publisher colophon

System of Transliteration

The Hebrew alphabet has been transliterated as follows:

Certain variations from present scholarly procedure have been made for the sake of ease when cross-referencing with older works:

1. The use of’ for aleph and ‘for yod has been eliminated: thus, “Saadia” is employed rather than “Sa‘adia,” “Jacob” rather than “Ya‘akob.”

2. Personal names follow conventional usage: thus, “Kalonymos” rather than “Qalonymos,” “Chaim” rather than “Haim,” “Menachem” rather “Menahem” and “Aaron” rather than “Aharon.”

3. The spelling “Cohen” is used throughout for modern figures and “Kohen” for figures from antiquity and the Middle Ages except in a few cases where the accepted practice is otherwise.

4. Names of foreign kings and dignitaries are given in English: thus, King “John” of France rather than “Jean,” Archbishop “Baldwin” of Trier rather than “Balduin” or “Baudouin,” and Duke “William” of Bavaria rather than “Wilhelm.”

The author thanks Norman Golb of the University of Chicago for his technical aid in reviewing the translations, as well as his many profound critical comments on the material.

The Seal in the Middle Ages

The use of seals goes back to ancient Babylonia, Egypt, and Crete. Hebrew seals, engraved both on ordinary and on semi-precious stones, are common from the eighth century B.C., often with representations of a type which can be dated at least a thousand years earlier than that and indicating strong Egyptian and Babylonian influence. Engraved gems were most prized in Crete, Greece, and Rome. From the fall of the Western Roman Empire, in the fifth century, to the eighth century, the use of seals died out in Europe, though retained in the Arab world and in Byzantium, and was fully revived only in the eleventh century. In that period the seals were usually antique gems or copies, a practice which continued through the Middle Ages, although generally the gem was used as a counterseal or an accessory. The English Jew Aaron of York, a leading thirteenth-century financier, seems to have used such a gem as his seal (see No. 5 in this catalogue).

Various types of seals were used. The king had a great seal employed for important documents, a privy seal for less important ones, and a signet or small seal, often an engraved finger ring or signet ring, as a decorative accessory. Bishops and corporations had a great seal and another for ordinary business. The lesser seal was employed because of the difficulty of using the great seal: many witnesses were required in attestation, and the chest in which it was held was fitted with several keys, each in the custody of a different highly placed individual.

The matrices, the incised prototypes, were most often made from silver or latten, the latter being a brass-like metal, an alloy of copper and zinc with a higher percentage of copper than brass. When seals from the medieval period are described in later literature as made of copper or bronze, one may assume that they are actually made of latten. Seals for very high dignitaries were sometimes made of gold. Ivory, lead, soft stone, and even wood were used. There are relatively few Jewish medieval matrices left, but they are all of latten.

Matrices are mainly circular in shape. The vesica matrix, elliptical or almond-shaped, was favored by bishops or ecclesiastical bodies. The oval shape itself had no symbolic meaning but best accommodated the representation of a vertical or standing figure. Jacob son of Rabbi Solomon, a fourteenth-century Swiss Jew, used the vesica shape for his seal the better to show off a tall-stemmed plant which formed the central design (see No. 72 in this catalogue). A seal in the form of a shield was popular in the south of France in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the inscription following the contour of the shield. A good example is that owned by Kalonymos son of Solomon, as stated in the Hebrew lettering, but inscribed “Crescas of Masela” in the vernacular (No. 27).

The matrix sometimes had a rear handle to aid in pressing down, the earliest type being in the form of a loop. Small seals were often attached to a cone terminating in a loop for attachment to a chain. Sometimes the back of the matrix was ornamented and sometimes even incised on both sides, as in cases where the same person had two posts or functions. This form had a certain popularity with Jews, who could then inscribe one side in Hebrew and the other in Latin or the vernacular. An important late thirteenth-century rabbi and rich landowner, Kalonymos son of Todros, from Narbonne in Languedoc (No. 19), used a double-faced seal, showing his proper name in Hebrew on the obverse and his name in colloquial Provençal on the reverse. Other similar Jewish seals exist from Languedoc.

The counterseal (contra sigillum) is a seal impressed on the back of the main impression. It was developed to prevent forgery: to pull a seal from a document was less easy when it was backed up on the other side of the parchment. A smaller seal was generally used for this purpose.

The seal impression was generally made in wax, sometimes mixed with hair. The pigments were vermilion for the red seals and verdigris for the green, verdigris also being found in black and brown seals. But impressions were not always of wax. Papal bullae (“bulla” being a synonym for a seal pressed in a metal softened by heat) were of lead; occasionally they were made in gold for emperors.

Two methods were used for affixing the impression to the document. In early documents and until the beginning of the eleventh century, the custom was to press the matrix directly on the face of the document. A slit was usually cut in the parchment, and the wax oozing through the slit prevented the seal from falling off. The other method, which was almost universal after the eleventh century and continued for hundreds of years, was to hang the seal from the document. An edge of the document was slit and the seal impressed on it, the wax being run on both sides of the slit to hold it on. Or a piece of parchment might be put through a slit or hole cut in the document, doubled back, and the two ends joined together by the seal. A cord, sometimes of twisted silk and sometimes of strip leather, might be used in the same way.

Information is very scanty as to the artists who designed the matrices. Sometimes an initial or initials appear on medieval seals, but we do not know their makers’ names. Records very rarely indicate the names of seal engravers until the seventeenth century, and most Gothic artists are anonymous. Nor do we know whether the seals with Hebrew legends were cut by Jews* The most that can be said is that in certain cases the Hebrew letters are so badly formed that it may be presumed Christian artists were employed. Engraving—on tombstones, pewter, gems, and coin dies—was a Jewish specialty from antiquity, but our records are silent in the matter of seals.

The inscriptions or legends were usually in Latin, but the vulgar tongues were used as well. Hebrew, of course, was a separate category. Sigillum, abbreviated or in full, usually begins the inscription. This is followed by the owner’s name, often in the genitive case, such as “Abraham’s.” Very high personages used the nominative case and omitted the sigillum. Rank followed the name. The words of the legend are often much contracted to get the most text in the small space.

The inscription commonly begins with a cross or star, more rarely with a crescent or arrowhead. The words are often separated by one, two, or three dots, or by stars or sprigs of foliage. Almost always in the medieval period the legend begins at the top; it generally runs round the outer edge of the seal, within a border of solid lines or dots. Sometimes the outer line is omitted. A popular type of medieval seal in southern France and certain Spanish states fitted the letters into a square within the cusps of a quatrefoil. This can be seen in several Jewish examples, of which the most prominent is the seal reputed to belong to Todros, the son of the great Don Samuel Halevi Abulafia, builder of the famous El Tránsito synagogue still standing in Toledo (see No. 50).

The categories of seals are relatively simple. There are royal seals, ecclesiastical seals, local seals, and (the largest class of all) seals of individuals in their private capacities, which include the orders of knight-hood and lesser folk. A few Jewish seals are of communities, which fall into the category of local seals. The rest are personal seals. In general, it may be said that seals of private individuals only became prominent by the thirteenth century.

The variety of devices used on seals are almost without number. However, certain types are preferred by various groups. Sovereigns are usually shown on their thrones or in armor on horseback—and some of these royal seals are among the finest productions of Gothic art. Ecclesiastical seals show bishops blessing their flocks, often with very elaborate backgrounds. Cathedrals, abbeys, and municipalities show their buildings. Many private seals of those born to bear arms indicate shields, helmets, and crests, separately or in combinations. Seals of bourgeois persons show bizarre beasts and floral work: gryphons, wyverns, quaint birds, and animals. Flower types tend to be more conventional. Jewish medieval seals fall into this last category, and the devices are no different, though more limited, than those used by Christians.

The art of designing and cutting seals declined at just the time when European decorative art was coming into bloom. The earliest seals are crude. By the thirteenth century the engravers had mastered their trade, and the seals cut during the next two centuries represent the summit of the art, despite a tendency to over-design at the end of this period. Thus, the apogee of sealmaking occurred during the Gothic period, at just the time when the greatest number of Jewish medieval seals were made.

Perhaps most significant (aside from the mere fact of their existence as an example of the Jewish presence and influence) is the similarity of Jewish to Christian bourgeois seals of the medieval period. Jewish history has its own mythology, and it is an article of faith that the Jew was an outsider in medieval society. There is a measure of truth in this view, but it has been exaggerated and generalized to include all areas at all times throughout Christian Europe. Modern research has deflated the theory that European Jews in the Middle Ages were limited to the practice of usury. The documents to which these seals were attached deal with other matters: the leasing, purchase, and sale of land and houses; viticulture and farm products; river tolls; communal assessments; and others. The aesthetic expression of this integration into the municipal communities is the adoption of the form and iconography of the Christian seal. It would be unthinkable for Jews to use such seals without the permission of the authorities. That they were so used is a measure of the Jews’ acceptance, if only at intervals, in those communities.

The study of Jewish medieval seals also aids us to re-evaluate the position of the Jew within the larger European society. He was not merely an accepted resident for many centuries: he was an important stimulant in the process which converted a barter to a money economy and thus set the stage for the capital growth that transformed the continent. A study of these sealed medieval business documents, as well as of royal pronouncements, trade regulations, commercial routes, ore providers and agents, moneyers and mint masters, and coins with Hebrew initials or names—not to mention the records of the constant fulminations of the Church—all persuade the historian of the importance of this Jewish role.

