Sasanika Varia

Some Inscribed Sasanian Seals and Bullae

 Kiarash Gholami 
University of Waterloo, Cananada

Introduction

As one of the most abundant primary sources, Sasanian seals play a critical role in shining light on the political and administrative history of the Sasanians. A considerable number of these artifacts were inscribed, and thus very informative. Such information might include the seal owner’s personal name, patronym, administrative title, religion, etc. Sasanian seals have distinguished and standard shape, engraving techniques, and iconographies. Majority of these artifacts were inscribed in inscriptional Pahlavi, whereas a small number have book Pahlavi, Parthian, or Maḏnḥāyā Syraic scripts on them, which is an indicative of usage of these seals by individuals all around the Sasanian realm.[1]

The review of epigraphic detail on these artifacts demonstrates that they have been vastly used by a broad social spectrum starting from the high-ranked royalty and aristocracy and ending with the low-ranked farmers and beggars during the Sasanian period (A.D. 224-651). While a small number of seals have survived from the two former groups, seals of low-ranked officials and ordinary people are much more common. This is most probably due to the limited high-ranked official positions as well as the destruction of these seals or erasure of the inscriptions on them after the death or resignation of their owners in order to make sure that they will not be used illegally. Therefore, the Sasanian bullae, which are the impressions of the seals on clay, play a more important role in studying and identification of Sasanian nobility in the absence of their original seals. Combining the information retrieved from these two groups of artifacts allows us to have a better view of the business relations and administrative history of the Sasanian Empire.

The following article provides the reading and translation of the Pahlavi texts on twenty five inscribed seals along with a bulla from the authors’ and some other private collections. This includes the seal/bulla of two high-ranked officials, three priest, a dabir, and some other ordinary people.

The Seals

1- Bearded male bust with curled hair, necklace and earrings of pearl, facing left.

Inscription: plh’t ZY b’cy BRH ’pst’n wl yzdty

Translation: Farhād, son of Bāz[2], Reliance on God

Dimensions: 21 * 29 mm

(Private Collection)

 

2- Beardless facing male bust with a hair made up in three rows of curls and a necklace of pearls. The clothing decorated with six crescents.

Inscription: mtr ’twr plnbg’

Translation: Mihr-Ādūr-Farnabag

Dimensions: 14 * 19 mm

(Collection of K. Soleimani)

 

3- Female bust facing right wearing necklace and pearl earrings.

Inscription: gwhlyky ZY lwcw(y)hy

Translation: Gōharīg, (daughter) of Rōzbih

Dimensions: 11 * 15 mm

(Private Collection)

 

4– Woman standing left, offering a flower.

Inscription: nyw’n dwhty

Translation: Nēwān-duxt

Dimensions: 10 * 32 mm

(Private Collection)

 

5– Flower above pair of wings.

Inscription:’twr gwšnspy mgw

Translation: Ādur-Gušnasp the mage

Dimensions: 19 * 25 mm

(Private Collection)

 

6– Lion’s head left with open jaws and protruding tongue.

Inscription: ’twr hwlšwd ZY ’št’t’n

Translation: Ādur-Xuaršēd, son of Aštād

Dimensions: 31 * 31 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

7– Bearded male bust facing left wearing kolah with diadem ribbons and bordered with pearls. Hair arranged in three strands. Necklace and earrings with one large pearl. The clothing decorated with five florets.

Inscription: bwlcyn m’h

Translation: Burzēn-Māh

Dimensions: 25 * 25 mm

(Private colllection; previously in the author’s collection)

8- Bearded male bust facing left wearing kolah with diadem ribbons and bordered with pearls. Hair arranged in three strands. Necklace and earrings with one large pearl. The clothing decorated with three florets.

Inscription: (erased on purpose)

Dimensions: 19 * 19 mm

(Collection of K. Soleimani)

 

9– Winged horse walking left.

Inscription: ’twr ’p’n

Translation: Ādur-Ābān

Dimensions: 20 * 20 mm

(Private Collection)

 

10– Humped bull walking right. Crescent on top and star on bull’s hind.

Inscription: ’pst’n wl yzd’n ’twr wlhl’n

Translation: Reliance on the Gods. Ādur-Bahrām

Dimensions: 28 * 28 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

11– Man standing left, offering a flower.

Inscription: mtr šhpwhry

Translation: Mihr-Šāpūr

Dimensions: 16 * 22 mm

(Private Collection)

 

12– Female bust facing right wearing necklace and pearl earrings.

Inscription: pylwc dwhty

Translation: Pērōz-duxt

Dimensions: 13 * 20 mm

(Private Collection)

 

13– Monogram above pair of wings.

Inscription: wlhl’n Y plnbg’n

Translation: Bahrām, son of Farnabag

Dimensions: 24 * 26 mm

(Private Collection)

 

14– Protome of winged horse to left.

Inscription: l’styh W plhwm

Translation: truth and excellence!

Dimensions: 11 * 15 mm

(Private Collection)

 

15– Female body? without head.

