Sphragistics (сфрагістика; sfrahistyka; from the Greek sphragis ‘seal’), also known as sigillography (from the Latin sigillum). The scholarly discipline with three branches, the art of making seals, the law of seals (legal norms in the use of seals), and the study of seals. Seals first appeared in the early civilizations (Egypt, Babylon) and were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. The use of seals was brought into Ukraine by the Scythians, the Antes, the Goths, and others. The law of seals (initially customary law, then state law) was codified in the early stages of the Kyivan Rus’ state. The study of seals as an academic discipline was initiated in the 13th century in Germany and in the mid-18th century in Ukraine.
Ukrainian seal making was categorized (as in Western Europe) according to the various materials in which impressions were made, such as metals (gold, silver, lead, etc) and various waxes. The use of seals engendered titles for persons whose duty it was to affix them, such as the pechatnyk (head of the prince’s chancellery) during the Princely era, or the general chancellor during the Hetman state. Ukrainian seals had their own national style (the octagonal seal was used almost exclusively in Ukraine) and were of high artistic quality. Early craftsmen included Danylo Haliakhovsky, Ivan Shchyrsky, and Ivan Myhura; the best-known modern craftsmen were Heorhii Narbut and Liubomyr Terletsky.
There were three basic types of state seal in the Kyivan Rus’ state. The oldest was the archaic or Old Rus’ seal, which was used until the 10th century. Its distinguishing feature was the dynastic mark of the Kyivan rulers, the trident or bident. The exact shape and characteristics of the archaic seal depended on the station of the bearer. A two-sided seal belonging to Sviatoslav I Ihorovych is among the oldest surviving examples of the art; it has a bident on one side and a rosette on the other.
After the adoption of Christianity by the Kyivan Rus’ state (see Christianization of Ukraine) the so-called Greco-Rus’ seal was used until the late 11th century. The face bore the likeness of the saint after whom the grand prince was named, and the reverse was marked with the Greek legend God Help Your Servant (name of the bearer of the seal), Archon of Rus’. The seal used by Yaroslav the Wise, with Saint George on the face and the legend ‘God Help Your Servant Georgos, Archon of Rus’, was of the Greco-Rus’ type.
In the 12th century a new form of seal emerged that was used until the late 13th or early 14th century. Its five types were as follows: (1) face with the likeness of the saint namesake of the ruler, reverse with a trident-bident; (2) face with the likeness of the saint namesake of the ruler, reverse with the likeness of the saint namesake of the ruler’s father or overlord; (3) face with the likeness of the saint namesake of the ruler, reverse with the likeness of Christ; (4) face with the likeness of the saint namesake of the ruler, reverse with the Church Slavonic initials ‘IC XC’; (5) face with the likeness of one of various persons, reverse with a legend in Greek or Church Slavonic and some vestigial features of the older Greco-Rus’ seal. An example of the last is the seal of Volodymyr Monomakh, the face of which has a likeness of Saint Basil, and the reverse, the Greek legend Seal of Basileus, the Most Venerable Archon of Rus’ Monomakh.
Seals underwent a fundamental change beginning in the 13th century in the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. They became heavily influenced by Western European heraldic and Gothic themes, and their legends were written in Latin. The new type of seal was subsequently adopted by the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state. The face of the seal of Yurii Lvovych bears the likeness of the king seated on a throne and the annular legend (sigillum) Domini Georgi Regis Rusie. The reverse shows a likeness of a knight cavalryman who carries a shield on his left shoulder and a standard in his right hand. The shield is marked with the dynastic symbol of a lion, which is circumscribed by the legend S. Domini Georgi Ducis Ladimerie. Prince Władysław Opolczyk ruled Galicia as a viceregent of the Hungarian king Louis I; the face of his seal bears a seated monarch, holding a sword in his right hand, positioned between two coats of arms (Silesia and Rus’), circumscribed by a Latin legend.
The seals of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania bore a likeness of the seated ruler or a Lithuanian-Ruthenian pohon' (a heraldic horseman, with a sword in the right hand and a shield with an Orthodox cross on the left shoulder), surrounded by the heraldic arms of the larger constituent principalities (Lithuania, Samogitia, Volhynia, Kyiv principality, Belarus). It also showed the title of the prince as a legend.
