Digitising of seals from the Archives of the Bohemian Crown
An interim report on the work of the partners from the Archives of the Bohemian Crown (NA, AČK) in the EU-Project Community as Opportunity (CO:OP)
By Jitka Křečková, Kateřina Zenklová
Editor: Adelheid Krah
The Archives of the Bohemian Crown (NA, AČK, Inv. No.) comprises of charters addressed to the Bohemian King and later to the Bohemian Estates. It consists of 2822 documents, mostly charters from 1158-1935. The term Corona Regni Bohemiae (the Bohemian Crown) first appeared in the charters from the John of Luxembourg period after 1310. Archivum Coronae Regni Bohemiae (the Archives of the Bohemian Crown) contains exceptionally important documents legally safeguarding and attesting the privileges and sovereignty of the Bohemian lands, the area of its territory including its foreign fiefs and annexed lands, foreign policy of the Bohemian monarchs and the political development within the state. This is the most siginificant and valuable archive in the Czech Republic for the period of early Czech history. Simultaneously, it belongs to the most significant aggregate of charters of its kind in Europe. For its enormous significance for the Czech history, most charters of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown were proclaimed the National Cultural Heritage in 1988.
The AČK charters are not routinely accessible for the researchers. They are placed on hangers in Melinex foils (Editor’s note: see article by Libuše Holakovská) in a vault room governed by a special mode. Up to 2006, they were partially made accessible via the facsimile edition which is still work-in-progress. In 2006, 2525 charters were digitised and made accessible within the Monasterium framework on www.monasterium.net. The Monasterium virtual archive provides mainly options for diplomatic and paleographic studies; however, it does not allow full-fledged sphragistics study which is increasingly more in demand. The Czech Republic sphragistics experts have had partial access to the data of the country-wide register of seals, sealers, and casts that has been ongoing since 1997 under the sponsorship of the Archiving Administration and Filing Service Department of the Czech Republic Ministry of the Interior.
In 2009, a new program compatible with the Windows operating system was created from the original database. The new database was developed by a Czech firm, Bach systems, ltd. that enjoys rich experience with the users programs designed for Czech and Slovak archives. Despite the fact that better technological conditions were created, the database is still incomplete, and completely unaccessible to researchers. Besides, the project encompasses only the filling of the database, not the simultaneous digitising of the described seals. Therefore, the National Archives begun to consider the digitising of seals and the use of data that are processed from its holdings, for the Monasterium project. Thanks to the fact that the National Archives is one of the partners of the EU Community as Opportunity (CO:OP) project, in progress between 2014-2018, it was possible to start digitising and processing seals of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown which we preferred for the above mentioned reasons. The digitising of seals and filling of the database is conducted by a team of archivists of the National Archives 1st Department, a preserver and a photographer. We work closely with a colleague, Daniel Jeller of ICARUS (Editor’s note: see the Articles from Daniel Jeller on the Blog) who is researching the option of linking the metadata and photographs of seals with the already published charters of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown on Monasterium.
The scanning is done with the Canon camera with the 18,7MB resolution (approx. 5184×3456 pixels), resolution is 350 DPI. The archiving is done in the TIFF/24b format. We considered also new 3D technologies but a conducted research showed that these digital technologies are not yet on such level to meet our requirements for the picture quality.
We will focus on the above mentioned database processing into which we insert seal descriptions during the shooting. A special very detailed report is attached to each seal (front and back). Naturally, we list data that unambiguously assign particular seal to the charter, e.g. the archives, archival holding, date and inventory number. The seal record consists of: sequence number, owner of the seal (name, surname, noble predicate, sex, title, office, function or type and specification of legal entity, its place of work), date and place of issue, original number of seals, survived seals, sequence of the seal, size, shape, material, colour, form, attachment and type of the seal, legend (inscription, exergue), writing, language, type and description of design etc.
The process of digitising seals of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown has begun at the beginning of last year, and currently there are 1696 records completed up to the year 1364. We plan to digitise the most significant parts of the holding comprised of charters and seals up to 1620. As the number of seals is so great, we can introduce only the most important groups of seal issuers that are part of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown.
