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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Lead seals of officials and ecclesiastics, decorated with images of saints, mainly *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), including a seal of the Nea Church in Jerusalem, dedicated to Mary. All found at Caesarea Maritima (Roman province of Palaestina I). Probably 6th-7th c.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Inscribed objects

Images and objects - Rings and seals

In 1999 John Nesbitt published a collection of lead seals found in Caesarea Maritima, at the site of the governor's palace/praetorium and adjacent complex of warehouses. The collection consisted of 47 objects, but Nesbitt selected and published only 36 of them. He was unable to decipher some of the texts, but better readings were offered by Denis Feissel in the Bulletin épigraphique in 2002, and by Jean-Claude Cheynet and Claudia Sode in Studies in Byzantine Sigillography in 2003. In 2011 Claudia Sode re-published 31 of the Caesarean seals, those which bore inscriptions, in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae.

One seal contains a direct reference to a church of Mary, eight more are decorated with images of the Virign (but bear no relevant inscriptions), one shows an orant male saint, and one perhaps shows a holy rider.

Many of these seals were probably those of officials local to Caesarea, but some of course may have reached the city attached to documents issued elsewhere (as is the case with the first seal below, from Jerusalem).

1) Seal of the Nea Church in Jerusalem:

Diameter: 23 mm. Damaged at top and bottom. No images.

Obverse: τῆς | Θε+[ο]τό|κου τ
̣ῆς | ̣Νέα̣ς

τῆς | Θε+[ο]τό|κου τ
̣ῆς | ̣Νέα̣ς Feissel, + .C|Ο..ΤΟ|ΚΟ.ΗC|Ε.. .. Nesbitt

'(Seal) of the New (
Nea) Church of the God-Bearer (Theotokos)

Reverse: Ἱερ|οσολ|ύμον

'in Jerusalem.'

The Nea Church was founded in Jerusalem by Justinian in 543 (

CIIP 2, no. 1781; Nesbitt 1999, no. 33.

2) Seals with images of Mary

2.1 Diameter: 18 mm. Cut (?) at top and bottom.

Obverse: bust of Mary holding Christ, with a small cross to the left of her.

Reverse: monogram reading probably Λέοντος χαρτουλαρίου/'(Seal) of Leon

possibly Λέοντος μαγίστορυ Nesbitt

CIIP 2, no. 1754; Nesbitt 1994, no. 4

2.2 Diameter: 20 mm.

Obverse: bust of Mary holding Christ, flanked by two small crosses.

Reverse: monogram reading probably Κωνσταντίνου/'(Seal) of Konstantinos'

CIIP 2, no. 1762; Nesbitt 1994, no. 12.

2.3 Diameter: 16 mm. Damaged on bottom.

Obverse: bust of Mary holding a medallion, flanked by two small crosses.

Reverse: monogram reading probably Π[α]ν[α]ρέτου (?)/'(Seal) of Panaretos (?)'

CIIP 2, no. 1766; Nesbitt 1994, no. 16.

2.4 Diameter: 22 mm, inner field 19 mm. Damaged on top.

Obverse: fine bust of Mary holding Christ, flanked by two small crosses.

Reverse: inscription in three lines Θεο|χαρίσ|του/'(Seal) of Theocharistos'

CIIP 2, no. 1768; Nesbitt 1994, no. 18.

2.5 Diameter: 18 mm. Cut (?) on all sides.

Obverse: bust of Mary holding Christ, with a small cross to the left.

Reverse: damaged monogram, only one letter is legible: Ο

CIIP 2, no. 1770; Nesbitt 1994, no. 22.

2.6 Diameter: 20 mm.

Obverse: bust of Mary holding Christ.

Reverse: undeciphered, possibly damaged monogram, letters: Ρ, Ε, Ω, Θ, probably Α.

CIIP 2, no. 1771; Nesbitt 1994, no. 23.

2.7 Diameter: 21.5 mm.

Obverse: bust of Mary holding a medallion, flanked by two small crosses.