Beginning in 1648 new military, state, and national seals were introduced for the Cossack hetmans. They bore the likeness of a Cossack musketeer, a practice adopted from Zaporozhian Host seals, starting with Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s seals. These showed the Middle Ukrainian annular inscription Seal of the Army of His Royal Grace of the Zaporizhia. Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky’s seal bore his coat of arms, his name, and the inscription Great Hetman of the Principality of Rus’ and Starosta of Chyhyryn. On Hetman Ivan Mazepa’s seal the traditional likeness of a Cossack warrior was circumscribed by the inscription Seal of the Little Russian Army of His Royal Illustrious Majesty of the Zaporizhia. The inscription on Pylyp Orlyk’s seal, Seal of Little Russia and of the Glorious Zaporozhian Army, reflected the schism between Ukraine and Russia. Hetman Kyrylo Rozumovsky reverted to the traditional form of seal.
In 1766, after the abolition of the Hetman state, a new seal was issued by the Little Russian Collegium, depicting the imperial eagle with a five-field shield on its breast (representing the five Ukrainian principalities of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Pereiaslav, Novhorod-Siverskyi, and Starodub). Less important documents were frequently stamped with personal seals which bore family or personal coats of arms. In the 19th century, emblems of Ukraine’s former statehood appeared on the seals of the occupying foreign monarchies. They included the archangel of Kyiv principality on the seal of the Russian Empire and the coats of arms of Galicia and Lodomeria (later also the seal of Bukovyna) on the seal of Austria-Hungary.
The first seals of the independent Ukrainian state were adopted by the Central Rada on 22 March 1918. Vasyl H. Krychevsky designed both the Great and the Lesser seals. The Great Seal bore a trident (the heraldic emblem of the Ukrainian National Republic) framed by a laurel ornament. The Lesser Seal showed a trident framed by a rhomboid ornament. Both seals had the annular Ukrainian inscription Ukraïns'ka Narodnia Respublika (Ukrainian National Republic), with three rings dividing the words. Both seals had elements of Ukrainian folk art, but their design was very different from that of the traditional seals of ancient Ukrainian states and those of European states.
The seal of the Hetman government bore a traditional likeness of a Cossack warrior, framed by a floral ornament, placed under a trident, and circumscribed by the legend Ukraïns'ka Derzhava (Ukrainian State). It adhered to heraldic conventions of European sphragistics, and its artistic style was closely modeled on 17th- and 18th-century Ukrainian seals.
The seal of the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic, used by Symon Petliura, was fairly modest, consisting of a trident and the Ukrainian initials ‘UNR’ in annular arrangement along with the legend Holovnyi Otaman Respublikans'kykh Ukraïns'kykh Zbroinykh Syl (Supreme Otaman of the Ukrainian Republican Armed Forces), the title of the head of state. Other seals were adopted by bodies that had jurisdiction over regions of Ukraine, including the Western Ukrainian National Republic, the Kuban, the Crimea, the Galician Socialist Soviet Republic (briefly), and Carpatho-Ukraine (in 1939). With the exception of that of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic they also all bore regional coats of arms.
The use of the seal of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (which bore the republic’s coat of arms) was established by the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on 17 June 1925. It was used only by higher central and local government institutions and some of their autonomous departments. Lesser state agencies used seals without the arms, and their inscriptions indicated their jurisdiction. Community, co-operative, and other organizations followed suit in their use of seals. The state seal of the Ukrainian SSR underwent numerous changes, as did its coat of arms. Initially it showed a crossed hammer and sickle, illuminated by the sun’s rays and framed by sheaves of wheat, with the legend Proletari vsikh kraïn iednaitesia (Proletarians of All Countries Unite) and the name of the republic in Ukrainian and Russian (as adopted by the CEC of the Ukrainian SSR on 14 March 1919). When the republic’s new constitution was ratified in 1929, the seal was changed to have only a Ukrainian legend, and the Ukrainian initials ‘USRR” were placed above the hammer and sickle. The adoption of yet another constitution on 30 January 1937 meant replacement of the initials USRR with URSR. A law passed on 5 June 1950 placed a five-point star above the coat of arms, replaced the initials with Ukraïns'ka RSR, and restored the bilingual legend. The Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Ukrainian SSR until 1941, had the Ukrainian seal with a bilingual legend in Ukrainian and Moldavian. In 1992 Ukraine, once again independent, declared the trident its seal.
