Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

Mobility and migration of Byzantine officials (7th-9th c.): the evidence of sigillography

For this research project I attempt to establish the career patterns of Byzantine provincial officials during the Early Medieval period (7th-9th c.). More particularly I am addressing issues of geographical mobility, namely, the length of their tenure in a province, the pattern of their appointments in other provinces – that is, whether all they occurred generally in the same region or even province or they moved to far away regions –, and issues of institutional mobility, whether officials remained in the same administrative sector (military, civil and so on) throughout their careers. Moreover, we will examine in what extent these patterns applied also to other members of their families, whether they too tended to remain in the same administrative sector and to seek appointments in the same region. This was a turbulent period of time that has been connected in historiography with stagnation and the collapse of the communication networks established in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Antiquity. I hope to show, in contrast, through the use of the evidence of Byzantine lead seals (an unexplored source so far for this issue), that these communication networks were maintained at some level, even between remote and distant areas, and that there was some reasonable geographical and institutional mobility of Byzantine provincial officials in this period.

Next to the narrative and archival sources, which however are very limited in this period on these aspects, this project will primarily rely as its main source on Byzantine lead seals, an important source which had hitherto been ignored for this kind of research. Lead seals issued by Byzantine officials constitute a uniquely valuable source for Byzantine administration. A Byzantine official’s seal usually mentions (in order of appearance) his first name, his title(s), his office(s), his area of jurisdiction and his last name, while in most cases the obverse side bears some kind of decoration, such as a holy figure, a cross, an animal, a monogram, or another decorative pattern. Taking into account that literary sources usually mention only those officials who played a key role in politics, sigillography is an indispensable source for the study of lesser officials, as well as for completing the list of higher officials. Moreover, the coeval to the events information they provide allow us to complement or even correct the information we have from the literary sources.  

For more information about Christos Malatras, please click here.