Olga Karagiorgou writes:

Byzantine themes and sigillography I. The sigillographic corpora of the themes of Hellas, Opsikion and Armeniakon

This research project aims to shed new light on aspects of the creation, structure, prosopography and social character of the Byzantine themes by using seals in a way that promises to be beneficial, not only to the fields of Byzantine state administration and prosopography, but also to Byzantine sigillography itself.

The project was conceived during the 20th International Congress of Byzantine Studies (Paris 2001) and since then work has mainly focused on issues of methodology (collection, presentation and analysis of the material), as well as on the compilation of the sigillographic corpus for the theme of Hellas. Since March 2006, the first stage of this project, entitled 'The sigillographic corpora of the themes of Hellas, Opsikion and Armeniakon', is being supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn). It is hoped that, upon completion of this first stage, work will continue on the compilation of the sigillographic corpora of the other Byzantine themes.

The project aims to bring together, for the first time, all the known published and unpublished sigillographic material belonging to officials posted in each theme. All relevant seals for a single theme are examined according to the standards set by modern sigillographic studies, in order to date them as accurately as possible and to establish how many officials they represent (since an individual may be attested by more than one surviving seal, often coming from different boulloteria). The officials attested in the sigillographic record of each theme are then arranged chronologically (by century) and according to the public sector in which each of them served (military, civil, financial, judicial or ecclesiastical). Such lists, showing the chronological succession of various officials in the same post within the same theme (e.g. lists of strategoi), offer Byzantine sigillographers a new tool in their effort to narrow the date of various seals down to decades. The strict arrangement of the officials according to the public sector they served also helps to illuminate the debated issues of the origins and development of the theme system, and offers a clearer insight into the administrative structure of each of the themes, especially when compared with each other.

The project also addresses questions of social power and mentalities by investigating which Byzantine families in a particular theme were traditionally associated with the administration of a particular sector, thus revealing trends of nepotism within the Byzantine society, as well as the particular interests that important Byzantine families had in certain regions of the Empire. Finally, study of the type of decoration that prevails on the seals of each theme (for example, a preference for the depiction of particular saints, religious scenes or other representations) reveals certain artistic preferences pertaining to one geographical region or the other.