Jewish Symbols and Legends on Medieval Seals

An important source for Jewish symbols on seals was the Bible. Biblical references have traditionally associated certain symbols with some of the Twelve Tribes* and, by extension, with Jewish persons bearing names of these tribes. Genesis 49, in which Jacob prophesied the future of his sons, is such a source. Among these symbols, Judah is compared to a lion’s whelp, Zebulun to a shore for ships, Issachar to an ass, Dan to a serpent, Naphtali to a hind, Joseph to a vine, and Benjamin to a wolf. In Deuteronomy 33, when Moses blessed the children of Israel before his death, and in Deuteronomy 34, other allusions are found. Levi is identified with the priestly pectoral, Joseph with a bullock or wild ox, Gad with a lioness, and Issachar with tents. From these symbols certain Jewish names derive, as Loeb (from lion) for Judah, Hirsch or Cerf (from hind) for Naphtali, and Wolf for Benjamin. In medieval Jewry, the symbol of the wild ox or bull’s head stuck for Joseph and appears in that relation on several Jewish seals. The same is true for the lion representing persons named Judah. Dan became associated with the snake. In post-biblical writings, a bear came to stand for Issachar, while Dan also became identified with the eagle and Ephraim with fish. The five-pointed or six-pointed star, a direct legacy from the ancient Semitic East, represented the two most powerful Jewish kings and hence, by extension, appeared on seals for persons named David and Solomon.

The eagle, the wild ox, and the lion are symbols intimately related to Judaism. They appear as early as in the description of the First Temple, where the ledges of the building were decorated with lions, oxen, and cherubim. The ablution basin rested upon twelve bronze oxen. Both the curtain in the Tabernacle and the belt of the high priest are described as being woven with the figures of lions and eagles Their symbolic use on medieval Jewish seals, of course, could derive from several sources: for example, the device of an eagle could represent a descendant of the tribe of Dan or a man named Dan; it might hark back to the use of eagles as Jewish symbols in the Byzantine period in Judaea, or it might refer to the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire, in one of whose cities the sealowner lived. In such cases, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the origin of the symbol standing behind the device of the seal.

The influence of Christianity is often marked on these seals. The fleur-de-lys or lily flower represented not only secular power, as in Florence or France, but also Christianity itself. The three parts of the lily stood for the virginity, the purity, and the chastity of Mary. The Marian cult of the lily was very strong from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. Not coincidentally, lilies appear on Jewish seals from southern France and Spain at the end of this period. By the fourteenth century the lily ran into competition with the rose as a symbol of the Marian cult. Seals showing roses were also common in the eastern part of the Alpines; one such is the seal of the Liechtenstein family (which gave its name to the modern country). This area includes or abuts those parts of southern Germany where the greatest number of extant medieval Jewish seals are found. It follows that certain of these Jewish seals show roses. One could, if rationalization were necessary, always look back in the former case to the biblical Lily of the Valley* or to the prominent Ibn Shoshan family of Spain (shoshan in Hebrew means “lily”) and in the later case to the Rose of Sharon from the Bible. But the real cultural influence was the reigning Christian overlord or the neighboring Christian burgher who showed those devices on his badge or seal. Indeed, one could make the general statement that if one scattered examples of Jewish medieval seals with Latin inscriptions among those made for private business purposes by Christian merchants and petty officials during the same period, it would be difficult to see at a glance which were Jewish. Norman Golb (1977, p. 323) says:

The fact that the Jewish academy of Rouen had features matching those of other academic buildings of that same time in itself tends to show that the Mediaeval Jews of this region in essence shared the material culture with their Christian neighbors. It was already known that generally they wore the same types of clothing as did Christians (at all events until the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council of A.D. 1215 which called for special Jewish insignia) and that they engaged in the same occupations. But now it is also clear that no special “Jewish architecture” was employed by them in their academic structures, only the modes current in the environment at large.

Joseph Gutmann, in his study of medieval manuscripts (1978, p. 12), agrees: “To study the illuminations in Hebrew manuscripts is to encompass at the same time much of the history of Christian and Islamic art. No unique Jewish style emerges; there is no independent medieval Jewish artistic evolution.”

Title page to Leviticus, German manuscript, 13th century. Notice alternating pattern of spread eagle and rampant lion, two of the most common devices on Jewish medieval seals. British Library, Add. 15282, fol. 137r.

Most prominent among the symbols common to both Jews and Christians are the figures of the lion, the eagle, and the bull, all predating both religions as images of great strength or vision. The early Christian Church picked a symbol for each of the four Evangelists: a lion stood for St. Mark, a man for St. Matthew,* an ox for St. Luke, and an eagle for St. John. They derive from the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:10), wherein the prophet describes the throne of the Lord carried by four creatures with the heads of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The communality of these symbols is too obvious to be doubted.

In summary, there are five major devices shown on Jewish medieval seals. Three—the lion, the bull or ox, and the eagle—are used by both Christians and Jews. The fourth is the Jew’s hat, a special hat the Jews had to wear to distinguish them from Christians. It is often shown in a group of three to echo the triangular shape of the shield on which they are embossed. This representation would seem abhorrent to Jews but for some reason became common to seals of both Jews and Jews who converted.

The fifth and predominant device, and one that came to be linked in the Christian mind with Judaism more than any other symbol, is the combination of the crescent moon with a star, the four-thousand-year-old symbol of the Akkadian god of the moon and the star of Ishtar. No less than fourteen known medieval Jewish seals show this grouping (one is a seal created by Christians to authenticate Jewish debts), dating from the twelfth through the fifteenth century. They show up in a geographical band running east from Languedoc in southwestern France to Switzerland, Bavaria, and Austria, the largest group being eight from Regensburg in Bavaria (Nos. 83-84, 86 -88, 95, 98-99). There they appear on seals attached to documents dating from 1297 through 1391, with no fixed design. For example, on the Regensburg seals the crescent moon is shown facing left three times and right three times; once it appears in the corner of the seal and once at the bottom; the star appears opposite it in each case. Nor did the star have an established number of points: six times there were six-pointed stars, once a five-pointed star, and once an eight-pointed star. At nearby Augsburg, a 1307 seal (No. 80) showed the star to the left and the crescent moon to the right; the star, which is damaged, appears to have six points. This irregular design pattern shows up on the other seals as well; to confound theories about the development of the hexagonal Star of David, a seal dated as late as 1482 from Graz in Styria, now Austria (No. 160), has a five-pointed star. It is, however, quite obvious that the device of the crescent moon and star was identified by Jews and Christians as standing for Jews throughout the late medieval period in Europe.

Though the depictions on these medieval seals range from flowers to birds to fish to animals to stars and the moon, and even the human face, there are certain symbols omitted. A prime example is the temple menorah. Though the rabbinical fathers (Beraitha Menaḥoth 28b) stated that exact copies should not be made, the prohibition seemed to relate only to copies in metal, and the seven-branched candlestick was commonly used to represent Judaism. Other temple or sanctuary implements depicted in biblical scenes up to the sixth century were the Ark of the Covenant, the sacrificial altar (and chalice), the incense altar (as well as the incense shovel), and the table for the show-bread. The shofar or ram’s horn was also portrayed. Similar representations derived from the Feast of Tabernades (Sukkot), the principal temple festival. They were the ethrog or citron (the box to enclose the fruit did not exist before modern times) and the lulav or palm leaf cluster to which myrtle and willow branches were attached. After the sixth century (probably due to the rise of Islam, where iconophobia was extremely strong), biblical scenes were abandoned, but several of these images—principally the menorah, the chalice, the incense shovel, the shofar, the ethrog, and the lulav—continued to appear on objects such as jewelry, amulets, glassware, manuscripts, and gravestones. Yet not one of these important depictions of Judaism (with the exception of a menorah engraved on a questionable signet ring from France [see No. 44]) appears on Jewish seals.

Another odd omission is the whole class of trees and agricultural products historically associated with Eretz Yisrael, “a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey” (Deut. 8: 8). In the Bible the olive tree stands for Israel by repeated reference. These grains and fruits appear on the old coinage as well, as does the palm tree, which the Romans specifically identified with Judaea. Yet such thoroughly legitimate symbols do not appear on Jewish medieval seals except when vines are used for decorative background effect or to fill irregular spaces for purposes of aesthetic unity.

Also missing are the exotic figures and grotesqueries so common to Hebrew illuminated manuscripts of the same period—peacocks,* armies of hares, and men with animals’ and birds’ heads. Furthermore, though the hands outspread in benediction standing for a Cohen and the water jug for ablution representing a Levite are extremely common after the sixteenth century, they do not appear on Jewish seals of the earlier period. It would seem that the weight of the surrounding Christian environment had a greater influence on the choice of symbols than did orthodox Jewish tradition. A factor may be that the Jews who owned such seals were the elite of the community and wished to appear on the surface, if not in the heart, as assimilated residents of their cities. One can no more judge the cultural level of the average late medieval Jew by these seals than one could assume that the eighteenth-century silver goblets produced for the court Jews by renowned Christian silversmiths of Augsburg or Nuremberg were typical of the Sabbath table of the ordinary German Jewish home.

Most surprising, perhaps, in examining the iconography of medieval Jewish seals is to find the human face, both in side and front view, on certain of them. The depiction of the human form on seals at that epoch would seem to go against the strongest Jewish custom, if not actually banned by the rabbinate. Yet even Polish coins produced by Jewish mint masters from this same period—official Polish currency—show Jewish faces. However, unlike ancient Jewish seals from the early monarchy, the whole body is never depicted. And the number of these seals is small, indicating that the traditional prejudice against such depictions was still strong.

The most striking difference between Jewish and Christian medieval seals is the use of Hebrew. Hebrew legends were not universal, and there are a significant number of indisputably Jewish seals from the late Middle Ages with Latin inscriptions and inscriptions in the vernacular as well. However, when Hebrew script is used in this period, the seal without question is Jewish.* It appears in various combinations. Sometimes Hebrew is the exclusive language of the legend, as in Spain and northern France. Often there are Hebrew and Latin legends on the same face, the Latin on the right and the Hebrew on the left. In a variant, mainly found in southern France, one face of the matrix is in Hebrew and the reverse face in the vernacular; here one has, in effect, two separate seals inscribed on the same matrix. Another practice, common in Regensburg, was for the same party to have two different seals, one in Hebrew and the other in Latin letters. Crosses—undeniable crosses, not blurred figures that may be crosses—are used as a decorative motif and to separate letters on certain Jewish seals; these are never present, however, when the seal has a Hebrew inscription, even in cases where the owner had two seals, one in Hebrew and the other not. Royal or city seals issued to confirm the acts of Jews are always in Latin, and, though there is disagreement among scholars about this, it is this writer’s opinion that regardless of the devices and how the words are framed, when the seal legend is in Latin and refers to the collective body of Jews, it is a seal made for the Jews and not a Jewish seal.

