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George protosynkellos and kommerkiarios of Crete (eleventh century)

Accession number BZS.1955.1.4599
Diameter 19 mm
Previous Editions

DO Seals 2, no. 36.4.
D. Tsougarakis, REB 48 (1990) 246, no. 5 (slightly different reading, dated to the 10th c.). A specimen with the same inscription differently abridged and with a cross on the obv., was edited by Mordtmann, RA 1877/2, no. 50 = Sig., 201, cf. SBS 2 (1990) 151, no. 57 (also dated to the 10th c.).


Bust of the Virgin orans, the medallion of Christ before her. No inscription visible. Border of dots.


Inscription of five lines. Border of dots.


Γεωργίο πρωτοσυνκέλλ καὶ κουμερκηαρί Κρήτις


Γεωργίο πρωτοσυνκέλλῳ καὶ κουμερκηαρίῳ Κρήτις.

George protosynkellos and kommerkiarios of Crete.


Lines 2 and 3: the letters ΣΥΝ|ΚΕΛΛˋ are clearly imprinted, and the preceding Α can still be discerned along with a portion of the bar above: the title πρωτοσυνκέλλῳ is certain. In principle, this dignity was bestowed upon ecclesiastics, and its presence on a seal of kommerkiarios is unexpected. However, as Tsougarakis, points out, we know of a monk and synkellos who was anagrapheus of Bulgaria in the 11th century (Zacos, Seals II, no. 959); we also know that the canonical prohibition for clerics to exercise lay professions, especially those related to tax collection, was not always respected (vast literature; cf. E. Papagianne, "Ἐπιτρπόμενες καὶ ἀπαγορευμένες κοσμικὲς ἐνασχολήσεις τοῦ Βυζαντινοῦ κλήρου," Πρακτικά, Δ′ Πανελλήνιο Ἱστορικὸ Συνέδριο [Thessalonica, 1983], 146-66).

But nothing on the present seal shows that George was in fact an ecclesiastic. He mentions no such title, and, in any case, he does not appear to be the archbishop of Crete, the only ecclesiastic of the island with strong chances of becoming a protosynkellos, as no George appears in the Synodikon of Crete.

We assume that George was a layman, who for some reason had received this high title; one should not forget that synkellos was an imperial title, given by the emperor only (Listes, 308). A quick look among the preserved 11th century seals of synkelloi and protosynkelloi shows that, although in the majority they were bishops or otherwise associated with the clergy or monks, there are several who seem to have been laymen. We know this because their seals do not show any association with the church, and this is all the more obvious on the seals of protosynkelloi: for example, Niketas, John, Leo Pagomenos (with family name but with no ecclesiastical title), all protosynkelloi (Laurent, Corpus V/, nos. 220, 222, 1675; one can repeat the same exercise with the synkelloi). In other words, we believe that in the 11th century, the purely honorific titles of synkellos and protosynkellos, although pious, were also bestowed by the emperor upon laymen, such as George of the present seal.

The presence of a kommerkiarios in Crete is attested in the 12th century: Atti della Società Ligure di Storia Patria 29/1 (1896) 400.