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Seals at the Border, Seals in Context: Seals and Dorogichin-Type Seals from Czermno (Cherven Towns)

Marcin Wołoszyn, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Cracow, PL, and Marcin Piotrowski, Institute of Archaeology, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, PL, with Elżbieta M. Nosek, Ars-Met Konserwacja Zabytkowych Obiektów Metalowych, Cracow, PL, Project Grant 2012–2013


Fig. 1: Cherven Towns area.An important component of the Polish-Rus’ borderland during the Middle Ages is the region known as “Cherven Towns,” identified with earthworks found in the villages of Czermno and Gródek (on the Western Bug River and its tributary the Huczwa). The name “Cherven Towns” appears for the first time in The Russian Primary Chronicle in the context of the Polish-Ruthenian wars of 1018 and 1031, while the fortress Cherven itself (today’s earthwork at Czermno) is mentioned in the same chronicle already in relation to the events of AD 981.

The Cherven Towns have been investigated by regular archaeological excavation on a number of occasions. It is regrettable that most of the findings— rich and fascinating finds of Byzantine and early Rus’ origin— from all these research projects were never published and are not more widely known.

In 2008–2013, the Cherven Towns area was investigated by M. Wołoszyn within the project Comparing Medieval Boundary Regions based at the Leipzig Centre for the History and Culture of East Central Europe (GWZO; coordinators: Prof. Dr. Ch. Lübke, Prof. Dr. M. Hardt) in close cooperation with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Rzeszow.

Fig. 2: Czermno complex.

The complex at Czermno consists of the stronghold, built on a well-drained holm at the confluence of the Huczwa River and its small tributary, the Siniucha, and of a group of open settlements on the marshy bank of the Huczwa. There are more of these open settlements to the north of that stream too. The area of the entire complex is estimated at approximately 75 hectares, possibly even 150 hectares; a part of this area is marshy and waterlogged. In 1985, to the northwest of the stronghold, traces of a wooden causeway were discovered, which presumably facilitated communication between the open settlements established on the holms rising within the marshy valley of the Huczwa. These causeways have been dated by dendrochonology to the period from the 12th to the 13th century.

Fig. 3: Hoards of medieval jewelry discovered inside the stronghold of Czermno, dating to the 13–14th centuries (Wołoszyn et al. 2012–2013) Fig. 3: Hoards of medieval jewelry discovered inside the stronghold of Czermno, dating to the 13–14th centuries.

In 2010–11, A. Kokowski and M. Piotrowski (University of Lublin) made some sensational discoveries at Czermno (2,500 finds!) which have shed new light on the earthwork found in that locality. The most spectacular finds by far are two extraordinary hoards of medieval jewellery discovered inside the stronghold. Most of the finds from Czermno can be dated to the period from the 11th to the 13th century; the hoards belong to the period from the 13th to the 14th century.

A very important category of finds recovered at Czermno is seals and Dorogichin-type seals, important not least because their context of discovery is known, something that is of more general relevance for Byzantino-Rus’ sphragistic studies. The grant awarded by Dumbarton Oaks was expended on conservation of 30 of Rus’ lead seals and 190 of Dorogichin-type seals. The specialist in charge of the conservation was E. M. Nosek. In addition (in cooperation with J. Stępiński MA, Dr. A. Rachwalska, and Professor W. Łasota), E. M. Nosek made chemical analyses of the lead seals and Dorogichin-type seals.


Fig. 4: Lead seals (Wołoszyn et al. 2012–2013) Fig. 4: Lead seals.

The lead artifacts were substantially damaged by corrosion. Their surface was encrusted in a thick grayish layer of lead corrosion products. Five seals stood out from the rest of the group in that they had a red-brown layer. The inscriptions on both faces of the artifacts were mostly contained in a layer of corrosion. To select the correct method of conservation a preliminary study was made of the surface of the artifacts with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) integrated with a EDS microdetector, and a study of the phase composition of the corrosion layer using the X-ray diffraction method. The red layer formed on the seals was cracked in many places which is clearly visible (Fig. 4:6). Analysis was made with X’PERT-PRO diffractometer, its results represented in graphic and table form. The accretions were found to contain lead oxides and calcium carbonate. The red color of the corrosion products comes from the presence of the lead oxide which may be yellow or red. The EDS microanalysis determined the presence in the tested areas of small quantities of CaCO3  and P [phosphorus?] in addition to the main component, lead (Pb).