The holding consists of a large number of monarchic seals, the noteworthy ones include the seals of emperors and kings of the Roman Empire; Bohemian, French, Polish and Hungarian kings. The oldest charter in the holding is Fridrich Barbarrosa’s charter of 1158 that he used to award nonhereditary title to the Bohemian monarch. The emperial majesty seal is applied to the charter (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 1).
The so-called “Golden Bull of Sicily“ of 1212, by which Fridrich II (Editor’s note: see the Image for editorial, frontside of this seal) awarded hereditary title to the Bohemian monarch Ottokar I, is perhaps the best known charter to the Czech public. Fridrich II issued 5 charters with golden bulls for the kings of Bohemia, among them 3 for Ottokar I, and 2 for his son Wenceslaus I. The Bull of Sicily type from 1212 is the oldest one.
The recto side shows a seated monarch in his royal majesty, the verso side depicts a wall with three towers with an inscription around the construction that reads the following: „Regnu/m/Sicilie“ (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 2). The motif of the construction resembles the usual iconography of the bulls of Roman kings and emperors with the motif of Rome, like on the back of another Fridrich’s bull that he issued as the Roman king in 1216 (1st type of seal of the Roman king) (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 5). The next bull is an example of the 2nd type of Fridrich’s imperial golden bull after he was named King of Jerusalem (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 6). The obverse and reverse sides of Fridrich’s golden bulls were impacted separately, and the two parts were connected. The inside of the bull was hollow. In order to ensure necessary hardness of the material, silver was added to the bulls. The golden bulls of Fridrich II contained also a large ratio of copper which caused lower purity.
A typical example of a Bohemian monarchic seal is a monetary seal of Wenceslas I of 1240, that is also the oldest Bohemian monarchic seal in the holding. There is a depiction of a monarch in majesty on the recto, and Saint Wenceslas is on the verso (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 7). It is the last monarch on whose seals there is a motif of Saint Wenceslas, the seals of the next monarchs undergo a substantial change in terms of the appereance and iconography – a knight appears on the verso.
The most celebrated period in the history of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown is the Charles IV era (1346–1378). 938 charters date back to this time, thus a third of the Archives of the Bohemian Crown documents. Despite such a large number of charters, not all the seals that Charles IV used in his lifetime, are preserved. The individual types of his seals are divided into three periods – the period of Margrave of Moravia, the period of the Czech and Roman king until the coronation as Roman Emperor, and the last period after the coronation. As he was simultaneously the Roman Emperor and the Czech monarch, the symbols appearing on the seal pictures are both Czech and imperial. Charles‘ seals of majesty represent the highlight of the Czech monarchic seals of majesty ever.
The first imprints of Charles’s political activities can be traced in AČK back at the time of co-rule with his father, Bohemian king John, in 1336–1346. This era produced two seals. The first one is a secretum of Charles as Margrave of Moravia of 1342 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 243). There is a chequered eagle in the seal picture, and symbols of individual lands in the outer part of the two-line inscription. Next, there is a seal of Charles as the first-born son of the king John and Margrave of Moravia (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 253).
There is a quartered shield in the seal field. In the first field there is a Czech lion, in the second and third field a lion of Luxembourg, in the fourth field Moravian eagle. A savage man and a griffin are the shield-bearers. Charles also had a large equestrian seal from his period as Margrave of Moravia, but it is not deposited in AČK (Editor’s note: see p.ex. the charter 1342 Novembre 25, Prague NA, AČK, Inv. No. 253 in www.monasterium.net).
His period as the Bohemian and Roman king is only represented by three types of seals. The golden bull of Charles as Bohemian and Roman king is attached to the charter of 1347 with which Charles IV awarded the Prague Archbishop the right to coronate the king of Bohemia (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 280). Similarly to the other bulls, the recto is majestical and the back shows a symbolic picture of the eternal city of Rome (a sketch of St. Peter’s Basilica). Charles’s bulls contain the most authentic gold with a small ratio of silver, copper and zinc. Unlike the bulls of Fridrich the II, bulls of Charles IV were filled with wax. Their quality is related to the changed production technology by the recasting of gold at that time.