Territorial seals. These were official marks used in the appanage principalities and volosti of the Lithuanian principality (see volost); Ukrainian voivodeships and their subdivisions in the Polish kingdom; the regiments and palankas of the Cossack Hetman state and the Zaporizhia; vicegerencies, gubernias, and other subdivisions of the Russian Empire; the crown territories of the Austrian Empire; and all zemstvos until 1918.
The seals of the appanage principalities of Kyivan Rus’ were identical to the state seal. The oldest such seal to have been preserved (11th century) belonged to Iziaslav Volodymyrovych. The face shows a trident framed by a legend, and the verso has a legend only. The seals of princes of the Lithuanian states are of a transitional stage in Ukrainian territorial sphragistics.
In the Polish kingdom all seals of voivodeships, territories, and districts bore the coat of arms framed by a Latin inscription (eg, Seal of Rus’ Voivodeship). The seal of the Zaporizhia (mid-16th century) had a likeness of a Cossack musketeer with the inscription, in Middle Ukrainian, Seal of the Zaporozhian Army. The oldest extant examples date from 1576, 1596, and 1608.
In 1648, seals for the regiments and companies of the Hetman state were introduced. They bore the family or personal coat of arms of their commanding officer and an appropriate legend. The Zaporizhia, as an autonomous constituent of the Cossack state, had three types of its own seals, the territorial army seal, palanka seals, and kurin seals. The highest seal of the Zaporizhia, had to be changed after 1648, when it was adopted as the Great Seal of the Hetman state. A spear was added, thrust into the ground before the musketeer, and the annular inscription, in Middle Ukrainian, Seal of the Glorious Zaporozhian Host. In 1763 the words ‘of Little Russia’ and ‘Imperial Majesty’ were added.
Palanka seals showed the likeness of an animal (lion, horse, eagle, deer, etc) alongside the coat of arms of the regiment, and an appropriate legend. The seal of the Samara palanka, for example, bore a lion, the regimental arms, and the inscription Regimental Seal of the Samara palanka. The seal of the Kodak palanka had a likeness of a horse, flanked by the regimental seal and the initials ‘P.P.K.P.’
The seals of Zaporozhian kurins had various figures and inscriptions and followed no set pattern. The last form of Cossack territorial seal was the seal for Cossack armies established in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, namely the Boh Cossack Army, the Black Sea Cossacks, the Budzhak Cossacks, the Kuban Cossack Host, and other armies.
Ukrainian territorial seals under the Russian Empire (for vicegerencies, gubernias, oblasts, etc) and Austria-Hungary (the crown lands of, Galicia, Lodomeria, Bukovyna, Transcarpathia, etc) were heraldic, and their inscriptions were in foreign languages.
Local seals. Seals of cities, towns, and villages had many forms. City seals were already in use in the mid-13th century in Western Ukraine. The oldest extant seal is from Volodymyr (in Volhynia) (late 13th century), affixed to a document from 1324. It has a likeness of Saint George, the patron saint of the city, and a Latin legend identifying the seal. At the beginning of the 14th century seals began appearing in Lviv, Peremyshl, and other Galician and some Volhynian cities.
The subsequent rapid development of city seals was influenced by the establishment of autonomous German urban communities. All of these seals bear the city’s coat of arms (designed with considerable thematic imagination and variety) and a Latin or early Middle Ukrainian annular inscription (some in the contemporary Western Ukrainian dialect). Larger cities, such as Kyiv, had a lesser and a greater seal. During the Hetman state in the 17th and 18th centuries, seals were dominated by Cossack symbols (maces, Cossacks, weaponry, various types of crosses, heavenly lights, etc).
Rural communities in Ukraine had various seals the origins of which are difficult to trace. They have not been adequately studied, and most of them have been lost. Inscriptions on such seals were in Ukrainian, and they were adorned with emblems of everyday life, such as trees, animals, farm implements (scythes, sickles, rakes, hoes, etc), fruits, trees, and farm buildings. They were often of high artistic quality, and their style was characteristically Ukrainian.
The Russian Empire’s ascendancy arrested the development of Ukrainian local seals. Established traditional seals were replaced by new ones that had no historical relevance, on which the dominant image was the imperial eagle (eg, on the seal of Poltava). The seals of newly established cities had mundane designs, and rarely did they have historical themes. Cossack sphragistic traditions were maintained in the city seals of the Kuban. The Austrian authorities rarely made changes to city seals, and then only minor ones to adapt them to Austrian forms.
