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The imperial kommerkia of Thessalonica (740/1)

Accession number BZS.1958.106.693
Diameter 34 mm
Condition Struck off-center to the l.
Previous Editions

DO Seals 1, no. 18.30.
Zacos-Veglery, no. 256.


Half-length representations of Leo III (left), bearded, and Constantine V, beardless, holding a long cross between them; each wears divitision, chlamys, and crown with cross. No visible border.


Inscription of six lines. Linear border.


Τῶν βασιλικν κομμερκίων Θεσσαλονίκις. Ἰνδικτιὼν θˊ


Τῶν βασιλικῶν κομμερκίων Θεσσαλονίκις. Ἰνδικτιὼν θˊ.

(Seal) of the imperial kommerkia of Thessalonica. Indiction 9.


The seals of imperial kommerkia (730/1-832/3), listed by Zacos-Veglery, 192-97, seem to come from offices run by state officials for the state (and not by tax farmers): see Oikonomides, Kommerkiarioi, 41.

Thessalonica (Θεσσαλονίκη, also Σαλονίκη; see the commentary of DO Seals 1, 18.29), the second city of the empire, was traditionally the capital of Illyrikon and seat of the praefectus praetorio per Illyricum. From the seventh century on (Lemerle, St. Démétrius II, 176), we find in the sources and on many seals a prefect (ἔπαρχος) of Thessalonica, who seems to have been a real urban prefect, comparable to that of Constantinople: see Angeliki Konstantakopoulou, "L'éparque de Thessalonique: Les origines d'une institution administrative (VIIIe-IXe siècles)," Communications grecques présentées au Ve Congrès international des études du sud-est européen, Belgrade: 11-17 Septembre 1984 (Athens, 1985), 157-62. Konstantakopoulou concludes that the eparch of Thessalonica was a "new" official, invented ad hoc, but we would prefer to see in him the continuation of the praefectus praetorio per Illyricum, an Illyricum that by the seventh century was largely lost to the Slavs.

The economic activities of the city are reflected in the large number of seals of kommerkiarioi that are preserved, starting with the year 712/3 (to the lists of Bibicou, Douanes, Zacos-Veglery, 185-87, and Zacos, Seals II, one can now add Speck, Bleisiegel, no. 150): these were officials initially involved in silk production and trade who later became collectors of the percent tax on the transport and sale of merchandise called κομμέρκιον (Oikonomides, Kommerkiarioi).

Also numerous are the officials related to the abydos of Thessalonica, an institution whose very existence in the late eighth and ninth centuries remained unknown until recently.  Presumably, it was organized on the model of the well-known port of the Hellespontos, Abydos, where strict control was exercised over both entering and exiting ships and travelers, and taxes were levied on merchandise imported or exported to the Byzantine capital, by kommerkiarioi as well as by the paraphylakes, that is, the military commanders of the fortress. Thessalonica also had its own paraphylax (DO Seals 1, no. 18.52) and was given an ἄβυδος, that is, an office where the same controls were performed as in the Straits, here concerned with the movement of persons and the trade to and from the city's hinterland; this was placed under the control of a κομμερκιάριος τοῦ ἀβύδου, an ἀβυδικός, or an ἀβύδου (i.e. ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀβύδου; cf. ὁ κανικλείου for ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ κανικλείου). The importance of the institution is underscored by the impressive number of extant seals. An attempt to concentrate all Bulgarian trade at the abydos of Thessalonica seems to have been the cause of the Bulgaro-Byzantine war of 894. On this, see Oikonomides, Abydos.

The city also became the capital of the theme of Thessalonica, created before 836, most probably before 824 (Listes, 352) or perhaps much earlier (DO Seals 1, no. 18.27). There is a long list of seals of strategoi and ek prosopou (DO Seals 1, no. 18.17) and of other thematic officials, such as tourmarchai, protonotarioi, and chartoularioi. The archontes of Thessalonica may have been chieftains of neighboring Slavic settlements (cf. DO Seals 1, nos. 18.12-13). With the administrative reform of the second half of the tenth century, Thessalonica was provided with heavy cavalry of the tagmata, under the command of a doux or katepano, first attested in the Escorial Taktikon (971-975: see Listes, 354), who seems to have coexisted, at least for some time, with the strategos. Sigillographic material concerning officials of the theme of Thessalonica has been put together by Winkelmann, Ämterstruktur, 106, 126-27.

The ecclesiastical see of Thessalonica was subordinate to Rome, and as an archbishopric it supervised the Illyricum. Latin was still used during this period, as attested by DO Seals 1, no. 18.83. Thessalonica, attached to the patriarchate of Constantinople (ca. 733), became a regular metropolitan capital, with the number of its bishoprics varying from five to twelve. The metropolitan at times continued to use his traditional title of archbishop (cf. e.g., PG 99, col. 917), as did other high-ranking metropolitans, beginning with the metropolitan of Caesarea. See Laurent, Corpus V/1, 324-25.