Another important difference between Christian and Jewish seals is that the Jewish legend almost invariably refers to the father of the sealer, using between the name of the seal owner and the name of the father either the Latin fil., for “son of,” or the Aramaic bar or Hebrew ben (or bat for “daughter of”). This practice seems to represent a continuous tradition going back to a time when Judaea was an independent country except that in the very earliest period (as in some medieval seals from southern France) the interconnective “son of” either degenerated into another commonly understood phrase or letter or, in rare cases, disappeared.

In medieval Jewish seals a practice rigorously followed was to include a contraction following the father’s name indicating whether he was alive or dead, as well as expressing a pious attitude. In a few cases two seals exist for the same party, one indicating by the contraction that the father is alive and the second that the father is dead; the seal owner was forced to have a new seal cut due to the decease of his father.

The most common contraction used to indicate that the father is still alive is

or “May his Rock guard him and let him live,”

“That he may live,”

Two contractions in common use indicate that the father is dead. The first is “His memory be for a blessing,”

Three somewhat rarer forms also indicate that the father is dead: “The memory of a saint be for a blessing,”

and “His memory be for life throughout eternity”

Though these pious contractions invariably follow the father’s name, certain Hebrew letters sometimes precede the father’s name and refer to specific attributes or titles. For example, . This can be translated as “Chaim son of the sage master Chaim.” In general, this shorthand system of letters refers to great learning or rabbinical station, standing for financial and community prestige as well in many cases. Other conditions, such as martyrdom, can also be indicated. Only in very rare cases is there a mention of a quality of the seal owner himself, as distinguished from him father. A seal of Meir son of Asher Halevi from Überlingen, on Lake Constance in the south of Germany, repeats the Meir in a place on the seal which can only represent an honorific tide, “Light-Giver,” probably referring to the son rather than the father (see No. 78).

To summarize, there are only a few real differences in the iconography of private seals of Jews and Christians. Jews shunned abhorrent representations such as depictions of pigs or boars. The symbols of Christianity (with the exception of the decorative crosses on certain seals where Hebrew was not employed) were avoided. Jews shied away from engraving the entire human form, alone or in groups (or on horseback), though a few seals show the human face.* The most common figures are animals and birds—lions, eagles, oxen, etc.—where Jews and Christians used the same symbols. The seals of Jews are distinguished from those of Christians mainly by the use of Hebrew legends, with the formal relation of father to son as well as the use of pious contractions referring to the father. Thus in most respects, the Jewish seal of the late Middle Ages is typical of the bourgeois seal itself.

The Heraldic Shield on Jewish Seals

The seal is intimately related to the hieratic structure of feudal society. Seals developed as signs attached to documents in order to give them a legal or formal character, more legalistic in Germanic countries and more formal in the old Roman lands along the Mediterranean. The design of the seal became related to the heraldic nature of that society. The seal of a gentleman, from the king himself down through the barons to the orders of knights, reflected his rank in the society because on it were reproduced the emblems of position or the distinctive coat of arms.

One may well wonder how shields could appear on the private seals of Jews in the medieval period when Jews were not permitted to bear a coat of arms and thus were prohibited from using the prime insignia of knighthood, the shield and the helmet. However, the assumption that the Jew throughout all Christian Europe was a chattel in the legal sense is an overstatement, as noted earlier. Pope Gregory the Great castigated the Jews in one of his pastoral letters but added: “We permit them to live as Roman citizens and to do as they please with their goods and property,—” and some of this attitude lived on in the south of Europe, which had been most firmly integrated into the Roman system of law. For long periods of time many rulers in areas which are now Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy acted as though the Jews were citizens regardless of their abstract legal status.

Furthermore, despite common opinion to the contrary, the Jews were landowners almost everywhere up to the period of the Crusades, and for centuries later in parts of what are now France, Germany, Austria, Spain, and Portugal. A requirement of armorial bearings was thus satisfied. The records indicate that early in the fourteenth century one Héliot of Vesoul, in Burgundy, tithed to the clergy on his land (with what reluctance of spirit history does not state), and this was another requisite of a land-owning gentleman. Monumenta Judaica states (p. 216) that in the fourteenth century mortgages on real estate were popular in Germany among noblemen and that, as a result, Jews ended up owning vineyards, estates, and even whole villages. Moses Hoffmann, in a famous study (1910, pp. 116, 117, 109), gives examples of Jewish land ownership. A few may be noted. Around 1200 two Jews, Joseph and Chaskel, are mentioned as the owners of an entire village, Falkner bei Breslau. Three times in the early fourteenth century dukes of Silesia mortgaged cities to Jews; the records do not indicate whether foreclosures were involved. In 1330 Heinrich II of Cologne borrowed eight thousand marks to redeem some mortgaged villages. As to Spain, Abraham A. Neuman (1942, 1: 165) writes that during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Jews owned castles and villages in Castile over which they exercised limited feudal rights, and Yitzhak Baer, tells of outright ownership of estates in Aragon and Catalonia as well (1966, 1: 209, 361). Other cases are discussed later in this book.

Throughout a good part of the Middle Ages, under certain circumstances Jews had the right to bear arms, still another requirement of the gentleman. Yitzhak Baer (1966, 1: 113) states categorically that this was true in the early period of the Spanish Reconquest, and indeed a document from 1266, when Jerez de la Frontera was captured from the Moslems, describes several Jews as ballesteros, best translated as military scouts or rangers, the most aggressive figures in direct armed combat. Rabbi Isaac Or Zarua wrote that Jews in Bohemia in his troubled time, the early thirteenth century, bore arms with the permission of the authorities. Adolf Kober (1940, p. 60) states that the Jews of Cologne had the right to carry arms and indeed were assigned a specific city gate, called the Porta Judaeorum, to protect. Such concessions irritated zealous Christians, and there is a petition on record of a complaint by Christian noblemen to King John II of Portugal in 1481 at his accession, which includes the following statement: “And we notice Jew cavaliers, mounted on richly caparisoned horses and mules, in fine cloaks, cassocks, silk doublets, closed hoods, and with gilt swords, that it is impossible to recognize them” (quoted in Lindo, 1848, p. 317).

Furthermore, certain Jews occupied positions at various times in Christian lands that in medieval law automatically gave their possessor the status of knight or nobleman. This was particularly true in countries of the Iberian peninsula and in the Midi of France during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries. El Cid, after the Christian conquest of Valencia in 1094, named a Jew to the post of Vizir, a top political office (Kriegel, p. 59). In Portugal in 1190 Sancho I appointed Don Solomon Jachia as commander-in-chief of the Portuguese army. Alfonso VII of Castile made Joseph Ibn Ezra, his court chamberlain, the guardian of the frontier fortress of Calatrava. Many Jews were secretaries, stewards, and treasurers (as well as court physicians and astrologers) in such Spanish Christian states as Castile, León, Navarre, and Aragon, and it seems clear that high officials could not, by definition, be chattels. In fact, according to Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (1978, p. 588), there were official heraldic insignia—specific ensigns of rank—for persons such as the chamberlain of the household and treasurer, at least in England. These positions were held at one time or another by Jews on the Iberian peninsula, while in Aragon-Catalonia and Languedoc the high post of bailiff (which Jews also occupied in these places) is said to have carried with it the rank of baron* Farther east, we know that in 1124 the Jew Jacob was made vicedominus or property administrator of Duke Wladislaw of Bohemia. In Germany, where the resentment against Jews of exalted stature in the feudal structure was greatest, Moses Hoffmann (1910, p. 116) writes that around 1315 Duke Heinrich VI of Silesia entrusted to a Jew by the name of Salomon the officer of court and kitchen master, a position of much greater importance than the word “kitchen” might suggest. Bishop Heinrich I of Breslau forced Salomon out of the office, but the duke later reappointed him despite the opposition of the bishop.

Fragmentary evidence exists that Jews were accepted as knights in England at a very early time. Joseph Jacobs (1893, p. xxi) states that in the twelfth century Jews paid knights’ fees, which meant of course that they were so entitled. He refers specifically to a Benedictus Miles, from the Latin militus, a name taken from the earliest list of London Jews, around 1186, which he states meant “Knight.” Scholars disagree on this matter, however.

The evidence from Italy comes from a somewhat later period but is even more conclusive. Giacomo Bascapè (1973, p. 163) writes that in the second half of the fifteenth century, by special papal license, Jews received the tide of doctor et miles, that is, “doctor and knight,” in Milan, Florence, Perugia, and Naples. In the early fifteenth century the noted papal physician Elijah ben Shabbetai Beer (known in England, where he was summoned to treat King Henry IV, as Elias Sabot) taught medicine at the University of Pavia and was granted the rank of knight. Noah Manuel Norsa, of the very distinguished family from Ferrara, was referred to in an official document of 1461 as nobilem virum, which must mean nobleman. The earliest Jew formally ennobled and recognized as such (more than a century before Jacob Bassevi, to whom the honor is usually accorded in standard Jewish histories) was Joseph da Fano, given the title of marquis over the seigniory of Villimpenta in Mantua during the last decades of the sixteenth century.*

The most amazing gap in Jewish medieval history is that involving Hungary in the thirteenth century, a period that will be examined in some detail later in this work, in the section devoted to Hungarian seals. There is incontrovertible evidence that four Jews were officially made counts by the Arpad rulers. Count Teka, probably the richest person in Hungary during the later regime of King Andrew II, was a lessee of the state finances. Similar in position to Spanish Jewish grandees of the same period, he was officially ennobled. Under the long regime of Andrew’s son, King Béla IV, another Jewish nobleman, Count Chenok, matched Teka in status. Chenok’s son, Altman, succeeded his father in authority and likewise received a grant of nobility. In the latter part of the thirteenth century, under the regime of King Ladislaus IV, Count Fredman was ennobled. Also, two other sons of Count Chenok, Lublin and Nickel, emigrated to Austria and were officially described in a 1257 document from the time of Duke Ottaker II as counts of the treasury: in fact, the earliest Jewish seal known from central Europe is that of Count Lublin (see No. 153).