In the case of small lead objects like lead seals, which are so seriously corroded that almost all of their surface was obscured, the removal of corrosion products could have resulted in the loss of inscriptions. This made consolidative reduction the preferable method. In this technique, basic carbonate and oxides of lead are converted to metallic lead. The lead seals and Dorogichin-type seals were placed in small containers made of platinum wire and lowered into a 10% solution of sodium hydroxide. The lead objects acted as the cathode, the platinum mesh as the anode. A current density of 50–100 milliamp/dm2 was applied. The period of reduction takes up to a month, sometimes longer. The end of reduction was indicated by the evolution of small bubbles.

The next stage of reduction was to rinse the lead seals and Dorogichin-type seals to remove the residue of alkali. This was done in a solution containing a few drops of 15 sulphuric acid to obtain a pH of 7. Next, the artifacts were washed in methyl spirit, dried, and glass brushing. The final operation was to coat the lead objects in a composition of wax. Thanks to this procedure the fine inscriptions on both faces of the finds were consolidated and became available for examination.

Metal Composition

In order to test their chemical composition prior to conservation treatment, selected seals and Dorogichin-type seals were subjected to detailed observation under a  high-resolution scanning electron microscope (JEOL–JSM-7500F) integrated with an EDS-INCA PENTAFET x3 detector; the observations were presented in photographic form. Parallel to these tests a microanalysis was made of eight areas shown on the micrographs. As can be inferred from analysis results the tested seals are made of pure lead. There was also a small amount of impurities—calcium, phosphorous, and fluorine. Their presence may be explained by the persistent presence of tracedirt and soil inside the seals in the metal. 

Sphragistic Analysis

Fig. 5: Lead seals (Wołoszyn et al. 2012–2013) Fig. 5: Lead seals. In 2012–2013, a comprehensive catalogue of lead seals and Dorogichin-type seals from Czermno was made as well as a detailed map of their distribution within the site and the full photographic documentation of these artifacts. A single western seal from the house of Anjou in the fourteenth century has been identified. 


The seals from Czermno evidently date to the 12–13th centuries. Some of them have been attributed to particular rulers. Two seals (Fig. 5:2-3) are with the representation of David. A detailed analysis of their political activity confirmed that the seal from Czermno must belong to David Igorevich, duke of Volodymyr-Volynskyi, placing this specimen in the period 1084–1112. Next, we have a seal with an obverse inscription +ДЬНѣСЛОВО, and a reverse representation of Saint John the Baptist (Fig. 5:1). This type of seal can be attributed to Iaroslav (son of Sviatopolk Iziaslavich [Sviatopolk II of Kiev]), ruler in Volhynia in the period 1100–18. Two seals have a reverse representation of Saint Basil the Great (of Caesarea), or alternately, of Archangel Michael or Gabriel (Fig. 5:4-5). They can be attributed to Ryurik Rostislavich (†1215).

Dorogichin-type seals

Fig. 6: Dorogichin-type lead seals (Wołoszyn et al. 2012–2013) Fig. 6: Dorogichin-type lead seals.

A special type of seal distinctive for the territory of early medieval Rus’ and found in Czermno are seals defined as “Dorogichin-type” (Fig. 6). The name of this special type of seal was coined from the medieval name of the Rus’ town of Dorogichin (now Drohiczyn Poland). They are decorated either with the prince’s mark, geometric figures, or with schematic representations of saints, animals, and they are smaller than “ordinary” seals. The function of these objects, and their dating, is still insufficiently understood.

Of forty localities listed by V. Perkhavko (1996) as the site of the discovery of Dorogichin-type seals only a small number are on the territory of Volga Bulgaria and in Lithuania, the remainder being in the territory of Kievan Rus’. The total number of seal finds was estimated by Perkhavko at close to 15,000; of these, not less than 12,000 (80% of the total) were provenanced to Drohiczyn, 2,500 (17%) to the territory of northern Rus’. Only 3% of finds came from southern and western Rus’ (locations other than Drohiczyn).