The wax majesty seal of Charles IV as the king of Rome and Bohemia of 1348 carries a seated monarch in majesty, the coat of arms on the right side carries an eagle and a Czech lion on the left side (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 298). The secretum is another seal type with a depicted eagle attached to the charter of 1347 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 282). The secretum is often used as a contrasigillum.
As the emperor of Rome, Charles IV issued 3 charters immediately after the coronation on April 5, 1355. He had an imperial golden bull attached to the two of them (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 473, 474), and a majesty imperial seal of wax to the third one, the back of which contains a secretum seal with an eagle (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 475). It differs from the previous secretum of the king of Rome and Bohemia by the inscription: instead of the names and title of Charles, it reads a following motto: “+ IVSTe + IVDICATe + FILII + hOmInVm“. The imperial golden bull differs from the previous golden bull of the royal period by the design of the picture. In total, ten samples of Charles‘ golden bull have been preserved in the holding (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 303, 306, 307, 309, 332, 473, 474, 483, 486, 511), Editor’s note: research possibilitiy in the fond: Archiv České koruny (1158-1935).
From the foreign royal charter issuers we can name French king John. In 1356, King John attached his majesty seal with a contrasigillum to the charter with which he donated Charles IV two thorns of Christ’s crown (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 562). The majesty side of the monarch on the throne is interesting for the throne design with eagles on either side and two lions by the monarch’s feet. The shield in the contrasigillum is covered with lillies.
The seal issuers in AČK include a large number of various imperial dukes and princes. The seal of Ludwig II, Margrave of Brandenburg, appears frequently. A relatively stiff standing figure of a knight holding a pennon in his right hand, and a shield with an eagel in his left hand. Rudolf I, Duke of Saxony, often sealed with an antique gem. Both sample seals date back to 1360 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 723, 750). The frequent occurrence of these seals or charters with attached seals can be explained by the fact that both Duke of Saxony and Margrave of Brandenburg belonged among the imperial electors. Clerical and secular electors including the king of Bohemia issued so called Willebriefe in which they expressed their consent with important imperial matters.
The equestrian type of a seal is represented by the seal of Albert, Duke of Saxony of 1261 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 40). The seal of Nicholas, Duke of Troppau of 1312 is a beautiful example of an emblem seal. There are beardless male heads in a jewel located on a helmet (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 68).
The nobiliary seals contained in AČK represent a significant source for sphragistic as well as heraldic study. There is a very large number of nobiliary seals of all kinds even in one country, leave alone the fact the AČK contains not only Bohemian but also a large number of Roman nobility seal issuers. In terms of typology of the seal design, most of the seals are with coat of arms. The seal of Rudolph of Bieberstein is the oldest nobilian seal in the holding AČK of 1278 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 20). There is a shield with an antler in the field of the seal. However, the leading magnates often had great equestrian or pedestrian seals. The seal of Jaroslav of Sternberg, representing higher Bohemian nobility from 1284, is an example of such a seal (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 24). We can see a standing figure of a knight holding a shaft with a banner and sword in the seal design. A family star appears several times in the design.
Interesting seal designs can be found on seal of Ulrich of Helfenstein of 1361 with a symbol of an elephant (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 813) – (Editor´s note: see the last seal on the right) – and the seal of Ulrich von Mosch of 1353 with sleigh runners (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 448).
Municipal seals are numerous in the AČK. The seals belong to both Bohemian and German towns. The towns are most often the issuers of charters that contain promises of loyalty to the Bohemian monarch and the Bohemian crown. Towns, especially the more significant ones, owned great, small or secretum seals. Most great and small seals depict town architecture often with heraldic, figural or natural motifs, e.g. a river. Secretum seals are often with coat of arms. The seal of Chemnitz (Saska Kamenice) of 1298 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 46) is the oldest seal in the holding AČK which is noteworthy because of the distinct brick wall. The origin of sphragistics of Bohemian towns slightly lagged behind that of Western Europe. Cheb was probably the first town to own a town seal (1242), however, the seal of Cheb that is part of the AČK dates back to 1350 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 341). But Cheb (German: Eger – Editor´s note) did not belong to Bohemia at this time, it was a part of the Empire.
