The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2014, 435-474

Imperial administration of Cherson: from archontia to katepanate (the evidence of seals)

N. Alekseenko

In the large set of Byzantine-era archaeological artefacts from the ancient city of Cherson hanging lead seals, or molybdoboulloi (more than 1,000 pieces), are of special interest for the reconstruction of administrative, political, commercial, and economical development of the centre. They allow to obtain valuable information on the structure of Cherson administration, its relations with the state and church authorities, trade partners, and its contacts with different regions of the empire.

The seals also supply rich material on the administrative hierarchy of Cherson. Their analysis allows to mark out a few categories of local administrators: kyrioi, and archontes (eighth – ninth cent.) which were replaced by strategoi, ek prosopou, kommerkiarioi, and proteuontes (ninth – tenth cent.); recent discoveries enriched this list with stratoroi (ninth – tenth cent.), protonotarios, pater poleos, and ekdikos (tenth cent.).

The artefact of a special interest was discovered in 2011 amidst sigillographic materials originating from the neighbourhood of Cherson – a seal of Nikephoros Alanos, bestarches and katepano of Cherson and Khazaria.

The discovery of this artefact definitely indicates that in the late eleventh or in the early twelfth century there existed in Taurica not only arhontia and theme, but also katepanate, another imperial military and administrative unit, that was intended against an outside enemy; it allows both to produce a different opinion of the history of this region in the period of disintegration of the thematic system and to re-evaluate, in a sense, the role and significance of Cherson in Byzantine policy and diplomacy of that period.

Thus, sigillographic artefacts from the ancient city of Cherson supply us with invaluable data informing both about various aspects of life of this city and its relations with the surrounding world; they also paint a vivid picture of Cherson as a typical Byzantine provincial city having features both of a fortress and a port, which skilfully combined civil administration and church policy, interests of war and trade.

Byzantium, provincial administration (archont, strategos, katepano, ek prosopou, kommerkiarios, protonotarios, stratoros, kyrios, pater poleos, ekdikos, proteuon), Byzantine Cherson, sigillography, molibdoboules

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