Perhaps the overriding reason for the appearance of the shield—a proclamation of status in the feudal order—on Jewish seals by the fourteenth century, and a far more significant factor than the worldly success of a handful of individual Jews, was the changing nature of medieval society. By the late thirteenth century the classic feudal structure had started to change as widespread trading developed and city burghers wielded influence as great, and greater in some areas, as that of the landed gentry and even some barons. The balance of power was beginning to shift to the merchants in cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Pisa, Barcelona, Narbonne, and Marseilles. Yet these patrician burghers, like rich nineteenth-century American girls marrying into old European aristocratic families, sought to emulate knights and noblemen by acquiring seals showing armorial devices. So at the very time when the symbolic meaning of the shield was fading in the heraldic order, the use of the device was increasing among those not born with the right to display it. Indeed, as the barter economy evolved into a money economy and medieval counties and duchies grew into larger entities, the legal need for seals increased, and heraldic devices became largely decorative, employed by clerks of court, corporations, colleges, manufacturers, and even prosperous peasants. The rich Jewish bankers were part of this changing climate.

The Jew as Moneylender

The heyday of the Jewish moneylender in western Europe was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. By the beginning of the fourteenth century he was being squeezed out by Christians, the so-called papal usurers,* almost everywhere except the German-speaking states and Hungary, and was almost universally expelled and ruined by the fifteenth century. In the great industrial and commercial centers of Flanders and northern Italy, as well as the German Hanseatic cities of the Baltic, Jewish usurers played almost no part, either because the Lombards and Cahorsins had received a monopoly, excluding Jewish competition, or because the local Christian burghers had developed their own sources of capital. The Jews survived as a financial factor throughout the German-speaking and adjacent regions due to the fragmented situation there. In England and France, attracted by the stability of the centralized power, the north Italian bankers swarmed in, but these Christian moneylenders avoided most of the Holy Roman Empire because of the excessive economic risks there. For example, at each royal election, an emperor had to buy the votes of the electors, which often involved dangerous over-mortgaging of princely properties. For this reason Jewish usurers continued as important financiers in these territories later than they did elsewhere.

One can pinpoint quite closely the places and times of Jewish prominence in moneylending. In England this was during the twelfth and the first part of the thirteenth century. In southwestern France it was from earliest times into the late thirteenth century. Despite sporadic periods of expulsion, the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were important for Jewish usurers in northern France, Champagne, and Burgundy. In the Rhineland and southern Germany, as well as Austria and Switzerland, Jews still were significant money factors in the fourteenth century, particularly the first half, with Jewish usury surviving into the fifteenth century in restricted areas of Bavaria, the northern Rhineland, Austria, and Hungary. But by the end of the fifteenth century Worms and Frankfurt-am-Main had the only sizeable communities of Jews in Germany. The Jews could not compete with the Christian usurers protected by the Curia and shielded by their religion from the sackings and massacres which occurred sporadically in all countries and in which the local Jews were exterminated, expelled, or, at best, had their capital seized. James Parkes summarizes: “Jewish finance dwindled from loans to kings and princes in the twelfth century to petty pawnbroking in the fourteenth, and . . . the end of the Middle Ages found them so completely ruined that their share in the beginning of the new commercial and industrial order was negligible” (1976, p. 382).

In almost all the popular riots against the Jews, there were two objects: to kill them and to destroy their business records. We know that the late twelfth-century massacres of the Jews at York were instigated by their major debtors, and, in fact, the system of the Exchequer of the Jews in England* (and the adoption of its equivalent elsewhere) was created to protect the king’s interest against such riots, for the Jews’ inability to collect debts naturally meant that they in turn could not pay the royal levies. As Jewish usurers were used as a sort of huge blotter by the overlords to absorb money and transfer it to themselves, it was clear that the Jews needed effective legal protection to enforce loan collection. The relative abundance of Jewish seals in certain areas of northern and central Europe corresponds almost exactly with their flourishing activities as moneylenders, for by Teutonic custom the seal was a prime legal safeguard accepted by the rulers of church and state. A survey of the brief glory of some outstanding Jewish figures in these countries, as well as the more prominent ones in the Mediterranean lands to the south, will illuminate this situation.

The earliest recorded large package loan in the Middle Ages was made somewhere between 957 and 970, when the Countess of Carcassonne and her sons in Languedoc mortgaged two large domains to Jewish lenders (Fryde and Fryde, 1963, p. 441). By the early twelfth century Jewish bankers were very important throughout Languedoc. It was here that the wealthy propertyowner Kalonymos son of Todros of Narbonne, whose seal is mentioned at the beginning of these remarks, as well as Todros son of Kalonymos, presumed his son (see Nos. 19 and 20), had seals with shields as the device. In Burgundy during this period the Abbey of Cluny depended heavily on Jewish financing. Early in the twelfth century Abbot Peter of Cluny borrwed over ten thousand silver marks (equivalent to about five years’ revenue), in large part from the Jews of Mâcon and Chalon-sur-Saône. Among the few surviving Jewish seals from France attached to documents, three come from Burgundy (see Nos. 30-32). Languedoc and Burgundy are the two areas which are known as centers for large Jewish landholdings, and were undoubtedly the base from which the concentration of Jewish capital sprang. Although Arthur J. Zuckerman’s thesis, as expressed in the title of his 1965 book, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France 768-900, is overstated, there is no question that the areas around Narbonne in Languedoc and Mâcon in Burgundy were centers of Jewish land and capital investment.

The chronicles of the kings of France report that Philip Augustus in 1182 expelled the Jews because Jewish moneylenders had taken possession of almost half the city of Paris through foreclosure. Though surely an exaggeration, this statement indicates both the high returns and the high risks involved in usury at that time. A few documents relating to these matters are still extant and are sealed with state seals specially created to deal with Jewish debts, for by the beginning of the thirteenth century personal Jewish seals had been forbidden in the royal realm of France.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Jews of Champagne were very powerful because of the Champagne fairs. During a large part of the Middle Ages these famous fairs, of which there were six each year, lasting six weeks each and thus extending throughout much of the year, were the most important entrepôts for goods in Europe. The income of the Talmudic rabbis, many of the most distinguished of whom came from Champagne, depended directly or indirectly on the commercial activity surrounding these fairs;* it is significant that two fairs were held yearly in Provins and Troyes, both rabbinical centers. The Champagne fairs dedined in importance early in the fourteenth century, when Philip the Fair first imposed a sales tax on the goods exchanged there, and then, even more disastrous in effect, confiscated the merchandise of the Jews and Lombards because of their moneylending activities. There is a direct connection between the takeover by the French royal house of the county of Champagne in 1285, the ill-conceived economic policies of these kings, and the decline in importance of the Champagne fairs.

Some of the richest French Jews in the late Middle Ages came from Burgundy, as we know from surviving documents, though the few seals extant belonged to Jews of lesser importance. Elias of Vesoul, who flourished at the end of the thirteenth century, was a prosperous money-lender and merchant. Elijah, called Héliot by his Christian neighbors, also of Vesoul, was probably the richest man in the Franche-Comté area during the first two decades of the fourteenth century. Though mainly a usurer, Héliot also was a merchant prince, working directly through his own firm (whose business ledgers are preserved for the period 1300–1318) or through other merchants, both Christians and Jews. He dealt in basic items such as cloths and cereals and produced wine from his own vineyards. Héliot likewise farmed taxes for the government, which, though common among Spanish Jews, was quite unusual at this relatively late date north of the Pyrenees. He lost his fortune in 1322, when Philip the Tall extended to Burgundy his decree expelling the Jews from France.

The last French Jew of great wealth in the Middle Ages of whom we know is Manessier, also from Vesoul and related to Héliot, who flourished in the mid- to late fourteenth century. Manessier took an important part in the negotiations involving the temporary return of the French Jews from their exile in 1359, arranged, naturally, through a large cash payment. He handled the financial transaction with the Crown (and made a profit on it personally as well). By converting to Christianity in 1382, Manessier’s son, Joseph, recovered the family properties which had previously been seized.

Though some individuals in French-speaking territories prospered greatly at this time, these intermittent expulsions and confiscations prevented a steady buildup of Jewish capital, such as took place in Christian families like the Peruzzi and Bardi of medieval Florence. Probably the only known example before modern times of a Jewish family creating and sustaining a fortune for over a century is that of the Italian bankers da Pisa, who in the fifteenth century had a capital worth of some hundred thousand florins, or about one-fifth of the Medici fortune at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Such an accumulation was only possible because the Tuscan cities, in which the da Pisa banking business was located, adjoined the papal territory and jealously guarded their independence, providing a safe haven for Jews until the Counter-Reformation. Seals used by important members of the da Pisa family will be discussed (see No. 173).

Thus the Jewish bankers bear less resemblance to the modern Rothschilds, or to the medieval Bardi and Peruzzi, than to a man like Jacques Coeur (died 1456), the most important Christian French financier of the Middle Ages. He employed some three hundred fiscal agents, in serving Charles VII, and became a legend in his own lifetime; his magnificent house in Bourges remains today a unique example of personal opulence in the late Middle Ages. But Jacques Coeur was at last imprisoned on trumped-up charges and his fortune confiscated because the king’s debt to him, amounting to some two hundred thousand crowns, was so great that he was unwilling to repay it. This was the almost universal fate of these medieval Jewish capitalists.