Reverse: undeciphered, monogram, letters: Ν, Ε, Κ, Σ, Χ, Ο, Υ, possibly Εὐτυχίου or Εὐτυχι[α]νοῦ σχολ[α]στικοῦ/'(Seal) of Eutychios (or: Eutychianos)

CIIP 2, no. 1772; Nesbitt 1994, no. 24.

2.8 Diameter: 20 mm.

Obverse: Mary, standing, with Christ in front of her, a small cross to the right of them.

Reverse: undeciphered, scarcely legible monogram, letters: Τ, Χ, Κ, Ω, Α.

CIIP 2, no. 1773; Nesbitt 1994, no. 25.

3) Seal with an orant male saint

Diameter: 24 mm, inner field 16 mm. Damaged at top and bottom.

Obverse: bust of a male saint with nimbus, posture of an orant.

Reverse: fragmentary inscription in three lines, remarkably in the Latin alphabet: [- - -]|
EOD|ORU = [Th]|eod|oru/'(Seal) of Theodoros'

Although the name is written in the Latin alphabet, the genitive ending -
u (= -ου) suggests that the inscription is in Greek. In late antique documents specific Greek phrases were sometimes displayed with Latin letters.

The name Theodoros refers to the owner of the seal. The identity of the saint depicted is not clear. He could just possibly Theodoros, patron saint of the owner, but other figures are also possible.

CIIP 2, no. 1769; Nesbitt 1994, no. 19.

4) Seal possibly with a holy rider

Diameter: 17 mm.

Obverse: a rider facing left, just possibly a saint.

Reverse: monogram probably reading: Βάρδας νοτάριος (?)/'(Seal) of Bardas,

It is not clear if a saint is depicted on the obverse, but images of holy riders (e.g. George, Theodore, Sergios, Sisinnios, etc.) often appear on small objects.

CIIP 2, no. 1756; Nesbitt 1994, no. 6.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Use of Images

Private ownership of an image

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics – unspecified
Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Related Objects



It is possible that owners treated saints depicted on their seals as a kind of personal protectors. The frequency of the occurrence of Mary is overwhelming in this collection, but she appears very often also on other seals.


Ameling, W., Cotton, H.M., Eck, W., and others, Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: A Multi-Lingual Corpus of the Inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad, vol. 2: Caesarea and the Middle Coast 1121-2160 (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2011), no. 1753-1783.

Nesbitt, J., "Byzantine lead seals from the vicinity of the governor's palace and warehouses", in: K.G. Holum, A. Raban, J. Patrich (eds.),
Caesarea Papers, vol. 2: Herod's Temple, the Provincial Governor's Praetorium and Granaries, the Later Harbor, a Gold Coin Hoard, and Other Studies (Portsmouth: R.I., Journal of Roman Archaeology, 1999), 129-135.

Further reading:
J.-C. Cheynet, C. Sode, Studies in Byzantine Sigillography 8 (2003), 185-188.

Reference works:
Bulletin épigraphique (2002), 500.

Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 710.

Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 49, 2058; 61, 1423.


No. 1. Seal of the Nea Church. From: CIIP 2, 651.

No. 2.4. Seal with a bust of Mary. From: CIIP 2, 645.

No. 2.1. Seal with a bust of Mary. From: CIIP 2, 637.

No. 2.2. Seal with a bust of Mary. From: CIIP 2, 642.

No. 2.5. Seal with a bust of Mary. From: CIIP 2, 646.

No. 2.8. Seal with an image Mary, standing. From: CIIP 2, 648.

No. 3. Seal with an orant saint. From: CIIP 2, 646.

No. 4. Seal with a rider. From: CIIP 2, 639.

Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00023Sergios, soldier and martyr of RusafaUncertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristCertain
S00259George, soldier and martyr, and CompanionsUncertain
S00480Theodore, soldier and martyr of Amaseia and EuchaitaUncertain
S00518Saints, unnamedCertain
S00608Sisinnios (unspecified)Uncertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E02899 -