which their transcriptions are recorded. From the cards he types two lists: a list of seals grouped alphabetically according to family name, with notation of accession number and negative number, and a list of seals grouped according to accession number, with notation of negative number and family name. The first list allows one to exercise control over the names being published. The second list allows one to identify in a methodical fashion the negatives which have to be pulled and given to Joe Mills (Dumbarton Oaks's photographer) for reproduction and transfer to CD. To date, John Nesbitt has compiled lists of seals with family names beginning with the letters "A," "B," "CH," D(oukai), K(omenos), and K(ontostephanos). So far, the total number of seals identified and listed amounts to 1,131 specimens. The number excludes seals that are cross-referenced with earlier publications. Before my arrival, John Nesbitt sent me these lists along with 1,131 photocopies of the cards on which the seal inscriptions are transcribed.

Using these lists, I focused on identifying seals with unusual, strange, or surprising names (according to initial transcriptions; all the readings on the cards are first impressions which need to be verified or refined). This work plan proved profitable since after my arrival at Dumbarton Oaks and my personal inspection of the seals I was able in a number of cases to propose alternate readings and corrections. The results will be checked in Vienna against my phototheke, the largest in the world.

Because the seals room closed in the early evening, I found that I had time to devote to two other projects. The first was the history of the metropolis of Caucasus in the fourteenth century (located presumably in the region east of Alania, an area occupied by the ancestors of the modern Os(s)etians, where Christianity was first introduced by the Georgians in the twelfth–thirteenth centuries). The second project was a study of the continuation of Byzantine power in Iberia and Kars, at least during the first years of the reign of Alexios Komnenos, as confirmed by newly discovered seals. I have been pondering if the dux Alousianos mentioned on the seals could have been identical with the Alousianos who was governor of Antiocheia for the Seljuks and before the occupation of Antiocheia by the crusaders. Sigillography can throw much needed light on conditions in the eastern Byzantine provinces after the battle of Mantzikert. Some of my studies of this issue are already published, while others are in press.

My wife, the recipient of a postdoctoral stipend during the time of my fellowship, worked primarily on checking the readings of some 300 metrical seals that John Nesbitt had pulled and segregated in the seals safe prior to our arrival. She is near completion of a project that involves compiling a corpus of all metrical legends on seals, both published and unpublished. We are pleased to say that she was able to examine all 300 seals (and quite a few more before her departure). Many metrical verses include family names, so her studies also help to advance the progress of DOSeals 7–9.