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N. imperial spatharios and strategos of Mesopotamia (ninth century) (810/1?)

Accession number BZS.1958.106.602
Diameter 29 mm
Condition Blank too small for matrix. Cracked along the channel.
Previous Editions

DO Seals 4, no. 55.15.

Zacos-Veglery, no. 284. Discussion by Brandes, "Überlegungen".


In the upper part, busts of two emperors wearing chlamydes; the one on the left is beardless, the face of the one on the right is not visible. In the lower part, divided by a straight line, an inscription. Indeterminate border.


[Ἰν]δικτηὸν [τ]ετάρτ(η)


Inscription of four lines. Indeterminate border.


[..]ηρ[...]ῳ β(ασιλικῷ) σπ[α(υαρίῳ) (καὶ)] στρατ[ηγ(ῷ)] Μεσοπ(οταμίας)


Ἰνδικτηὸν τετάρτη.   ..ηρ...ῳ βασιλικῷ σπαυαρίῳ καὶ στρατηγῷ Μεσοποταμίας.

Fourth indiction., imperial spatharios and strategos of Mesopotamia.


The reading of the name on line one of the obverse is tentative. The first visible letter has a horizontal bar lower than the top of a regular letter of this inscription, and the only letter with a horizontal line in the middle is Η. Moreover, the vertical line next to it shows the beginning of a curved line that suggests Ρ. Τhe names Σωτηρίχῳ and Πανθηρίῳ are possible yet equally uncertain.

The seal is dated to the fourth indiction, its epigraphy suggests a date in the ninth century, and the two imperial figures point to a time when two emperors reigned simultaneously, i.e. 810/11 (Nikephoros I and Staurakios), 825/6 (Michael II and Theophilos), 840/1 (Theophilos and Michael III), 870/1 (Basil I and Constantine). Zacos-Veglery have rightly rejected the last two dates because of the way that the faces are treated; of the remaining two, they favor 825/6, without giving any consideration to 810/11, undoubtedly because of the humiliations suffered by Nikephoros I at the hands of the Arabs and because Nikephoros was killed in 811 (but the present seal was undoubtedly engraved before or at the beginning of the year 810/811 in order to serve from the 1st of September 810 to the 31 of August 811. On the other hand, Seibt has shown (ByzSl 36, 1975, 210) that the representations of the emperors on our seal fit better with 810/11 than with any other reign: both emperors wear the chlamys, as on Nikephoros I’s coins (Grierson, Catalogue III/1, pl. XVI) and seals (Zacos-Veglery, nos. 43, 44, 45), on which they appear sometimes side by side; on the contrary, the coins of Michael II and of Michael III display the living co-emperor dressed in a loros (Grierson, I III/1, pl. XX, XXII). Moreover, the bottom curls of the hair of the emperor to the left is treated with horizontal lines, in a way that is also characteristic of Nikephoros I but not of later emperors. We therefore attribute the present specimen to the year 810/11, and consider it the result of a temporary arrangement, the Byzantines having managed to attract into their orbit a local lord, possibly profiting from the instability that prevailed in the Caliphate after the death of Harun al Rashid (809).