In England Jews reached the pinnacle of economic power before their French counterparts. The wealth of the English Jews in the twelfth century, before the advent of the Christian usurers, is amazing. A small fraction of the population, they paid between 8 and 14 percent of the national taxes, depending on which historian’s estimate is used. When Richard I imposed a levy before departing for the Crusades, the Jews raised a fourth of the total amount; when he was taken prisoner their contribution to his ransom was three times the amount given by the city of London as a whole. In 1170 a Jew of Gloucester, Josce by name, financed Strongbow’s expedition to conquer Ireland; in 1187, when Henry II levied a special tax, nearly half the amount was paid by the Jews. According to Joseph Jacobs (1893, p. xviii), the personal property of the English Jews was assessed for tax purposes at one quarter of the movable wealth of the entire kingdom, at a time when, by Jacobs’ estimate, the Jews in England numbered about two thousand persons out of a population of around a million and a half. He further notes that a quarter of that Jewish population was massacred in 1190.*

The two wealthiest English Jews in the Middle Ages—their fortunes were comparable to those of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Meyer Guggenheim in the nineteenth century—were Aaron of Lincoln and Aaron of York, names which have entered the general economic histories of the period. Aaron of Lincoln was among the top European financiers of the twelfth century and probably the wealthiest person in England, at least in liquid assets, during the latter part of the century. Actually, he himself was only the visible head of a syndicate of wealthy Jews who spread the risk on large loans (rather like, in today’s world, an insurance company which issues a big policy, and thus is identified as the policyholder, but distributes its risk through reinsurance). Aaron made loans at many economic and social levels. He loaned money to the Crown based on taxes due. He made loans to prominent landowners based on expected revenues from harvests and on armor and jewels, and issued mortgages on land and houses. Through foreclosure, he became the owner of real property in some twenty-five English counties. He lent money toward church construction: his loans assisted in building nine Cistercian abbeys and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Petersborough. Among his debtors were the king of Scotland, the count of Brittany, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the earls of Arundel, Aumale, Leicester, and Northampton.

When Aaron of Lincoln died in 1185, Henry II confiscated his entire estate, which he was entitled to do under feudal law but which was a prerogative very rarely exercised. (In an odd twist of fortune, the gold and silver collected from Aaron was en route to France to fund the war between the two countries then in progress when the ship foundered and the entire treasure was lost.) Though many documents attest to the economic activities of Aaron of Lincoln, there is no evidence that he used a personal seal.

Aaron of York (1190–1268; York was the principal city in the north of England during the Middle Ages) was to thirteenth-century English Jewry what Aaron of Lincoln had been to the twelfth century. His times, however, were less propitious for the Jews, and this fact influenced his life, especially in later years. Under Henry III, Aaron was archpresbyter of English Jewry—Presbyter Judeorum—from 1236 to 1243: this was not a spiritual office or a chief rabbinate but was held by a Jewish magnate officially appointed by the Crown (such a person was often detested by the Jews themselves) to follow Jewish activities and oversee the collection of revenues due to the king.

Aaron of York did business in some fourteen English counties, at the head of a syndicate of Jewish lenders. The records indicate that he was also an importer of wine from the Continent. The details of his fortune are less well known, but he is recorded as having complained to Matthew Paris, the chronicler of the realm, that over a seven-year period he had been compelled to pay to the king thirty thousand marks of silver as well as two hundred gold marks to the queen. In a novel gimmick, Henry III, tired of awaiting the demise of the aged financier, decided to exact death taxes prematurely: as a result, Aaron of York was ruined before he actually died. Aaron used a stone engraved with a classic face set in a ring to seal documents; one impression from 1249 is still extant (see No. 5) which may be Aaron’s.

The Cahors moneylenders were admitted into England in the thirteenth century and, with the natural business advantage of being Christians, soon began to displace the Jewish usurers. Several important merchant firms of Siena, Lucca, Florence, and Piacenza became permanently established in London immediately after the civil war in 1267, as can be seen today in the name of Lombard Street, the banking section of London. The result was that the Jewish community came under attack not only from this Christian competition but from the Crown. By 1253 there were only twenty-five English towns in which Jews could live and do business; in 1271 they were forbidden to own land. The final blow came in 1275, when Edward I prohibited them from practicing usury. The Italian merchants and English barons had developed a technique to market wool, the chief English economic asset, without usury. The Italians would lend money to the English landowners, the loan to be repaid in wool priced low enough to give the lenders their profit without the formal payment of interest. This arrangement made the Jewish usurers unnecessary to the English economy. The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 was inevitable, as they no longer served any economic purpose.

The Jews in Germany (or, to be more exact, in the Holy Roman Empire) were at their zenith of influence in the fourteenth century. Since most of their seals are known from the documents to which they are attached, rather than from the matrices, as in France and Spain, a clear picture of their financial activities emerges. (The introductory essays to the sections of this volume which discuss seals from the main Bavarian cities, the Rhineland, and Austria detail the Jewish influence there in terms of the seals used.) In Bavaria, the cities of Augsburg and Regensburg were centers for small Jewish plutocracies. The Augsburg Jews Juedlin or Judeli, and Lamb (see Nos. 80 and 81) were court bankers for the Munich dukes around 1300. Their peers at Regensburg, headed by Altschim, or Atschim, and Jacob (see Nos. 83 and 84), were important financial supporters of the Bavarian dukes as well as of Regensburg’s archbishop, Conrad IV of Salzburg. Similar small but very rich monied elites operated in the Rhineland. Clustered around Archbishop Baldwin of Trier in the early fourteenth century before the Black Death were his Jewish finance ministers Mussin, Jacob, and Michel (see Nos. 106, 109, no, and 112). These ministers were intimately connected with the top moneylenders of Strasbourg, especially with Vivelin the Red (No. 113), who handled for Baldwin what has been described as the largest individual financial transaction of the first half of the fourteenth century, which will be analyzed later. Aaron (No. 118), David the Older, and Jekelin were the most important bankers from Strasbourg. The city of Cologne borrowed large sums from Jacob of Ahrweiler, Solomon of Basel, and Simon of Jülich. Meyer of Siegburg was likewise prominent as a source of funds both for the city of Cologne and for its archbishop, Walram (No. 132).

Despite the wholesale massacres of Jews and confiscation of their property during the years of the Black Death in Germany, Jewish financial operations in certain areas increased rather than decreased after 1349. This was especially true in Cologne, where Schaiff, followed by his son Aaron, or Selichman Schaifsoen (No. 131), and his son-in-law Vyvus, seems at times to have commanded unlimited sums of money. Business in Regensburg and Ulm to the south also revivified for a short period. Jacklin (Jacob), whose money-lending syndicate operated from Ulm, had sons in the business living in Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Zurich, and Reutlingen and a son-in-law in Constance; he might be called a prototype for the later Mayer Anschel Rothschild. Another syndicate of rich Jews at Regensburg rescued the bishopric from economic collapse in 1377; they also saved the city itself from bankruptcy in the same period. It is of interest to note that Jewish women, especially Jutta, Chändlein, Disslob or Disslaba (Nos. 95 and 96), and Reynette or Reyna (No. 116), were financiers in these areas. And farther northeast, Samuel or Smol of Derenburg (No. 146) was so close to the archbishops of Magdeburg, having handled the finances of four of them to the complete satisfaction of all concerned, that in 1372 Pope Gregory XI threatened Archbishop Peter with dire consequences if the relationship continued. In the mid-fourteenth century Vienna became a most important Jewish monetary center, as many Rhineland Jews fled there with their remaining assets during the Black Death. David Steuss, the favorite banker of Duke Albert III, built up what is probably the best-documented Jewish fortune of the late fourteenth century—so great, indeed, that the duke, unable to repay the money borrowed, jailed Steuss and forced him to cede all rights to collection.

The German Jews mentioned here are less well known to historians than the rich Jews of England and France. There was continual anti-Semitic turmoil in German-speaking lands at this time, in which Jews were constantly subjected to harassment and expulsion, even in the oldest and best-established communities such as those of Strasbourg and Cologne. Jews of large fortunes almost invariably came under attack, either by fanatic mobs incited by debtors or by predatory rulers, through confiscatory action. In response to this threat, Jewish capitalists deliberately sought anonymity, knowing their fate if reports of their wealth became current, and syndicate financing (i.e., spreading the risk as broadly as possible) became more common in German-language areas than elsewhere. Rather than individuals, tiny plutocracies of Jews developed, most connected by blood as well as by business.

The situation in Spain was different. In the northern countries, where the seal was needed to authenticate contracts, there was a significant correlation between ownership of a seal and high standing in financial circles.* In Spain, where the seal was merely an ornament and lacked legal force among private individuals, this connection is missing. The roster of Jews on the Iberian peninsula noted in politics and in economics is well recorded. Among these distinguished personalities, only Don Samuel Halevi Abulafia of Toledo, royal treasurer to King Pedro the Cruel of Castile, is reported to have owned a seal, and even in this case, there is some doubt (see No. 50). A seal of the famous Catalonian rabbi Nachmanides was found near Acre in Israel several years ago (No. 49). All other seals known from Spain belonged to obscure persons.* The procession of high Jewish officials in both Moslem and Christian Iberian states—many of them treasurers and other financial dignitaries—is not memorialized by seals, a somewhat curious omission, as it is apparent that the seal in Latin lands was a mark of social prestige despite its lack of legal importance for the bourgeoisie. In Portugal and Italy, the Latin tradition of notarial attestation also reduced the importance of the seal. Jewish seals do appear in Italy, but they are a product of the early Renaissance and show the characteristics of that period. In general, the greater the juridical function of a seal in a country, the greater the financial prominence of the owners is likely to be; in countries where the seal is no more than a reflection of private prestige, Jewish seal owners are not necessarily the persons of greatest prominence.


*The only Jewish seal cutter known from the Middle Ages is a man named Meret, who worked at Dijon, in Burgundy, in 1363 or 1364 (Simmonet, 1865, p. 174).

