How did Rome and Constantinople come to accept seals?

Mar 2015
922
Europe
In 5th century Roman Empire, nobles were normally able to read - and write personally. While bulk writing was left to secretaries, the Romans used to and were expected to authenticate documents by personal signature. Justinian´s code states as much.
When barbarians came to Roman Empire, they, like Theodorich the Ostrogoth, were embarrassed to be not able to write. But the Frankish rulers promptly learned to write. Merovingian kings still could and used to personally write signatures into the time of King Dagobert in mid-7th century.

In 8th century, Carolingians like Pippin, Carloman and Charlemagne were unable to write signatures - and started to rely on seals rather tan signatures.

The city of Rome, even in Dark Ages of 8th century AD, was huge compared to Paris or even Pavia or Milan. Popes of Rome used to have lay officials like palatine judges.

Could 7th to 9th century popes of Rome write signatures in person? How did they authenticate bulls - with just signature but no seal, or both signature and seal, or seal and no signature?

How about the Roman Empire? Dark Ages Constantinople was much smaller than Justinian´s, but it was much bigger than Dark Ages Rome. Could the Emperors personally write signatures? Or how about high officials of general/military specialization - did the job qualifications for Exarch of Ravenna include ability to personally write a signature?
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,959
Blachernai
In 8th century, Carolingians like Pippin, Carloman and Charlemagne were unable to write signatures - and started to rely on seals rather tan signatures.
I'm not sure that the apparent inability to write a signature is necessarily why seals were employed. A signature can lend a document authority and authenticity, but a seal physically closes a document and provides a measure of security. And while some of the Carolingian leaders may not have been personally literate, they had literate people to do that for them. As McKitterick demonstrated, literacy existed at a range of levels in Carolingian society and was important for government.

The city of Rome, even in Dark Ages of 8th century AD, was huge compared to Paris or even Pavia or Milan. Popes of Rome used to have lay officials like palatine judges.

Could 7th to 9th century popes of Rome write signatures in person? How did they authenticate bulls - with just signature but no seal, or both signature and seal, or seal and no signature?
Absolutely, the Roman curia was always literate. Part of that was a necessity in retaining access to Greek and Latin theological works, but another big aspect was simply administering their far-flung estates.

How about the Roman Empire? Dark Ages Constantinople was much smaller than Justinian´s, but it was much bigger than Dark Ages Rome. Could the Emperors personally write signatures? Or how about high officials of general/military specialization - did the job qualifications for Exarch of Ravenna include ability to personally write a signature?
Most emperors were literate, and those who might not have been (Basil I) made sure their children (Leo VI) were. More than a few were highly educated - Constantine V could evidently discourse on theological matters at a sophisticated level. Some 80,000 Byzantine lead seals are known, and this is likely a tiny fraction of the total that was produced. Those seals closed up documents, which required literate bureaucrats at a range of government levels to function.

As for the exarch, his title is almost always exarch and patrikios, the latter being a high senatorial grade. To attain the second title one tends to need to come from an elite family. For generals, it's harder to say: the turn-over rate was high and there were some non-Romans mixed in there (although it's perfectly plausible that someone like Artabasdos was literate in Armenian, not Greek) so my suspicion is that it's not guaranteed that any given strategos of the Thrakesion was literate, but his staff certainly was. Texts talk about military rolls and the few surviving military administrative materials point to a high level of documentation.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Tulius
Oct 2011
551
Croatia
As for the exarch, his title is almost always exarch and patrikios, the latter being a high senatorial grade. To attain the second title one tends to need to come from an elite family. For generals, it's harder to say: the turn-over rate was high and there were some non-Romans mixed in there (although it's perfectly plausible that someone like Artabasdos was literate in Armenian, not Greek) so my suspicion is that it's not guaranteed that any given strategos of the Thrakesion was literate, but his staff certainly was. Texts talk about military rolls and the few surviving military administrative materials point to a high level of documentation.
I believe it is possible that Romans continued to insist on military literacy much like they did in antiquity. Thematic soldier certainly wasn't a peasant: even infantry were minor landowners with a couple of families' worth of land, and cavalry - especially kataphraktoi - had rather significant estates required to support them. Some things I had read indicate that literacy was a requirement for higher ranking officers, though my memory is fuzzy on that so don't take me at my word.
 
Apr 2018
339
Italy
When barbarians came to Roman Empire, they, like Theodorich the Ostrogoth, were embarrassed to be not able to write
Theodorich was raised and educated in the imperial palace of Constantinople, he knew latin and Greek, and i think he knew how to write.