During Ukraine’s struggle for independence (1917–20), the independent Ukrainian government did not have sufficient time to address the issue of city seals, and after the Bolsheviks took power, city seals disappeared completely. The use of city seals continued in Western Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s but was discontinued in 1939. In the postwar Soviet period a new form of sphragistics and heraldry emerged, most of it far removed from Ukrainian and Western European traditions. A new seal for Kyiv, for example, was created with a maple leaf (allegedly the floral emblem of the city) and a drawn bow (an imperfect reference to the crossbow that once appeared on the city’s seal).
Seals of lineage. In the early years of the Kyiv principality leading families used their own seals or amulets, marked by emblems or runes, to denote their ancestral or personal holdings. The seals were of various provenance, including Slavic, Greek, Gothic, and Oriental sources. After the adoption of Christianity (see Christianization of Ukraine) as the official religion a cross or a line perpendicular to the design was usually added. The designs of these seals of lineage provide the oldest images preserved on Rus’ seals. Under the Galician-Volhynian state they became heraldic.
Western European heraldry appeared in Ukrainian territories at the beginning of the 14th century. Leading families began displaying their emblems on their coats of arms, which had to be confirmed by monarchs and grand princes. The practice led to the creation of heraldic seals. In the Middle Ages they were widely used, particularly by princesses, boyars, members of the prince’s host, merchants, and other classes. The peasantry also used emblems (eg, beekeepers for the marking of their hives), but their emblems did not come to be used as seals. The revival of the Ukrainian state in the 17th century resulted in further developments in family and personal seals. They were used by the nobility, Cossack starshyna, the clergy, burghers, and Cossacks of lower rank. Families and individuals who did not have coats of arms created them in styles of their own choosing. Cossack traditions generated a new set of images used in seals, including those of weapons (swords, sabers, arrows, bows), heavenly bodies (the sun, half-moons, stars), and various crosses, hearts, towers, and so on. The seals provided the basis for the coats of arms of the descendants of Cossack starshyna and the nobility of Left-Bank Ukraine. In some cases Cossack officers ignored the emblems of their ancestors and created their own, based on Cossack motifs. Vasyl Dunin-Borkovsky, a general quartermaster, for example, replaced his family emblem of a swan with a saber and cross. Ukrainian octagonal coats of arms emerged in the seals of that time, and initials denoting the bearer’s name and status were also added.
In the 19th century the creation of Ukrainian family seals came to an end, since only the Russian or Austro-Hungarian imperial government conferred coats of arms and titles. Ukrainian family seals were reduced to two formats, a coat of arms without initials or initials under the crown of a knight of the nobility, a baron, or a count. They were small, so-called signet or ring seals that served to seal letters and other missives. In the 20th century, seals of lineage fell into complete disuse.
Church seals. By the mid-20th century 18 impressions of the seal of the metropolitan of Kyiv had been found. The oldest belonged to Metropolitan Theopemptos, who arrived in Kyiv in 1037. On the face is a likeness of John the Baptist, and on the verso the legend, in Greek, God Help Theopemptos, the Metropolitan of Rus’. Two other extant impressions from the 11th century belonged to the metropolitans Yefrem (see Bishop Yefrem) and Georgios.
In the 12th century the standard face image of the seal of the metropolitan showed Virgin Mary with the Holy Child. The legend on the verso went through various minor variations. Exceptions to the standard format included the seal of Nicephorus II (from 1182), which bore a legend on both sides that read O Christ, Watch Over Me, the Archpastor of All of Rus’, and Keep Me in Your Thoughts, and that of Ioan II (1189–1190), which bore a likeness of Saint John Chrysostom and the legend Watch over Your Servant Ioan, Metropolitan of Rus’.
The seals of bishops were similar. Three impressions of the seal of Cosma, the bishop of princely Halych (from 1157), are extant. The face shows the traditional likeness of Mary, and the verso bears the legend Mother of God, Watch over Me, Cosma of Halych. Seals of old Ukrainian monasteries usually had only appropriate inscriptions and no images.
As heraldry developed in Ukraine in the 14th century, church seals increasingly began using heraldic images. The seals of Ukrainian clerical hierarchs of the 16th century were single-sided and had annular inscriptions. They usually had two sections for images. One section bore a likeness of Christ, Mary, a saint, or other religious figure; the other showed the family emblems of the hierarch and an appropriate symbol of his office (miter, crozier, or cross). The heraldic elements gradually became more prominent, as did elements of Western European church heraldry, such as ecclesiastical headgear, emblems, or Latin annular inscriptions. The lower orders of clergy used heraldic seals almost exclusively.
