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Three seal matrixes from Lincoln Cathedral from the 12th to 14th centuries © Lincoln Cathedral

Companion to Seals

Seals represent some of the most exciting objects preserved from the Middle Ages. Offering distinctive legitimacy to individuals and cooperations, they are one of the most important sources for studying self-representation.

A Companion to Seals in the Middle Ages
Ed. by Laura Whatley
Brill 2019


Medieval seals are material and visual statements of identity, power, agency. Offering legitimacy either locally or traversing great geographic expanses, they served to assert individual or corporate authority. This inter-disciplinary companion offers fourteen essays analysing seal design, production, meaning, usage and reception in the Middle Ages. With emphasis on Europe, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and Byzantium 1100-1500, the volume is a cross-disciplinary effort. The essays are organized thematically, and it emphasizes important, often cutting-edge, methodologies for the study of medieval seals and sealing cultures.

As the chronological, temporal and geographic scope of the essays in the volume suggests, the study of the medieval seal—its manufacture, materiality, usage, iconography, inscription, and preservation—is a rich endeavour that demands collaboration across disciplines as well as between scholars working on material from different regions and periods. It is hoped that this collection will make the study of medieval seals more accessible and will stimulate students and scholars to employ and further develop these material and methodological approaches to seals.


Introduction: Approaches to Medieval Seals and Sealing Practices. By: Laura J. Whatley

  • Analysis of the Materiality of Royal and Governmental Seals of England with a Focus on the Great Seals (1100–1300): Methodology and Findings. By: Elke Cwiertnia, Adrian Ailes and Paul Dryburgh
  • Material Analysis of Seals Attached to the Barons’ Letter to the Pope By: Paul Dryburgh, Elke Cwiertnia and Adrian Ailes
  • Does Size Matter? Seals in England and Wales, ca.1200–1500 By: John A. McEwan
    Pages: 103–126
  • Fragments of the Past: the Early Antiquarian Perception and Study of Seals in England. By: Oliver D. Harris
  • Medieval Armorial Seals in The National Archives (UK). By: Adrian Ailes
  • The Seals of the Judges of the Hippodrome: Drawing Data from Seals without Context. By: Jonathan Shea
  • Administration and Identity: Episcopal Seals in England from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Century. By: Philippa Hoski
  • Power, Family, and Identity: Social and Personal Elements in Byzantine Sigillography. By: Angelina Anne Volkoff
  • Two Seals of Muskinus the Jew (Moshe b. Yeḥiel, d. 1336), the Archbishop of Trier’s Negociator. By: Andreas Lehnertz
  • ‘Creatio Regni’ in the Great Seal of Bosnian King Tvrtko Kotromanić. By: Emir O. Filipović
  • Reconsidering the Silent Majority: Non-Heraldic Personal Seals in Medieval Britain. By: Elizabeth A. New
  • Seals of the Wives of Silesian Knights in the Pre-Hussite Age (1259–1414). By: Marek L. Wójcik
  • Coins as Seals in Lombard Italy. By: Ashley Jones
  • The (Re-)Use of Ancient Gems and Coins: the Presence of Antiquity in Medieval Sigillography. By: Caroline Simonet


Laura J. Whatley, Ph.D. (2010), University of Illinois, is Assistant Professor of Art History at Auburn University Montgomery. She has published articles on crusader and military seals and crusading visual culture in medieval England. She also co-edited the volume The Crusades and Visual Culture (Routledge, 2015).


Contributors are Adrian Ailes, Elka Cwiertnia, Paul Dryburgh, Emir O. Filipovi, Oliver Harris, Philippa Hoskin, Ashley Jones, Andreas Lehnertz, John McEwan, Elizabeth A. New, Jonathan Shea, Caroline Simonet, Angelina A. Volkoff, and Marek L. Wójcik. Show Less.



Digital Sigillography Resource

Digital sigillography resourceHundreds of thousands of seals survive from medieval Europe, and they provide unique and important information.  Men and women from all levels of society used seals to authenticate documents, but also to make statements about their family connections, social aspirations and personal values. Seals incorporate both text and images so they are powerful tools of expression. In a period starved of evidence concerning the individual, seals offer insight into identity, and expose regional and local culturalvariations. The advent of digital technology offers an unprecedented and exciting opportunity to harness the extraordinary potential of this unique historical resource. With more than 40.000 records of seals, this site offers an important opportunity to delve into the world og seals and signs from the Middle Ages.