Some things I had read indicate that literacy was a requirement for higher ranking officers, though my memory is fuzzy on that so don't take me at my word.
Justin I was described as analphabet. Also Michael II was described also as an ignorant. Both held high military position before accession to the throne.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
8,008
Cornwall
In 5th century Roman Empire, nobles were normally able to read - and write personally. While bulk writing was left to secretaries, the Romans used to and were expected to authenticate documents by personal signature. Justinian´s code states as much.
When barbarians came to Roman Empire, they, like Theodorich the Ostrogoth, were embarrassed to be not able to write. But the Frankish rulers promptly learned to write. Merovingian kings still could and used to personally write signatures into the time of King Dagobert in mid-7th century.
Some very sweeping statements going on there and,as pointed out, inaccurate in at least one case

How about the Roman Empire? Dark Ages Constantinople was much smaller than Justinian´s, but it was much bigger than Dark Ages Rome.
What's 'Dark Ages Constantinople'? It's a bit of a western thing - 'whilst all the light was in the east', basically. And if it exists why is Justinian's not in it??!
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,959
Blachernai
I believe it is possible that Romans continued to insist on military literacy much like they did in antiquity. Thematic soldier certainly wasn't a peasant: even infantry were minor landowners with a couple of families' worth of land, and cavalry - especially kataphraktoi - had rather significant estates required to support them. Some things I had read indicate that literacy was a requirement for higher ranking officers, though my memory is fuzzy on that so don't take me at my word.
There's nothing in the Isaurian legislation about troops being literate, but if the Italian documentary sources are indicative of the empire as a whole (and I suspect that they are) then as holders of land and important local figures, it's likely many soldiers had some basic literacy for administrative functions alone. I've never seen anyone make the argument, but I wonder if the move away from coinage as a means of military supply to goods-in-kind and the kommerkiarioi actually meant an increase in literacy, as one needs more documentation to make the whole system of exchange to function, especially since it seems to have worked with coinage as if it was present when it was not.
 
Mar 2015
922
Europe
What's 'Dark Ages Constantinople'? It's a bit of a western thing - 'whilst all the light was in the east', basically. And if it exists why is Justinian's not in it??!
Constantinople of 7th...8th century, at least.
Justinian is not it it because Constantinople and Roman Empire went on to have Dark Ages compared to Justinian. First, Avar attacks looted a lot of Balkans, Roman cities and Roman administration there. Then, the Persian and Arab attacks permanently deprived Rome of rich Syria and Egypt. As for Asia Minor, it was conspicuously impoverished around 7th century, relative to early 6th century. While cities did continue to hold secular governors, garrisons, bishops and a few churches, large part of population, both elite and commoners, disappeared - apparently dispersed to countryside. Many cities abandoned their walls and buildings and built new, small forts. A few like Nicaea, Thessalonice and Constantinople, held the old fortified circuits but the population inside dropped and large parts of walled area stopped being built up.

Government budget dropped - both military and civilian. However, the 8th century Constantinople did have administration of literate laymen, which although smaller compared to the administration of Justinian or Constantine was much bigger than the administration of Mayordomo of Franks.
 
Last edited:

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
8,008
Cornwall
Constantinople of 7th...8th century, at least.
Justinian is not it it because Constantinople and Roman Empire went on to have Dark Ages compared to Justinian. First, Avar attacks looted a lot of Balkans, Roman cities and Roman administration there. Then, the Persian and Arab attacks permanently deprived Rome of rich Syria and Egypt. As for Asia Minor, it was conspicuously impoverished around 7th century, relative to early 6th century. While cities did continue to hold secular governors, garrisons, bishops and a few churches, large part of population, both elite and commoners, disappeared - apparently dispersed to countryside. Many cities abandoned their walls and buildings and built new, small forts. A few like Nicaea, Thessalonice and Constantinople, held the old fortified circuits but the population inside dropped and large parts of walled area stopped being built up.

Government budget dropped - both military and civilian. However, the 8th century Constantinople did have administration of literate laymen, which although smaller compared to the administration of Justinian or Constantine was much bigger than the administration of Mayordomo of Franks.
Well there are obviously different times and different interpretations. A lot of historians tend to lump the whole Arab Empire, Byzantine Empire right round North Africa into muslim Spain as the world of enlightenment and art etc. Whilst we backward western souls were building dire Romanesque churches and castles built for functionality not comfort and ignoring the whole art, knowledge etc
 
Mar 2015
922
Europe
A lot of historians tend to lump the whole Arab Empire, Byzantine Empire right round North Africa into muslim Spain as the world of enlightenment and art etc. Whilst we backward western souls were building dire Romanesque churches and castles built for functionality not comfort and ignoring the whole art, knowledge etc
Not yet. When Arabs had an empire - before early 10th century - Europeans were not much into building castles. Rome built Leonine Wall in 9th century, but generally Carolingians and Merovingians did not build much in the way of new fortifications.
Arabs used the conquered Greek Christian and Aramaic bureaucracy for tax collection for about 50 years. It was only about year 700 that Arab was made administrative language. (Vandal, Gothic, Lombardic never were).