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Arsenios archbishop of Sardinia (eighth/ninth century)

Accession number BZS.1951.31.5.228
Diameter 33 mm
Previous Editions

DO Seals 1, no. 9.1.
Laurent, Corpus V/1, no. 917.
Zacos-Veglery, no. 1328.


The Virgin standing frontally, holding Christ. Cruciform invocative monogram consisting of Θ, at left, Ε, at right, Κ, at bottom, and Τ and Ο in ligature, above. On the left, cruciform invocative monogram consisting of Θ, at left, Η, at right, Β, below and Ο, above. Wreath border.

Θεοτόκε βοήθει


Inscription of five lines. Wreath border.


Ἀρσενίῳ ἀρχιεπισκόπῳ Σαρδηνίας


Θεοτόκε βοήθει Ἀρσενίῳ ἀρχιεπισκόπῳ Σαρδηνίας.

Theotokos, help Arsenios archbishop of Sardinia.


Laurent dated this seal to the second half of the ninth century, but the type of the seal (Virgin Hodegetria between two monograms) and the two-loop beta at the bottom of the invocative monogram on the obverse indicate that this seal is from the period of the iconophile reaction (787-815). An early date is also suggested by the letter Α with broken horizontal bar (rev., line 2). This ecclesiastic should be a successor to Thomas, the archbishop of Sardinia at the time of the Council of Nicaea in 787 (see Mansi, XII, 994 and Boscolo, ibid., 63). As Laurent has pointed out, an archbishop of Cagliari named Arsenios is attested in a letter of Pope Leo IV, dated 850-854: he had lived well before Pope Leo, who considered him as heretico errore deceptum. If his heresy was iconoclasm (which is not said), he could hardly be identical to the owner of our seal, who displays on it the image of the Virgin, unless we suppose that he issued this seal during the iconophile revival of 787-815 and then turned against the images during the second iconoclasm (after 815).

The island of Sardinia, located off the west coast of Italy, was incorporated into the prefecture of Africa by Justinian I in 534 for administrative purposes and was assigned a dux Sardiniae. During the Gothic counteroffensive, Sardinia was subject to attack and occupation until Byzantine naval squadrons began the reconquest of the island in 552. Little is known of the governance of the island during the sixth century (see Pringle, Byzantine Africa, 58; and Camillo Bellieni, La Sardegna e i Sardi nella civilità dell'Alto Medioevo I [Cagliari, 1973] 199-206). The Lombards attacked the island in 599. It was also attacked by the Arabs following their conquest of Africa in 698; they returned several times, but the island doggedly resisted until 1015/16. The Byzantine presence is reflected in three seals published in Sig., 222-23; two "archontes of the district of Cagliari" and "Theodotos, hypatos and doux of Sardinia." Schlumberger has dated the latter specimen to the ninth century, while A. Boscolo (La Sardegna bizantina e alto-giudicale [Sassari, 1978] 67) suggested the beginning of the ninth; in fact, the epigraphic traits, as well as the design, of the specimen point to the second half of the eighth century (for comparison, see Dated Seals, nos. 35 and 37). The "metropolitan" of Sardinia appears only in the iconoclastic notitiae (Darrouzès, Notitiae, no. 3, line 19), showing that for some time at least the ecclesiastical authorities of the island may have been subordinate to the patriarchate of Constantinople. See also Laurent, Corpus V/1, 721-22.