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15.09.19, Mayer and Sode, Die Siegel der lateinischen Könige von Jerusalem

15.09.19, Mayer and Sode, Die Siegel der lateinischen Könige von Jerusalem

This book on the seals of the kings and queens of Jerusalem complements the publication of the charters of the Latin Kingdom by Hans Eberhard Mayer (Die Urkunden der Lateinischen Könige von Jerusalem). Mayer and Sode, the first an expert on the Latin Kingdom and the second a specialist in Byzantine studies, have divided their book in two parts. The first is a lengthy introduction which examines the historiography of these seals, comments on the catalogue, investigates the materials seals were made of, the ways they were attached to the parchment, as well as their shape and iconography. The authors also pay attention to drawings, descriptions (both in charters and antiquarian sources) and metal copies because original metal seals, or bullae, are often missing. The catalogue of seals of kings and queens makes up the second part. It includes surviving seals, metal copies and lost seals that are known through descriptions, making a total of 111 entries covering the period from 1099 (conquest of Jerusalem and reign of Godfrey of Bouillon) to 1291 (siege of Acre by the Mamluks during the reign of Charles II of Anjou and Mary of Hungary). Whenever possible the descriptions are accompanied by images of the bullae, including photographs of original seals or of modern metal copies, and of early modern drawings.

What I particularly liked about the first part is the authors' interest in the materiality of seals. Contrary to their western counterparts who used wax, the seals the kings and queens used in the Kingdom of Jerusalem were made of lead (up till 1225) and gold, the latter introduced by Emperor Frederick II (1225-1250), thus keeping up with fashion in the Holy Roman Empire. Why lead seals (sigilla) were preferred above wax seals is not made explicit. We can, however, imagine that the origin of the Jerusalem bullae was related to Byzantine seals that were also made of lead, especially if Mayer and Sode are right in stating that the kings of Jerusalem seem to have had little interest in the appearance of their seals (12). This is a comment that seems justified because after Baldwin I, rulers followed the same design, imitating not only the material of their predecessor, but also their iconography: the king enthroned on the obverse and a depiction of Jerusalem on the reverse (until 1225). In my view, however, we should not interpret this continuity as lack of interest, but rather as a visual statement of kingship that best thrived on traditional (western) iconography. The authors explain how the bullae were produced, how much they weighed and how they were attached to the parchment. While all this may be evident to the experienced sigillographer, for those who rarely deal with seals, an image visualising how and with which materials the lead seals were appended to charters is very helpful. A surviving charter which testifies to Henry the Lion's gift to the Holy Sepulchre in 1172, and sealed by the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, the patriarch Amalric and King Amalric I, would have served as a perfect example (no. 36); the charter is folded at the lower edge of the document (a plica) to provide extra strength for the three pendent lead seals. The seals are adjusted to the parchment with red-yellow silk ribbons, which are threaded through holes cut in parchment.

In the second part of the book Mayer and Sode have catalogued 111 seals with much eye for detail and with abundant references to earlier descriptions and publications. It is commendable that the authors explicitly included queens--even though information on the seals or sealing practice of queens is sometimes lacking (21)--because it serves as a reminder that many kings held their position through the marriage with the rightful heiresses, who sometimes held influential positions. Some charter material demonstrates that king and queen acted together. The seals of queens differed in shape and iconography from those of the kings, and they were usually smaller (10)--to be read as an indication that they were less important? As a result Maye and Sode state that the supposed diameter of 42 mm of the lost seal of Queen Melisende must be incorrect because this normally is the size of kings' seals. They therefore measure the diameter as 40 mm (no. 22). However, this conclusion might be too hasty. While it is true that a variation of only a few millimeters in diameter has quite an impact on the appearance of a seal, we should be careful to assume that women's seals were by definition smaller than those of men. In a charter issued by Melisende in 1150 and consented by her sons, Baldwin and Amalric, her seal is described as sigilli nostri quod maius est, which Mayer believed to indicate that her seal was the more important one and therefore probably also larger than Baldwin's seal that was appended. [1]. A comparison of Melisende's seal to the one that possibly belonged to her husband, Fulk V, reveals that both are of the same size (no. 21), suggesting that seals of kings and queens did not necessarily differ in size. Perhaps Melisende was an exception because she seems to have been the most active of the Jerusalem queens.

Given the attention paid to queens, it is disappointing that Brigitte Bedos-Rezak's article, "Medieval Women in French Sigillographic Sources," is not in the book's bibliography--and that none of her other publications on seals are mentioned. A table including at least the size, weight and material of the seals would have been helpful in order to let the reader make its own analysis and draw conclusions. The high quality black and white images that accompany the catalogue are grouped in a separate section. They are depicted according to their actual size, allowing us to get a better impression. Considering the effort Mayer and Sode made to study the seals' materiality, it's a pity that the images are not in colour. While the surveying nature is inherent to a catalogue, I would have welcomed an overall analysis providing some concluding remarks on the sealing practices of the kings and queens of Jerusalem which lasted almost two hundred years.

In spite of these reservations, Mayer and Sode have written a book of value for scholars who study the kings and queens from the Latin Kingdom and their charters, as well as for those with a special interest in medieval seals.



1. Hans Eberhard Mayer, "Studies in the History of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 26 (1972): 142.