*Though the standards and ensigns of the Twelve Tribes are referred to in Numbers 2, they are neither specifically described nor distinguished from one another. Their correspondence with the signs of the Zodiac, already evident in the early Byzantine period, as can be seen in mosaic work at various synagogues from that period, as well as on medieval Hebrew manuscripts, was not noted on Jewish seals until after the Middle Ages.

The discovery of the painted walls of the synagogue at Dura Europos, first built in the third century A.D., has revolutionized our knowledge of Jewish art. Indicating the continuity of these symbols, one fresco shows a miraculous throne of Solomon, with alternating eagles and lions on the steps to assist the king in mounting (Sed-Rajna, p. 85). This same pattern shows on the title page to Leviticus illustrated here, from the thirteenth century. From Solomon to this last date is a span of over two thousand years!

*The lily flower has even earlier Jewish roots. The Temple of Solomon had bronze columns with fleur-de-lys capitals. The lily also appears on coins from the Persian province of Yehud (Judaea) in the fourth century B.C. See the illustration accompanying Nos. 161 and 162 in this catalogue.

*A man, not an angel, as is often stated: “The emblem of St. Matthew is the man, because his gospel begins with the genealogical table of the ancestors of Jesus according to the flesh” (Mâle, 1958, p. 56). Many esteemed scholars, however, still identify the symbol of St. Matthew as an angel. These symbols were more common in the Romanesque than the Gothic period.

*Though two long-tailed birds similar to peacocks appear on a Rhineland seal (see No. 108).

*After the beginning of the Renaissance this rule falls into question, for in certain scholarly Christian circles it became popular to use Hebrew as one of the trinity (along with Greek and Latin) of learned tongues. Hebrew appears, for example, on early Renaissance medals.

This practice was not limited to seals but was common among Jews in all matters involving a signature or formal identification. Tombstones, along with seals, are a particularly valuable source of information about patterns of names and local customs in different countries because of this ancient tradition.

*This aversion does not apply in cases of converts, even where the devices or legends indicate the owner’s Jewish origins. Possibly the most beautiful seal illustrated in this book is that of Hartwich of Münster (No. 140), whose portrait seal reads Dicti Ivd., or “Said the Jew.”

*The bailiff was a prominent royal official who was in charge of collecting public revenues, administering the king’s personal property, and governing in the name of the king. The most important Jew in this post was Judah de Cavalleria (who was also controller-general of the revenues of the realm) under James I of Aragon-Catalonia.

*However, Salo W. Baron (1965–67, 9: 168) writes that Jacob Loans, physician to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, was raised to noble rank, “the first nonofficial Jew to attain that distinction.” The date is given as around 1465.

It was a rather standard practice for kings in this early period to lease the government finances at a fixed sum to wealthy individuals, who then operated the tax structure for their private profit. The kings were thus assured of receiving a definite income in advance.

*The Lombards (a generic name used for many northern Italians) were entrusted with the collection of church dues as well as the gifts and bequests which flowed everywhere to the Curia; with these huge amounts of cash available, they could transfer funds from one place to another and put this money to work at interest, thus the term “papal usurer.”

Cahorsins were from Cahors, a city in south central France and a major banking center in the medieval period.

At the end of the thirteenth century certain independent cities of northern Italy also asked the Jews to open small lending banks, several of which rose to some prominence in the next two centuries.

*A system of registering Jewish loans under maximum security.

Rigord, the early French chronicler, writes: “When they [the Jews] had made a long sojourn there [Paris], they grew so rich that they claimed as their own almost half of the whole city” (Gesta Philippi Augusti, ca. 1182).

*Only in the fourteenth century did rabbis become dependent on their congregations for support. Before this time, they followed the same pursuits as their fellow Jews.

In tax farming, wealthy subjects would agree to pay a stipulated sum to the ruler in advance, in return for collecting certain taxes themselves.

*These population figures vary greatly, depending on estimates of family size and numbers of householders. The Encyclopaedia Judaica states: “The English Jews of the Middle Ages perhaps numbered fewer than 4,000” (1972, s.v. “England: The Expulsion”). Other writers (including Jacobs, who revised his figures upward later) have calculated the English 38 Jews to have been as many as 16,000.

*Except in certain areas of the German-speaking countries where registration, rather than sealing (registration becoming almost standard practice after 1400), was instituted for Jews. This change will be discussed in detail later.

*Forgeries or questionable seals reputed to have belonged to important persons, of which there are a few known examples, are excluded here.

Information is very scanty as to the artists who designed the matrices. Sometimes an initial or initials appear on medieval seals, but we do not know their makers’ names. Records very rarely indicate the names of seal engravers until the seventeenth century, and most Gothic artists are anonymous. Nor do we know whether the seals with Hebrew legends were cut by Jews* The most that can be said is that in certain cases the Hebrew letters are so badly formed that it may be presumed Christian artists were employed. Engraving—on tombstones, pewter, gems, and coin dies—was a Jewish specialty from antiquity, but our records are silent in the matter of seals.

Furthermore, certain Jews occupied positions at various times in Christian lands that in medieval law automatically gave their possessor the status of knight or nobleman. This was particularly true in countries of the Iberian peninsula and in the Midi of France during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries. El Cid, after the Christian conquest of Valencia in 1094, named a Jew to the post of Vizir, a top political office (Kriegel, p. 59). In Portugal in 1190 Sancho I appointed Don Solomon Jachia as commander-in-chief of the Portuguese army. Alfonso VII of Castile made Joseph Ibn Ezra, his court chamberlain, the guardian of the frontier fortress of Calatrava. Many Jews were secretaries, stewards, and treasurers (as well as court physicians and astrologers) in such Spanish Christian states as Castile, León, Navarre, and Aragon, and it seems clear that high officials could not, by definition, be chattels. In fact, according to Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (1978, p. 588), there were official heraldic insignia—specific ensigns of rank—for persons such as the chamberlain of the household and treasurer, at least in England. These positions were held at one time or another by Jews on the Iberian peninsula, while in Aragon-Catalonia and Languedoc the high post of bailiff (which Jews also occupied in these places) is said to have carried with it the rank of baron* Farther east, we know that in 1124 the Jew Jacob was made vicedominus or property administrator of Duke Wladislaw of Bohemia. In Germany, where the resentment against Jews of exalted stature in the feudal structure was greatest, Moses Hoffmann (1910, p. 116) writes that around 1315 Duke Heinrich VI of Silesia entrusted to a Jew by the name of Salomon the officer of court and kitchen master, a position of much greater importance than the word “kitchen” might suggest. Bishop Heinrich I of Breslau forced Salomon out of the office, but the duke later reappointed him despite the opposition of the bishop.

The evidence from Italy comes from a somewhat later period but is even more conclusive. Giacomo Bascapè (1973, p. 163) writes that in the second half of the fifteenth century, by special papal license, Jews received the tide of doctor et miles, that is, “doctor and knight,” in Milan, Florence, Perugia, and Naples. In the early fifteenth century the noted papal physician Elijah ben Shabbetai Beer (known in England, where he was summoned to treat King Henry IV, as Elias Sabot) taught medicine at the University of Pavia and was granted the rank of knight. Noah Manuel Norsa, of the very distinguished family from Ferrara, was referred to in an official document of 1461 as nobilem virum, which must mean nobleman. The earliest Jew formally ennobled and recognized as such (more than a century before Jacob Bassevi, to whom the honor is usually accorded in standard Jewish histories) was Joseph da Fano, given the title of marquis over the seigniory of Villimpenta in Mantua during the last decades of the sixteenth century.*

The most amazing gap in Jewish medieval history is that involving Hungary in the thirteenth century, a period that will be examined in some detail later in this work, in the section devoted to Hungarian seals. There is incontrovertible evidence that four Jews were officially made counts by the Arpad rulers. Count Teka, probably the richest person in Hungary during the later regime of King Andrew II, was a lessee of the state finances. Similar in position to Spanish Jewish grandees of the same period, he was officially ennobled. Under the long regime of Andrew’s son, King Béla IV, another Jewish nobleman, Count Chenok, matched Teka in status. Chenok’s son, Altman, succeeded his father in authority and likewise received a grant of nobility. In the latter part of the thirteenth century, under the regime of King Ladislaus IV, Count Fredman was ennobled. Also, two other sons of Count Chenok, Lublin and Nickel, emigrated to Austria and were officially described in a 1257 document from the time of Duke Ottaker II as counts of the treasury: in fact, the earliest Jewish seal known from central Europe is that of Count Lublin (see No. 153).

The heyday of the Jewish moneylender in western Europe was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. By the beginning of the fourteenth century he was being squeezed out by Christians, the so-called papal usurers,* almost everywhere except the German-speaking states and Hungary, and was almost universally expelled and ruined by the fifteenth century. In the great industrial and commercial centers of Flanders and northern Italy, as well as the German Hanseatic cities of the Baltic, Jewish usurers played almost no part, either because the Lombards and Cahorsins had received a monopoly, excluding Jewish competition, or because the local Christian burghers had developed their own sources of capital. The Jews survived as a financial factor throughout the German-speaking and adjacent regions due to the fragmented situation there. In England and France, attracted by the stability of the centralized power, the north Italian bankers swarmed in, but these Christian moneylenders avoided most of the Holy Roman Empire because of the excessive economic risks there. For example, at each royal election, an emperor had to buy the votes of the electors, which often involved dangerous over-mortgaging of princely properties. For this reason Jewish usurers continued as important financiers in these territories later than they did elsewhere.

The heyday of the Jewish moneylender in western Europe was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. By the beginning of the fourteenth century he was being squeezed out by Christians, the so-called papal usurers,* almost everywhere except the German-speaking states and Hungary, and was almost universally expelled and ruined by the fifteenth century. In the great industrial and commercial centers of Flanders and northern Italy, as well as the German Hanseatic cities of the Baltic, Jewish usurers played almost no part, either because the Lombards and Cahorsins had received a monopoly, excluding Jewish competition, or because the local Christian burghers had developed their own sources of capital. The Jews survived as a financial factor throughout the German-speaking and adjacent regions due to the fragmented situation there. In England and France, attracted by the stability of the centralized power, the north Italian bankers swarmed in, but these Christian moneylenders avoided most of the Holy Roman Empire because of the excessive economic risks there. For example, at each royal election, an emperor had to buy the votes of the electors, which often involved dangerous over-mortgaging of princely properties. For this reason Jewish usurers continued as important financiers in these territories later than they did elsewhere.