John McEwan BA (University of Western Ontario), MA PhD (Royal Holloway, University of London) specializes in the political, social and cultural history of medieval Britain. His research focuses on social organization, local government, and visual culture in London, c.1100-1350.He is involved in a number of projects that investigate the application of electronic data management tools, including geographic information systems, to the analysis of medieval sources.


Viking Silver From Estopnia © XOphoto


In Austrvegr: The Role of the Eastern Baltic in Viking Age Communication across the Baltic Sea
By Marika Mägi
BRILL 2018



Marika Mägi’s book considers the cultural, mercantile and political interaction of the Viking Age (9th-11th century), focusing on the eastern coasts of the Baltic Sea. The majority of research on Viking activity in the East has so far concentrated on the modern-day lands of Russia, while the archaeology and Viking Age history of today’s small nation states along the eastern coasts of the Baltic Sea is little known to a global audience.

This study looks at the area from a trans-regional perspective, combining archaeological evidence with written sources, and offering reflections on the many different factors of climate, topography, logistics, technology, politics and trade that shaped travel in this period. The work offers a nuanced vision of Eastern Viking expansion, in which the Eastern Baltic frequently acted as a buffer zone between eastern and western powers.


1 Viking Age Cultural Contacts across The Baltic Sea: Behind the Interpretations
1.1 The Evolutionary Development Model
1.2 Eastern Baltic Archaeology and the Concepts of Different Cultural Impacts
1.3 The Character of Communications across the Baltic Sea
1.4 Conclusions

2 Clan-Based Collectivists or Hierarchical Individualists? Late Prehistoric Societies in the Eastern Baltic
2.1 Finland
2.2 Estonia
2.3 Latvia and Lithuania
2.4 Prussia
2.5 Comparing Social Systems in Different Regions in the Eastern Baltic
2.6 Conclusions

3 Making Trade: Cultural Landscapes and Communication Routes
3.1 Maritime Landscapes in Countries around the Baltic
3.2 Long-distance Trade Routes through the Eastern Baltic
3.3 Travelling along Viking Age Routes
3.4 Points in Communication
3.5 Different Modes of Communication in the Eastern Baltic
3.6 Conclusions

4 The Historical Reality: Places, Place Names, and Ethnonyms in Written Sources
4.1 Estland(s) in the East
4.2 Pre-viking and Viking Age Eastern Baltic in Scandinavian Sources
4.3 What Was Rus’?
4.4 Languages and Personal Names
4.5 Conclusions

5 Networks Take Shape: Communication Through the Eastern Baltic 600–850
5.1 Cultural Situation around the Northern Part of the Baltic Sea
5.2 Viking Colonies in the Southern Half of the Eastern Baltic
5.3 Pre-Viking Period Hill-Forts and Trade Centres along the Eastern Baltic Coast
5.4 Conclusions

6 West Goes East: Viking Age Long-distance Communication and the Eastern Baltic 850-ca. 1000
6.1 Viking Age Centres Connected with International Trade Routes in the Eastern Baltic
6.2 Cultural Landscapes along the Eastern Way
6.3 Cultural Landscapes in the Middle Part of the Eastern Baltic
6.4 Coin Finds in the Eastern Baltic
6.5 Interpreting Routes and Centres in the 9th–10th Centuries
6.6 Conclusions

7 Between Consolidating States. The Eastern Baltic Areas in the 11th and 12th Centuries
7.1 Interaction with Scandinavian Kingdoms
7.2 Northern Eastern Baltic in the Final Centuries of Prehistory
7.3 The East Attacks
7.4 Landscapes around the Daugava Route
7.5 Southern Couronian Coast
7.6 Coins and Trade
7.7 Conclusions

8 Summing up and Conclusions
8.1 Two Cultural Spheres in the Eastern Baltic
8.2 The Shared Cultural Sphere of Warriors
8.3 Written Sources and Places on the Eastern Coasts of the Baltic Sea
8.4 Different Periods in the Viking Age


Marika Mägi, PhD (2002), Tartu University, is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Medieval Studies at Tallinn University. She is an archaeologist and historian and has published mainly on Viking Age and Middle Ages in Estonia and neighbouring areas.

Vikings attacking England. St Edmunds © The Morgan Library and Museum

Heirs of the Vikings

Chronicles, hagiographies, and charters tell us different stories of the character and the identity of the Vikings. By comparing the evidence from both England and Normandy, a new book introduces the reader to the complex ways in which Scandinavian heritage was used strategically to cement local politics. 