In the 15th century the seals of monasteries, monastic orders, cathedral assemblies, brotherhoods, and parishes became increasingly sophisticated and of high artistic quality. The seal of the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood bore a likeness of its church’s bell tower (16th century). The seal of the Kyiv metropoly and of the assembly of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv showed the Kyivan Cave Monastery and a symbolic representation of God’s wisdom (17th century). The Mezhyhiria Transfiguration Monastery’s seal bore a representation of a valley, a river, and mountains (18th century). Other parishes adopted images of three-domed churches or likenesses of their patron saints. In the 20th century Ukrainian Catholic hierarchs adopted a new seal (influenced by Western European churches) that bears a two-field heraldic shield. The right field usually shows the emblem of the eparchy or exarchate (the unchanging symbol of the particular position); the left field shows the family or personal emblem of the person holding the post, accompanied by the appropriate symbol for the position.
Governmental and institutional seals. Seals were already being used by diplomatic, trade, boyar, and military officials in the 10th century, under Prince Ihor and Sviatoslav I Ihorovych. The oldest that have been preserved belonged to Ratybor, a vice-regent of Tmutorokan and tysiatskyi of Kyiv in the late 11th century (the face with the likeness of Saint Clement I, the Roman Pope [Ratybor was his Christian name], and the verso with the legend From Ratybor). The legend on the seal used by Dmytro Dedko, vice-regent of Rus’ in the early 14th century, was similar to those used in Western Europe at the time (Guardian and Overseer of Rus’ Lands). Seals designed for municipal governments and institutions underwent accelerated development under the Hetman state in the 17th and 18th centuries (eg, seals of the General Military Chancellery, the General Military Court, and regimental and company administrations). One of the best examples of institutional seals of the era belonged to the Kyivan Mohyla Academy. It had an annular Latin inscription (Kiioviensis Sigillum Academia) and an image of the academy in sunlight and cloud. After the abolition of the Hetman state this Ukrainian sphragistical style was lost as seals became copies of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian imperial models. In the mid-19th century it was revived by various community organizations in Galicia and Bukovyna, and in 1917–18 there was a brief efflorescence in the design of governmental seals, such as postal seals and the postage stamps of the government of the Western Ukrainian National Republic (in the form of a trident) and of the military. After the Bolshevik takeover this form of seal was maintained only in Galician organizations and, partially, in émigré circles. In the first decades after the Second World War a number of émigré Ukrainian graphic artists produced seals in traditional styles for Ukrainian community institutions.
The study of seals. Ukrainian sphragistics was one of the disciplines Hetman Kyrylo Rozumovsky planned to have taught at his university in Baturyn (along with heraldry, diplomacy, and related subjects), but the university was never established. Academic study in sphragistics did not begin until the mid-19th century. Scholars and hobbyists in the field have included K. Antypovych, Bohdan Barvinsky, K. Bolsunovsky, M. Bytynsky, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Pylyp Klymenko, P. Klymkevych, Ivan Krypiakevych, Oleksander Lazarevsky, Ye. Liutsenko, Ivan Luchytsky, Vadym Modzalevsky, Hryhorii Myloradovych, Heorhii Narbut, Yaroslav Pasternak, Viacheslav Prokopovych, Mykola I. Petrov, Viacheslav Seniutovych-Berezhny, Mariia and Mykhailo Slabchenko, Andrii V. Storozhenko, and Petro S. Yefymenko, as well as the Russians A. Barsukov, E. Kamentseva, Aleksandr Lappo-Danilevsky, N. Likhachev, Vladislav Lukomsky, Boris Rybakov, and V. Yanin, the Poles A. Darowski-Weryha, M. Gumowski, F. Piekosiński, W. Semkowicz, and W. Wittig, the German W. Ewald, and the Romanian N. Banescu. In Soviet Ukraine in the 1970s, D. Blifeld, V. Fomenko, V. Havrylenko, O. Markevych, Viacheslav Strelsky, and others published related works.
Artifacts of Ukrainian sphragistics are held in various archives and museums of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, particularly the State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, state museums of history in Moscow and Kyiv, the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the National Museum, and the Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Lviv, and in the hands of private collectors. Other Ukrainian sphragistic collections are found in Belarus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey, and the United States of America.
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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]