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Byzantine Collecting and Numismatics

Descriptions of numismatic collections; historical accounts of Byzantium; catalogs of collections of Byzantine minor arts

Rare Books Museum Collections Archival Collections Online Exhibits Publications External Resources Related Content

Byzantine coins were often featured in early modern antique collections, in which the iconography of the rulers of Constantinople supplemented the series of Roman emperors. This antiquarian interest, inspired by the Petrarchan tradition of celebrating the great personages of antiquity, usually combined scholarly and political agendas, extending the ancient imperial lineage to the Habsburg monarchs Charles V and Rudolf II. The importance of numismatics as a source of historical information about Byzantium was fully demonstrated by Charles du Cange, who grouped the available evidence into tables to illustrate the empire’s dynastic succession. Other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholars, such as Jean Foy-Vaillant, expanded this material by adding findings from travels in the Middle East, including Parthian and Edessan coins.

Prestigious Byzantine ivories and metalwork continued to find their way into nineteenth-century European collections, where they were studied by scholars such as Jules Labarte, Charles Bayet, Charles Diehl, and Augustus Wollaston Franks. If for the French and British scholarship the task was to integrate these objects into the Western Medieval canon, reassembling the remnants of the imperial glory was a matter of national pride for contemporary Russian collectors. Although soon dispersed, the collections of Byzantine minor arts owned by Alexandr Basilevsky, Aaron Zwenigorodskoi, and Mikhail Botkin were widely celebrated at the time, becoming subjects of sumptuous publications.

Standing out among these books both from scholarly and aesthetic points of view is the catalog of Zwenigorodskoi’s enamels by Nikodim Kondakov, 600 copies of which were produced in three different language editions and distributed, instead of commercially, as exclusive gifts (Dumbarton Oaks owns the French version). A masterpiece of chromolithography, its lavish illustrations used the new color printing medium in emulation of enamelwork to draw palpable links between imperial Russia and its Byzantine heritage.


Searching for Materials in HOLLIS​

In addition to select digitized titles, the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection holds numerous materials related to Byzantine collecting and numismatics. To quickly locate items in HOLLIS, use the “Advanced Search” feature to specify material subject, language, date range, or other criteria. Relevant subjects include the following:


Christian art and symbolism

Enamel and enameling

Digitized Rare Books

Museum Collections

Archival Collections

The Byzantine Black and White Mounted Photograph Collection includes over 75,000 mounted black and white photographic prints of Byzantine art, architecture, and archaeology, its bulk being from the fourth through the fifteenth century.

The Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Color Photograph Collection, 1960–2010, includes approximately 9,000 color slides donated by or purchased from scholars, other institutions, or vendors, depicting a wide range of subjects from Byzantine art and architecture, including manuscripts, coins, metalwork, paintings, sculpture, ivories, enamels, jewelry, and textiles.

The Corpus of Early Christian and Byzantine Silver, 1981–1986, includes 3,921 photographs of silver objects from collections throughout Europe and the United States.

The Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Census Project, ca. 1930s-1980s - Object Census and the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Census Project, ca. 1930s-1980s - Textile Census contain, respectively, 12,810 and 3,612 photographs of Byzantine objects and textiles in American collections.

The Hayford Peirce Research Papers and Photographs, 1883–1946, reflects Peirce’s broad interest in early Christian and middle Byzantine art. The majority of the collection are photographs of manuscripts, textiles, sculpture, and other media.


Online Exhibits

Explore highlights from the collection related to Byzantine collecting and numismatics below, or view all online exhibits.


Discover featured titles related to Byzantine collecting and numismatics below, or search all titles from Dumbarton Oaks Publications. In addition, numerous articles in Dumbarton Oaks Papers deal with aspects of Byzantine collecting.

External Resources

The Index of Medieval Art houses, contextualizes, and presents images and information relating to the iconographic traditions of the medieval world. Founded in 1917 and maintained by a specialized staff of art historians, it serves iconographic researchers through both its physical archive on the Princeton University campus and an expanding online database. The print index and online database together make available approximately 350,000 images and data from the “Long Middle Ages,” from early apostolic times until the sixteenth century. Full access to the online database is available to users by subscription; however, the Index has made the The Svetlana Tomeković Database of Byzantine Art, a collection of nearly 4,000 images of frescoes and architecture in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, available without a subscription. 

The American Numismatic Society’s collections database, MANTIS, contains information on more than 600,000 objects in the Society’s collections, including coins, paper money, tokens, medals and decorations. The Byzantine Department comprises around 13,000 coins struck at Byzantium and at the regional mints of the Byzantine Empire from the reign of Anastasius I (419–518 CE).

Prosopography der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit Online (PmbZ Online) is a comprehensive biographical dictionary for the Byzantine Empire in the early medieval period (641–1025 CE) documenting more than 21,000 persons. Much of the data is drawn from seals and epigraphic objects, as well as textual sources. Users can search the database by name, occupation, place, or clergy or lay status.

The Prosopography of the Byzantine World is a prosopographical database of individuals named in textual and epigraphic sources, especially lead seals, from the Byzantine Empire and surrounding areas. The online database currently covers the period from 1025 to 1180 CE. The site provides a transcription and translation into English of each seal, as well as an accompanying bibliography and glossary. Users can search the database by name, ethnicity, occupation, office, or location.

The aim of the Typika database is to bring together all the terms for artifacts and raw materials mentioned in Byzantine archival documents. Users can browse the database by artifact, document, or “synthesis,” a module that compiles and summarizes different occurrences of the same term. The website is in French; however, the database can be searched in English.


Learn more about other collection strengths that may contain materials of interest to this research topic, or view all collection strengths.

Related Content

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Dumbarton Oaks curator cracks the case of broken Byzantine seal


New Byzantine Seals

Recent acquisitions complement seals in the collection and highlight the stories of individual Byzantines


Byzantium beyond Its Borders

Non-Greek seals shed light on Byzantine influence abroad