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Viking Ships near Roskilde © Stefan G. Rasmussen

Pocket Museum: Vikings

North-Western Europe is currently teeming with new Viking museums and exhibitions. In the crucible is the huge renovation of the museum at Bygdoy in Oslo and Copenhagen is finally planning to exhibit its grand collections, the Viking exhibition in Stockholm recently reopened,. While we wait, a new publication offers a fine introduction to the material culture of the Vikings

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Peacock and -hen from The Lovell Lectionary Between c. 1400 and c. 1410. Harley 7026 f. 5 © The British Library, London

Birds in Medieval English Poetry

First full-length study of birds and their metamorphoses as treated in a wide range of medieval poetry, from the Anglo-Saxons to Chaucer and Gower.



Birds in Medieval English Poetry. Metaphors, Realities, Transformations
By Michael J. Warren
Boydell & Brewer 2018

First full-length study of birds and their metamorphoses as treated in a wide range of medieval poetry, from the Anglo-Saxons to Chaucer and Gower.

Birds featured in many aspects of medieval people’s lives, not least in their poetry. But despite their familiar presence in literary culture, it is still often assumed that these representations have little to do with the real natural world. By attending to the ways in which birds were actually observed and experienced, this book aims to offer new perspectives on how and why they were meaningful in five major poems: The Seafarer, the Exeter Book Riddles, The Owl and the Nightingale, The Parliament of Fowls and Confessio Amantis. In a consideration of sources from Isidore of Seville and Anglo-Saxon place-names to animal-sound word lists and Bartholomew the Englishman, the author shows how ornithological truth and knowledge are integral to our understandings of his chosen poems.

Birds, he argues, are relevant to the medieval mind because their unique properties align them with important religious and secular themes: seabirds that inspire the forlorn Anglo-Saxon pilgrim; unnamed species that confound riddling taxonomies; a belligerent owl who speaks out against unflattering literary portraits. In these poems, human actions and perceptions are deeply affected by the remarkable flights and voices of birds.


  • Introduction
  • Native Foreigners: Migrating Seabirds and the Pelagic Soul in The Seafarer
  • Avian Pedagogies: Wondering with Birds in the Exeter Book Riddles
  • A Bird’s Worth: Mis-Representing Owls in The Owl and the Nightingale
  • ‘Kek Kek’: Translating Birds in The Parliament of Fowls
  • Birds’ Form: Enabling Desire and Identities in Confessio Amantis
  • Epilogue
  • Glossary: Old and Middle English bird names
  • Bibliography


Michael Warren has studied Medieval English at Royal Holloway as well as Magdalen College, Oxford. In 2017 he obtained his Phd with the thesis, Bird Kind: Avian Transformations, Species and Identities in Medieval English Poetry, was submitted in December 2016 and succesfully passed in April 2017. He is now a visiting lecturer at Holloway, teaching on the first year an undergraduate course on medieval poetry whilst continuing to work as an English teacher at Cranbrook School in Kent. His research focuses on birds, environments and the natural world generally, as depicted in medieval poetry (Anglo-Saxon to 15th century).


From The Lovell Lectionary. Between c. 1400 and c. 1410. Harley 7026, f. 5  © The British Library, London






Pictorial Stone from the Church in Bro, Gotland c. 400 - 500. Source: Flickr

Beowulf dated to AD 550

When was Beowulf composed? In the 10th and 11th centuries as the Toronto School decided in a postmodern whiff? Around AD 700 as linguistic studies have proven? Or as an oral epos, around AD 550, and in Gotland as suggested in a new book?

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Laws of Hywel Dda © The National Library of Wales.

Law and the Imagination in Medieval Wales

Medieval law was never just intended as compilations of rules and regulations. Books of Law were always also dossiers of cultural prescriptions or guides. But were they also imaginative pieces of literature? New book raises the question in connection with a detailed study of the the law-books of Medieval Wales.

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Constance of Sicily is handing over her son. Source: Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 120.II. Ca. 1195 – ca. 1197 Petrus de Ebulo: Liber ad honorem Augusti, lat.

Widows of Kings in the High Middle Ages

What happened to queens, when their husbands, the kings, died? Was the widows of kings still regarded as queens? How did they proceed to preserve their status and political role? New book explores the phenomena of “royal widowhood” in the English as well as German High Middle Ages

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The "Heinrich-Brunnen" in Quedlingburg is a modern rendition from 2007 of the scene of the coronation of Henry I. Source: wikipedia

The Construction of Ottonian Kingship

How did Henry the Fowler and his son, Otto the Great, turn Germany into the political centre of 10th century Europe? By besting the Magyars? Or by more traditional mythmaking? New book explores the various sources and their role in the later historiography.  

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