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HomeAuctionsPossibly Unique 10th Cent. Byzantine Bulla at Stack's Bowers

Possibly Unique 10th Cent. Byzantine Bulla at Stack’s Bowers

Possibly Unique 10th Cent. Byzantine Bulla at Stack's Bowers

By Jeremy BostwickSenior Numismatist & Cataloger, Stack’s Bowers ……
The upcoming August Global Showcase auction from Stack’s Bowers Galleries will feature rarities across the entire spectrum, with the ancient coins sure to attract immense interest.

Among Byzantine coins, a monumental and very special semi-medallic gold issue presents an opportunity virtually like no other–a possibly unique gold bulla of Emperor Constantine VII that represents the apex of its type. Bullae were the seals by which official documents within the expansive bureaucracy of the Byzantine Empire were packaged—the seal conveying the identification of the issuing bureaucrat. In the case of the emperor, his portrait, along with those of his immediate family members, was often included on one side – far different from the largely text-based bullae of lesser officials. In select instances, communiques or decrees from the emperor were so important that they were accordingly affixed not with a bullae in lead, but instead in gold. Thus originated the term “golden bull” for an important announcement to the empire as well as for the realms beyond.

When Byzantine correspondence involved another dignitary, the accompanying bulla was issued to the weight of various solidi. For example, most dignitaries within the empire, along with a few outside of it, such as the Bishop of Rome, received gold seals set to the weight of one solidus (approximately 4.54g). A seal equivalent to the weight of two solidi would be sent to the Archons of Russia, Kings of Georgia, Emirs of North Africa, and many other sovereigns of similar rank. Seals of three solidi weight were presented to the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, whereas the highest weight.

Those of four solidi (like the present example), were reserved for the most important heads of state, such as the Caliph of Baghdad and the Sultan of Egypt.

Just a small handful of the Byzantine gold bulla (χρυσόβουλλο in the original Greek) are held privately and not housed within museums or Orthodox monasteries. A survey of public auctions over the last two-plus decades reveals very few of these gold bullae on the market; only a few at the weight of one solidus and a few at the weight of two solidi have crossed the auction block. For those at the weight of three of even four solidi, like the present specimen, no other records outside of this piece could be located. It is also worth noting that the observed piercing on this example should not be considered damage, in that it very likely indicates the presentation nature of the piece. Comparing to other such smaller gold bullae, it features a far superior mode of manufacture and centering, without the typical edge damage. Given its attractive, well-made nature, along with its immense rarity and degree of importance, it should be considered among the most desirable examples of the period, whether numismatic or sigillographic, and a highlight of our impressive ancient section of our August Global Showcase Auction.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

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We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our fall Hong Kong auction and our NYINC auction in January 2024. Additionally, we are continuously accepting submissions for our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auctions, the next of which will be in September 2023. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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