There is no denying that the growing popularity of metal detectors has contributed to the increase of the number of finds of Dorogichin-type seals. The majority of Dorogichin-type seals come from 19th-century discoveries and mostly lack any record of the context of discovery. The photographic record (from the early 20th century) published recently by E. Nosov and A. Musin documenting the site of the discovery of the seals at Drohiczyn itself shows that at this location too they did not surface inside the earthwork but to the west of it, in the water meadows on the Bug River (see the paper of A. E. Musin in Bagińska, Piotrowski, Wołoszyn, eds. 2012, pp. 257–79, with further literature).

Fig. 7: Map of findspots for seals at the Czermno complex.

In this situation, the finds from Czermno, thanks to their detailed documentation, gain special relevance. It is highly significant that nearly all the lead seals, Dorogichin-type included, surfaced at Czermno within the marshy valley of the Huczwa River rather than on the site of the former stronghold. It is possible that near to the stronghold there used to be a riverside landing, the site of trade between Poland and Rus’, but this may be resolved only by future research. In 2013 we will begin a thorough archaeological excavation at Czermno and Gródek (see below). In two to three years we hope to know much more about the function of suburb settlements at Czermno and the function of the seals discovered there.

Dissemination of Project Results to the Public

J. Bagińska, M. Piotrowski and M. Wołoszyn developed the exhibition and an accompanying catalogue on Czermno – the Stronghold between East and West. The catalogue and the exhibition's information panels are in four languages (Polish, German, Italian, and Ukrainian), and there are plans to mount the exhibition in Germany, Italy, and Ukraine. The exhibition was shown in the regional museum in Tomaszów Lubelski (2012/13) and opened at the National Museum in Cracow on 5 April 2013 (the Exhibition Curator in Cracow is M. P. Kruk).

Future Research Perspectives

In autumn 2012, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland awarded a grant to implement a three-year (2013–16) research project focused on Czermno and Gródek (The Golden Apple of Polish Archaeology. Stronghold Complexes at Czermno and Gródek [Cherven Towns] – Chronology and Function in the Light of Past and Current Research; No. 12H 12 0064 81]). One of the project objectives is dating the earliest defensive structures (dendrochronology), another is making a paleoenvironmental study. We hope to augment our series with new finds of seals and Dorogichin-type seals, and to improve our understanding of the marshy valley of the Huczwa River. It is possible that in the area near Czermno had a river landing, a stage on the trade route running from Regensburg to Prague, Cracow and Kiev.


Funding by DO of the earlier project Seals at the Border, Seals in Context has helped us improve our understanding of a group of finds from the western fringes of the Byzantine Commonwealth; moreover, it helped us secure generous funding from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland to intensify study of the Cherven Towns region. For their assistance in implementing the present project our warm thanks go to J. Bagińska (Tomaszów Lubelski), I. Florkiewicz (Rzeszów), K. Grochecki (Rzeszów) and especially to V. Bulgakova (Berlin) and A. E. Musin (St. Petersburg).


The main results of the project (with literature) were published in:

Bagińska, J., M. Piotrowski, and M. Wołoszyn, eds. Červen’ – eine Burg zwischen Ost und West. Ausstellungskatalog. Leipzig, Lublin, and Rzeszów: Tomaszów Lubelsk, 2012.

Piotrowski, M., and M. Wołoszyn. "Czermno/Cherven – Archaeological Investigation of an Early Rus’ Medieval Town in Eastern Poland in 2010–2011." A Preliminary Report. In Rome, Constantinople and Newly-Converted Europe: Archaeological and Historical Evidence, edited by M. Salamon, M. Wołoszyn, A. Musin, P. Špehar, M. Hardt, M.P. Kruk, A. Sulikowska-Gąska, 2:359–89. (Kraków: Instytut Archeologii i Etnologii Polskiej Akademii Nauk / Leipzig: Geisteswissenschaftliches Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas, 2012.

Piotrowski, M., and M. Wołoszyn. "Die Červenischen Burgen und die Frage der Herausbildung der polnisch-altrussische Grenze im 10.-11. Jahrhundert. Ein archäologisch-historischer Beitrag, Siedlungsforschung." Archäologie - Geschichte – Geographie 29 (2011): 75–105.

See also:

Perkhavko, V. B. "Распространение пломб дрогичинского типа." In Древнейшие государства Восточной Европы. 1994 год. Новое в нумизматике. Moscow, 1996, 211–41.