Inscription: mtlydy ZY YWM ŠPYL

Translation: Mihrī, fortune!

Dimensions: 16 * 20 mm

(Timeline Auctions, Feb. 21th 2018, Lot 0652)

 

16– Reversed male body (or monogram ?).

Inscription: grdmny YWM ŠPYL

Translation: Gardōmān, fortune!

Dimensions: 24 * 30 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

17– Pahlavi monogram.

Inscription: d’t ’whrmzdy dpyr

Translation: Dād-Ahurmazd, the secretary

Dimensions: 19 * 26 mm

(Timeline Auctions, Sept. 3rd 2016, Lot 2025)

 

18-Monogram.

Inscription: swhl’by l’sty

Translation: Sohrāb, true!

Dimensions: 14 * 15 mm

(Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, No F1993.15.62)

 

19– Ram standing right with ribbon around neck and ring with two pearls on its chest.

Inscription: m’h ’twr d’l’y Y mgw Y mtrš’t’n

Translation: Māh-Āzar-Dārāy, magus, (son) of Mīhr-Šād

Dimensions: 26 * 26 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1555)

 

20– Lion lying right with a star above.

Inscription: gwšnsp bht’ Y mtr’ gwšnsp’n

Translation: Gušnasp-Buxt, (son) of Mīhr-Gušnasp

Dimensions: 17 * 17 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1292)

 

21– Camel Walking left.

Inscription: d’t gwšnsp’

Translation: Dād-Gušnasp

Dimensions: 19 * 19 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1554)

 

22– Camel Walking left.

Inscription: d’t plwltyn

Translation: Dād-Fravardīn

Dimensions: 11 * 11 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1339)

 

23.1– Bearded male bust right wearing kolah with diadem ties. Necklace and earrings with one large pearl. The clothing decorated with three stars.

Inscription: d’l’y’ plhw’ ZY mgw ZY sthl

Translation: Dārāy-Farrox, priest of Istaxr

Dimensions: 24 * 24 mm

23.2

Inscription: sthly, dlgws’n y’tkgwby W d’twbly[3]

Translation: Istaxr, Judge and protector of poor

Dimensions: 22 * 22 mm

(Collection of A. Feili)

 

24– Winged horse walking left.

Inscription: ’twr b’ty

Translation: Ādūr-Bād

Dimensions: 11 * 13 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

25– Monogram.

Inscription: hwp’ d’t bwlc mtr’

Translation: Xūb, Dād-Burz-Mihr

Dimensions: 10 * 10 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

Bibliography

Bivar, A.D.H. Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Stamp Seals in the British Museum. Stamp Seals II: The Sassanian Dynasty. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1969.

Brunner, C.J. Sasanian stamp seals in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978.

Frye, R.N. “Sassanian Clay Sealings in the Baghdad Museum.” Sumer, Vol. 26 (1970): 237-240.

Frye, R.N. Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Göbl, R. Der Sasanidische Siegelkanon. Braunschweig: Klinkhardt und Biermann, 1973.

Göbl, R. Die Tonbullen vom Tacht-e Suleiman. Berlin: D. Reimer, 1976.

Gropp, G. “Some Sasanian Clay Bullae and Seal Stones.” The American Numismatic Society, Museum Notes 19 (1974): 119-144.

Gyselen, R. La géographie administrative de l’empire sassanide: les témoignages sigillographiques. Paris: Groupe pour l’étude de la civilisation du Moyen-Orient, 1989.

Gyselen, R. Sasanian Seal and Sealings in the Saeedi Collection. Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2007.

Henning, W. B. “Mitteliranisch.” Handbuch der Orientalistik, I-4-1 (1958): 20-130.

Lerner, J. Christian Seals of the Sasanian Period. Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1977.

Notes

[1]

The inscription does not follow the usual name + BRH + patronymic formula.

[2]

So far, a large number of seal and sealing collections have been published. This includes, A.D.H. Bivar, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Stamp Seals in the British Museum. Stamp Seals II: The Sassanian Dynasty (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1969); C.J. Brunner, Sasanian stamp seals in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978); R.N. Frye, “Sassanian Clay Sealings in the Baghdad Museum,” Sumer, Vol. 26 (1970): 237-240; R. Göbl, Der Sasanidische Siegelkanon (Braunschweig: Klinkhardt und Biermann, 1973); R.N. Frye, Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1973); G. Gropp, “Some Sasanian Clay Bullae and Seal Stones,” The American Numismatic Society, Museum Notes 19 (1974): 119-144; J. Lerner, Christian Seals of the Sasanian Period (Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1977); R. Göbl, Die Tonbullen vom Tacht-e Suleiman (Berlin: D. Reimer, 1976); R. Gyselen, Sasanian Seal and Sealings in the Saeedi Collection (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2007), ix-xviii.

[3]

Henning has recorded the same impression on another Sasanian bulla (Henning, “Mitteliranisch,” 46., Gyselen, La géographie,” 113.).

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