One can pinpoint quite closely the places and times of Jewish prominence in moneylending. In England this was during the twelfth and the first part of the thirteenth century. In southwestern France it was from earliest times into the late thirteenth century. Despite sporadic periods of expulsion, the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were important for Jewish usurers in northern France, Champagne, and Burgundy. In the Rhineland and southern Germany, as well as Austria and Switzerland, Jews still were significant money factors in the fourteenth century, particularly the first half, with Jewish usury surviving into the fifteenth century in restricted areas of Bavaria, the northern Rhineland, Austria, and Hungary. But by the end of the fifteenth century Worms and Frankfurt-am-Main had the only sizeable communities of Jews in Germany. The Jews could not compete with the Christian usurers protected by the Curia and shielded by their religion from the sackings and massacres which occurred sporadically in all countries and in which the local Jews were exterminated, expelled, or, at best, had their capital seized. James Parkes summarizes: “Jewish finance dwindled from loans to kings and princes in the twelfth century to petty pawnbroking in the fourteenth, and . . . the end of the Middle Ages found them so completely ruined that their share in the beginning of the new commercial and industrial order was negligible” (1976, p. 382).

In almost all the popular riots against the Jews, there were two objects: to kill them and to destroy their business records. We know that the late twelfth-century massacres of the Jews at York were instigated by their major debtors, and, in fact, the system of the Exchequer of the Jews in England* (and the adoption of its equivalent elsewhere) was created to protect the king’s interest against such riots, for the Jews’ inability to collect debts naturally meant that they in turn could not pay the royal levies. As Jewish usurers were used as a sort of huge blotter by the overlords to absorb money and transfer it to themselves, it was clear that the Jews needed effective legal protection to enforce loan collection. The relative abundance of Jewish seals in certain areas of northern and central Europe corresponds almost exactly with their flourishing activities as moneylenders, for by Teutonic custom the seal was a prime legal safeguard accepted by the rulers of church and state. A survey of the brief glory of some outstanding Jewish figures in these countries, as well as the more prominent ones in the Mediterranean lands to the south, will illuminate this situation.

The chronicles of the kings of France report that Philip Augustus in 1182 expelled the Jews because Jewish moneylenders had taken possession of almost half the city of Paris through foreclosure. Though surely an exaggeration, this statement indicates both the high returns and the high risks involved in usury at that time. A few documents relating to these matters are still extant and are sealed with state seals specially created to deal with Jewish debts, for by the beginning of the thirteenth century personal Jewish seals had been forbidden in the royal realm of France.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Jews of Champagne were very powerful because of the Champagne fairs. During a large part of the Middle Ages these famous fairs, of which there were six each year, lasting six weeks each and thus extending throughout much of the year, were the most important entrepôts for goods in Europe. The income of the Talmudic rabbis, many of the most distinguished of whom came from Champagne, depended directly or indirectly on the commercial activity surrounding these fairs;* it is significant that two fairs were held yearly in Provins and Troyes, both rabbinical centers. The Champagne fairs dedined in importance early in the fourteenth century, when Philip the Fair first imposed a sales tax on the goods exchanged there, and then, even more disastrous in effect, confiscated the merchandise of the Jews and Lombards because of their moneylending activities. There is a direct connection between the takeover by the French royal house of the county of Champagne in 1285, the ill-conceived economic policies of these kings, and the decline in importance of the Champagne fairs.

Some of the richest French Jews in the late Middle Ages came from Burgundy, as we know from surviving documents, though the few seals extant belonged to Jews of lesser importance. Elias of Vesoul, who flourished at the end of the thirteenth century, was a prosperous money-lender and merchant. Elijah, called Héliot by his Christian neighbors, also of Vesoul, was probably the richest man in the Franche-Comté area during the first two decades of the fourteenth century. Though mainly a usurer, Héliot also was a merchant prince, working directly through his own firm (whose business ledgers are preserved for the period 1300–1318) or through other merchants, both Christians and Jews. He dealt in basic items such as cloths and cereals and produced wine from his own vineyards. Héliot likewise farmed taxes for the government, which, though common among Spanish Jews, was quite unusual at this relatively late date north of the Pyrenees. He lost his fortune in 1322, when Philip the Tall extended to Burgundy his decree expelling the Jews from France.

An important source for Jewish symbols on seals was the Bible. Biblical references have traditionally associated certain symbols with some of the Twelve Tribes* and, by extension, with Jewish persons bearing names of these tribes. Genesis 49, in which Jacob prophesied the future of his sons, is such a source. Among these symbols, Judah is compared to a lion’s whelp, Zebulun to a shore for ships, Issachar to an ass, Dan to a serpent, Naphtali to a hind, Joseph to a vine, and Benjamin to a wolf. In Deuteronomy 33, when Moses blessed the children of Israel before his death, and in Deuteronomy 34, other allusions are found. Levi is identified with the priestly pectoral, Joseph with a bullock or wild ox, Gad with a lioness, and Issachar with tents. From these symbols certain Jewish names derive, as Loeb (from lion) for Judah, Hirsch or Cerf (from hind) for Naphtali, and Wolf for Benjamin. In medieval Jewry, the symbol of the wild ox or bull’s head stuck for Joseph and appears in that relation on several Jewish seals. The same is true for the lion representing persons named Judah. Dan became associated with the snake. In post-biblical writings, a bear came to stand for Issachar, while Dan also became identified with the eagle and Ephraim with fish. The five-pointed or six-pointed star, a direct legacy from the ancient Semitic East, represented the two most powerful Jewish kings and hence, by extension, appeared on seals for persons named David and Solomon.

In England Jews reached the pinnacle of economic power before their French counterparts. The wealth of the English Jews in the twelfth century, before the advent of the Christian usurers, is amazing. A small fraction of the population, they paid between 8 and 14 percent of the national taxes, depending on which historian’s estimate is used. When Richard I imposed a levy before departing for the Crusades, the Jews raised a fourth of the total amount; when he was taken prisoner their contribution to his ransom was three times the amount given by the city of London as a whole. In 1170 a Jew of Gloucester, Josce by name, financed Strongbow’s expedition to conquer Ireland; in 1187, when Henry II levied a special tax, nearly half the amount was paid by the Jews. According to Joseph Jacobs (1893, p. xviii), the personal property of the English Jews was assessed for tax purposes at one quarter of the movable wealth of the entire kingdom, at a time when, by Jacobs’ estimate, the Jews in England numbered about two thousand persons out of a population of around a million and a half. He further notes that a quarter of that Jewish population was massacred in 1190.*

The situation in Spain was different. In the northern countries, where the seal was needed to authenticate contracts, there was a significant correlation between ownership of a seal and high standing in financial circles.* In Spain, where the seal was merely an ornament and lacked legal force among private individuals, this connection is missing. The roster of Jews on the Iberian peninsula noted in politics and in economics is well recorded. Among these distinguished personalities, only Don Samuel Halevi Abulafia of Toledo, royal treasurer to King Pedro the Cruel of Castile, is reported to have owned a seal, and even in this case, there is some doubt (see No. 50). A seal of the famous Catalonian rabbi Nachmanides was found near Acre in Israel several years ago (No. 49). All other seals known from Spain belonged to obscure persons.* The procession of high Jewish officials in both Moslem and Christian Iberian states—many of them treasurers and other financial dignitaries—is not memorialized by seals, a somewhat curious omission, as it is apparent that the seal in Latin lands was a mark of social prestige despite its lack of legal importance for the bourgeoisie. In Portugal and Italy, the Latin tradition of notarial attestation also reduced the importance of the seal. Jewish seals do appear in Italy, but they are a product of the early Renaissance and show the characteristics of that period. In general, the greater the juridical function of a seal in a country, the greater the financial prominence of the owners is likely to be; in countries where the seal is no more than a reflection of private prestige, Jewish seal owners are not necessarily the persons of greatest prominence.

The situation in Spain was different. In the northern countries, where the seal was needed to authenticate contracts, there was a significant correlation between ownership of a seal and high standing in financial circles.* In Spain, where the seal was merely an ornament and lacked legal force among private individuals, this connection is missing. The roster of Jews on the Iberian peninsula noted in politics and in economics is well recorded. Among these distinguished personalities, only Don Samuel Halevi Abulafia of Toledo, royal treasurer to King Pedro the Cruel of Castile, is reported to have owned a seal, and even in this case, there is some doubt (see No. 50). A seal of the famous Catalonian rabbi Nachmanides was found near Acre in Israel several years ago (No. 49). All other seals known from Spain belonged to obscure persons.* The procession of high Jewish officials in both Moslem and Christian Iberian states—many of them treasurers and other financial dignitaries—is not memorialized by seals, a somewhat curious omission, as it is apparent that the seal in Latin lands was a mark of social prestige despite its lack of legal importance for the bourgeoisie. In Portugal and Italy, the Latin tradition of notarial attestation also reduced the importance of the seal. Jewish seals do appear in Italy, but they are a product of the early Renaissance and show the characteristics of that period. In general, the greater the juridical function of a seal in a country, the greater the financial prominence of the owners is likely to be; in countries where the seal is no more than a reflection of private prestige, Jewish seal owners are not necessarily the persons of greatest prominence.

