Over 40,000 lead seals from the early Byzantine Empire remain today. Apart from the rare cases where the seal authent...

Andrew on May 5 at 12:42AM

Months later I still don't understand

This stimulus essentially follows: except on the rare occasions when a document was of special importance, a seal's purpose was served after it was opened. After the purpose was served, the lead was recast. This would mean after some special documents were opened the purpose of the seal was not fully served. For the others it was, and the seals were recast. It would strengthen this argument if we knew that 40k is in the high end of the estimates as to how many documents of special importance were circulating in the early Byzantine Empire and thats what (D) says. The explanation for (D) says that it doesn't suggest that others of non importance were circulating, but to me it doesn't have to because we are just looking for any way to strengthen it, not make the argument air tight. (A) doesn't strengthen it to me because it doesn't matter that the documents were opened, what matters is what happened with these seals once the documents were opened and we can tell what may or may not happen with seals by whether or not they were on documents of special importance.

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Emil on May 7 at 08:32PM

I'm not sure how D would strengthen. I think for D to improve the argument we would need to know more about the proportion of total letters that were deemed important, and we cannot assume that. As of now all we know if D is true is that at a max, there were 40k important letters, and we have over 40k seals. We don't actually know how many important letters there were, we only know that the number is fewer than 40k. The actual number may be 39999, or 3.

As you noted the argument is that a seal's purpose was served after it was opened, and thus it was recast. This is critical. What happens to letters that are never opened? We only know what happened to the subset of seals that were opened, and the argument fails to account for the letters that were left unopened. While it isn't too likely, if a decent chunk of letters never were opened then their seals would likely have survived, which would be a huge flaw for the argument.

Unrelated, but if you happen to find yourself in DC, the Dumbarton oaks museum has one of the most impressive collections of Byzantine seals, and Byzantine items in general, in the US.