In 1311, the town of Krnov used its coat of arms seal: a sphere with three hunting horns (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 65). The seal of the town of Rottenmann illustrates in a very interesting way the name of the town – a shield shaped seal with a symbol of a figure accompanied by a star and Moon, decorated with red colour (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 906).
The seals and charters of clerical dignitaries and institutions constitute a large group of the holding AČK. In terms of topics, the clerical seals represent the most diverse group. The seals of imperial bishops and archbishops are prevalent in the AČK. There are a lot of seals of popes, chapter houses, abbeyes and convents. The leaden bull of Pope Clement IV is the oldest ecclesiastical seal of 1268 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 12).
The most plentiful group of ecclesiastical seals consists of seals of clerical electors, archbishop of Mainz, Cologne (Köln), and Trier. There are mainly great seals and secretums, that were either attached separately or as a contrasigillum. As an example, we show pontifical seals of Boemund, archbishop of Trier with an interesting red bowl (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 686), and of Wilhelm, archbishop of Cologne (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 444).
Arnošt of Pardubice, bishop and later archbishop of Prague, was a prominent personality of Charles IV period. He had a merit in many clerical reforms and as a counselor of Charles IV, he participated in political life. During his active life, he used 6 matrices (as bishop of Prague 2 – a great seal and secretum; as archbishop of Prague 4 – 2 great types, 1 small type, and 1 secretum). The Archives of the Bohemian Crown contains the 3rd type of his great seal (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 379), 2nd type of his secretum depicting the scene of apparition of resurrected Christ to Mary Magdalene – Noli me tangere (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 315). Mary Magdalene appears also on his small seal as a standing saint with attributes (hairy legs) and a couple of angels in architecture, the archbishop depicted below as an orant. There are the coats of arms of the archdiocese by the sides of his figure, and his personal one – half of the horse with a rein (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 818).
A scene from the legend of St. Wenceslas is a very capturing seal design where St. Wenceslas carries wood to the poor on two types of secretum of JohnVolek, bishop of Olomouc of 1339 and 1340 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 203, 215). A small dog by St. Wenceslas‘ feet is very interesting. There are coats of arms with a personal emblem and the emblem of the bishopric of Olomouc by the sides of the saint.
St. John Baptist is a frequent topic of ecclesiastical seals; e.g. he appears on the seal of the chapter of the diocese of Wroclaw of 1319 depicting a scene of Christ’s Baptism in Jordan (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 82). Unlike the ogival shape (mandorla) typical for the ecclesiastical seals, the seals of Bohemian chapters are mostly round. As an example, we can list a seal of the Vyšehrad chapter of 1325 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 114) with figures of Saint Peter and Paul framed in the architecture. Vratislaus, the founder of the chapter and the first king of Bohemia sits at the foot of the seal.
The last group of ecclesiastical seals are seals of abbots and convents. Benedictine abbot Reiner of Kladruby and abbot Kristian of Břevnov attached their pontifical seals to the charters of 1289 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 29).
The examples of convent seals include seals of the Cistercian monastery in Plasy of 1341 (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 219) depicting Virgin Mary with a child and angels by her sides, and the seal of benedictine convent in Břevnov with Saint Adalbert and Saint Benedict of the same year (NA, AČK, Inv. No. 229).
To summarize, the Archives of the Bohemian Crown contains seals of European monarchs, imperial electors, representatives of German, Austrian, Hungarian, Silesian and Bohemian nobility, central-European towns and church dignitaries and institutions who attached their seals either as issuers or witnesses. The above outline clearly shows that the holding contains unique seals of European importance, and is extremely significant not only for diplomatic but also sphragistic research. We are hoping that the digitising of seals and its linkage to the Monasterium virtual archive will be beneficial for the researchers.
Jitka Křečková and Kateřina Zenklová are archivists of the National Archives in Prague and coordinators of the digitization project of the charters seals in Archives of the Bohemian Crown (NA, AČK), partner in the EU-Project Community as Opportunity (CO:OP).
Image of the editorial, Golden Bull of the Sicillian King Fridrich II.,1212 (NA, AČK, Inv. No.2) and all pictures are taken from the manuscript of the authors.