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Byzantine Seals Collection

Dumbarton Oaks is home to the most important collection of Byzantine lead seals in the world, numbering some 17,000 specimens.

Search the Collection Online Exhibits Publications Related Resources

The 17,000 seals in the Dumbarton Oaks collection are a rich source of information about the Byzantines and their empire. Ranging from the fourth to fifteenth centuries and covering a wide array of Byzantine society, seals provide a unique lens through which to view social, institutional, religious, and artistic developments in the empire.

The first seals were acquired by Dumbarton Oaks in 1946 and the collection continued to grow into the 1960. Since 1972 Dumbarton Oaks has actively catalogued its collection leading to the publication to date of seven print volumes and an online catalogue launched in 2010.

Through its publications, online resources, and educational activities Dumbarton Oaks hopes to increase access to its collection and foster interest in seals as a source for understanding Byzantium and its people.

Introduction to Seals  Bibliography

Access and Rights

The Byzantine Seal Collection is available online. Physical access to the collection is restricted; contact for inquiries.

Images from this collection are available for personal, educational, and academic purposesRequest images.

Preferred citation:

  • For 1951.31.5 accession numbers: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Thomas Whittemore. Accession number. Image: © Dumbarton Oaks, Byzantine Collection, Washington, DC.
  • For all other accession numbers: © Dumbarton Oaks, Coins and Seals Collection, Washington, DC


Online Exhibits

Lasting Impressions: People, Power, Piety

Each lead seal is a small witness to an individual Byzantine and how they chose to present themselves. In exploring what seal owners said about themselves and how designs changed over a millennium, this exhibition evokes the world in which Byzantines, from empresses to bathhouse attendants, lived.

God’s Regents on Earth: A Thousand Years of Byzantine Imperial Seals

For over a thousand years the Byzantine Emperor ruled as God’s regent of earth. The designs of the imperial seals in this exhibition provide an insight into the minds and policies of the rulers whose image they bore.

Leaden Gospels

To accompany the 2013 Byzantine Studies symposium, “New Testament in Byzantium,” this exhibition presents and analyzes several of the rare Byzantine lead seals from the collection that depict New Testament narrative scenes and figures.





Related Resources

Athena Ruby Inscription Font

Resources for Athena Ruby, a single, comprehensive font for use in the scholarly publication of Byzantine inscriptions. Athena Ruby, is an OpenType, Unicode-compliant font, and therefore compatible with all major operating systems.

Learning to Read

Byzantine Coins and Seals Summer Program

Behind the Scenes: Cataloguing our Byzantine Seals

Bringing thousands of Byzantine lead seals to life

Big Data Tells Intimate Stories

A Byzantine art historian, a palace servant, and new acquisitions to a celebrated seal collection

Deciphering Sacred Figures

John Cotsonis (Bishop Joachim of Amissos) wrestles with a corpus of anonymous Byzantine lead seals in a new catalogue from Dumbarton Oaks Publications

Studying Particles of the Past

Dmitry Korobeynikov studies the border zone of medieval Byzantium through non-Greek lead seals