The eagle, the wild ox, and the lion are symbols intimately related to Judaism. They appear as early as in the description of the First Temple, where the ledges of the building were decorated with lions, oxen, and cherubim. The ablution basin rested upon twelve bronze oxen. Both the curtain in the Tabernacle and the belt of the high priest are described as being woven with the figures of lions and eagles Their symbolic use on medieval Jewish seals, of course, could derive from several sources: for example, the device of an eagle could represent a descendant of the tribe of Dan or a man named Dan; it might hark back to the use of eagles as Jewish symbols in the Byzantine period in Judaea, or it might refer to the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire, in one of whose cities the sealowner lived. In such cases, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the origin of the symbol standing behind the device of the seal.

The influence of Christianity is often marked on these seals. The fleur-de-lys or lily flower represented not only secular power, as in Florence or France, but also Christianity itself. The three parts of the lily stood for the virginity, the purity, and the chastity of Mary. The Marian cult of the lily was very strong from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. Not coincidentally, lilies appear on Jewish seals from southern France and Spain at the end of this period. By the fourteenth century the lily ran into competition with the rose as a symbol of the Marian cult. Seals showing roses were also common in the eastern part of the Alpines; one such is the seal of the Liechtenstein family (which gave its name to the modern country). This area includes or abuts those parts of southern Germany where the greatest number of extant medieval Jewish seals are found. It follows that certain of these Jewish seals show roses. One could, if rationalization were necessary, always look back in the former case to the biblical Lily of the Valley* or to the prominent Ibn Shoshan family of Spain (shoshan in Hebrew means “lily”) and in the later case to the Rose of Sharon from the Bible. But the real cultural influence was the reigning Christian overlord or the neighboring Christian burgher who showed those devices on his badge or seal. Indeed, one could make the general statement that if one scattered examples of Jewish medieval seals with Latin inscriptions among those made for private business purposes by Christian merchants and petty officials during the same period, it would be difficult to see at a glance which were Jewish. Norman Golb (1977, p. 323) says:

Most prominent among the symbols common to both Jews and Christians are the figures of the lion, the eagle, and the bull, all predating both religions as images of great strength or vision. The early Christian Church picked a symbol for each of the four Evangelists: a lion stood for St. Mark, a man for St. Matthew,* an ox for St. Luke, and an eagle for St. John. They derive from the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:10), wherein the prophet describes the throne of the Lord carried by four creatures with the heads of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The communality of these symbols is too obvious to be doubted.

Also missing are the exotic figures and grotesqueries so common to Hebrew illuminated manuscripts of the same period—peacocks,* armies of hares, and men with animals’ and birds’ heads. Furthermore, though the hands outspread in benediction standing for a Cohen and the water jug for ablution representing a Levite are extremely common after the sixteenth century, they do not appear on Jewish seals of the earlier period. It would seem that the weight of the surrounding Christian environment had a greater influence on the choice of symbols than did orthodox Jewish tradition. A factor may be that the Jews who owned such seals were the elite of the community and wished to appear on the surface, if not in the heart, as assimilated residents of their cities. One can no more judge the cultural level of the average late medieval Jew by these seals than one could assume that the eighteenth-century silver goblets produced for the court Jews by renowned Christian silversmiths of Augsburg or Nuremberg were typical of the Sabbath table of the ordinary German Jewish home.

The most striking difference between Jewish and Christian medieval seals is the use of Hebrew. Hebrew legends were not universal, and there are a significant number of indisputably Jewish seals from the late Middle Ages with Latin inscriptions and inscriptions in the vernacular as well. However, when Hebrew script is used in this period, the seal without question is Jewish.* It appears in various combinations. Sometimes Hebrew is the exclusive language of the legend, as in Spain and northern France. Often there are Hebrew and Latin legends on the same face, the Latin on the right and the Hebrew on the left. In a variant, mainly found in southern France, one face of the matrix is in Hebrew and the reverse face in the vernacular; here one has, in effect, two separate seals inscribed on the same matrix. Another practice, common in Regensburg, was for the same party to have two different seals, one in Hebrew and the other in Latin letters. Crosses—undeniable crosses, not blurred figures that may be crosses—are used as a decorative motif and to separate letters on certain Jewish seals; these are never present, however, when the seal has a Hebrew inscription, even in cases where the owner had two seals, one in Hebrew and the other not. Royal or city seals issued to confirm the acts of Jews are always in Latin, and, though there is disagreement among scholars about this, it is this writer’s opinion that regardless of the devices and how the words are framed, when the seal legend is in Latin and refers to the collective body of Jews, it is a seal made for the Jews and not a Jewish seal.

In medieval Jewish seals a practice rigorously followed was to include a contraction following the father’s name indicating whether he was alive or dead, as well as expressing a pious attitude. In a few cases two seals exist for the same party, one indicating by the contraction that the father is alive and the second that the father is dead; the seal owner was forced to have a new seal cut due to the decease of his father.

To summarize, there are only a few real differences in the iconography of private seals of Jews and Christians. Jews shunned abhorrent representations such as depictions of pigs or boars. The symbols of Christianity (with the exception of the decorative crosses on certain seals where Hebrew was not employed) were avoided. Jews shied away from engraving the entire human form, alone or in groups (or on horseback), though a few seals show the human face.* The most common figures are animals and birds—lions, eagles, oxen, etc.—where Jews and Christians used the same symbols. The seals of Jews are distinguished from those of Christians mainly by the use of Hebrew legends, with the formal relation of father to son as well as the use of pious contractions referring to the father. Thus in most respects, the Jewish seal of the late Middle Ages is typical of the bourgeois seal itself.

*The only Jewish seal cutter known from the Middle Ages is a man named Meret, who worked at Dijon, in Burgundy, in 1363 or 1364 (Simmonet, 1865, p. 174).

*The bailiff was a prominent royal official who was in charge of collecting public revenues, administering the king’s personal property, and governing in the name of the king. The most important Jew in this post was Judah de Cavalleria (who was also controller-general of the revenues of the realm) under James I of Aragon-Catalonia.

*However, Salo W. Baron (1965–67, 9: 168) writes that Jacob Loans, physician to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, was raised to noble rank, “the first nonofficial Jew to attain that distinction.” The date is given as around 1465.

It was a rather standard practice for kings in this early period to lease the government finances at a fixed sum to wealthy individuals, who then operated the tax structure for their private profit. The kings were thus assured of receiving a definite income in advance.

*The Lombards (a generic name used for many northern Italians) were entrusted with the collection of church dues as well as the gifts and bequests which flowed everywhere to the Curia; with these huge amounts of cash available, they could transfer funds from one place to another and put this money to work at interest, thus the term “papal usurer.”

Cahorsins were from Cahors, a city in south central France and a major banking center in the medieval period.

At the end of the thirteenth century certain independent cities of northern Italy also asked the Jews to open small lending banks, several of which rose to some prominence in the next two centuries.

*A system of registering Jewish loans under maximum security.

Rigord, the early French chronicler, writes: “When they [the Jews] had made a long sojourn there [Paris], they grew so rich that they claimed as their own almost half of the whole city” (Gesta Philippi Augusti, ca. 1182).

*Only in the fourteenth century did rabbis become dependent on their congregations for support. Before this time, they followed the same pursuits as their fellow Jews.

In tax farming, wealthy subjects would agree to pay a stipulated sum to the ruler in advance, in return for collecting certain taxes themselves.

*Though the standards and ensigns of the Twelve Tribes are referred to in Numbers 2, they are neither specifically described nor distinguished from one another. Their correspondence with the signs of the Zodiac, already evident in the early Byzantine period, as can be seen in mosaic work at various synagogues from that period, as well as on medieval Hebrew manuscripts, was not noted on Jewish seals until after the Middle Ages.

*These population figures vary greatly, depending on estimates of family size and numbers of householders. The Encyclopaedia Judaica states: “The English Jews of the Middle Ages perhaps numbered fewer than 4,000” (1972, s.v. “England: The Expulsion”). Other writers (including Jacobs, who revised his figures upward later) have calculated the English 38 Jews to have been as many as 16,000.

*Except in certain areas of the German-speaking countries where registration, rather than sealing (registration becoming almost standard practice after 1400), was instituted for Jews. This change will be discussed in detail later.

*Forgeries or questionable seals reputed to have belonged to important persons, of which there are a few known examples, are excluded here.

The discovery of the painted walls of the synagogue at Dura Europos, first built in the third century A.D., has revolutionized our knowledge of Jewish art. Indicating the continuity of these symbols, one fresco shows a miraculous throne of Solomon, with alternating eagles and lions on the steps to assist the king in mounting (Sed-Rajna, p. 85). This same pattern shows on the title page to Leviticus illustrated here, from the thirteenth century. From Solomon to this last date is a span of over two thousand years!

*The lily flower has even earlier Jewish roots. The Temple of Solomon had bronze columns with fleur-de-lys capitals. The lily also appears on coins from the Persian province of Yehud (Judaea) in the fourth century B.C. See the illustration accompanying Nos. 161 and 162 in this catalogue.

*A man, not an angel, as is often stated: “The emblem of St. Matthew is the man, because his gospel begins with the genealogical table of the ancestors of Jesus according to the flesh” (Mâle, 1958, p. 56). Many esteemed scholars, however, still identify the symbol of St. Matthew as an angel. These symbols were more common in the Romanesque than the Gothic period.

*Though two long-tailed birds similar to peacocks appear on a Rhineland seal (see No. 108).

*After the beginning of the Renaissance this rule falls into question, for in certain scholarly Christian circles it became popular to use Hebrew as one of the trinity (along with Greek and Latin) of learned tongues. Hebrew appears, for example, on early Renaissance medals.

This practice was not limited to seals but was common among Jews in all matters involving a signature or formal identification. Tombstones, along with seals, are a particularly valuable source of information about patterns of names and local customs in different countries because of this ancient tradition.

*This aversion does not apply in cases of converts, even where the devices or legends indicate the owner’s Jewish origins. Possibly the most beautiful seal illustrated in this book is that of Hartwich of Münster (No. 140), whose portrait seal reads Dicti Ivd., or “Said the Jew.”

Previous Chapter

Acknowledgments

Next Chapter

ENGLAND

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
20-27
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.