publisher colophon

162. Seal of Hyrsch Son of Isaac

Dimensions: 10 × 8 mm. Impression.

Location: Styrian National Archives, Graz.

The signet has been impressed in green wax on the back of a document dated February 23, 1502, with no location indicated. In an oval appears a heraldic lily, badly stamped, within a circle of beads. There is no lettering. The Jew Hyrsch (spelled Hyersch as well) of Eisenstadt releases Lord Wolfgang von Stubenberg from his obligation on the agreed-upon payment of his debts and acknowledges the receipt of sixty Rhine gulden.

At first glance it seems that the seals of Nachman and Hyrsch have nothing in common except a similar device, the lily on Hyrsch’s signet appearing much cruder. On close study one gets the impression that the same signet may have been used in both cases, with the seal having been removed by Hyrsch from Nachman’s mounting, which had created a larger striking surface. The disintegrated lower part of Nachman’s signet and the bad impression of Hyrsch’s seal prevents one from forming a definite conclusion, nor do we know the relationship, if any, between the two men. The lily flower has always been a symbol of prestige, ranking close to the lion, the bull and the eagle in popularity. It appears on coins issued in the Persian Jewish province of Yehud (Judaea) in the fourth century B.C., as shown here. It was popular on Jewish seals from Spain (see Nos. 50, 51, and 55). The gold florin of Florence, minted from the thirteenth century on, was one of the most admired, and imitated, coins of Europe, illustrated here; and there are a plethora of European seals with it as the device, a typical example being shown.

There is another document dated March 18, 1518, of which we have only a copy, that had originally been sealed by a Jew named Hirsi (Stubenberg section, box 164, brochure 901, Styrian Archives). According to this document, at the request of Hirsi, who also sealed, the knight Wilhalmb Schrot likewise stamped with his signet. It would seem that Hirsi is the same person as the Hyrschl who was a principal in the transaction described in No. 161 and the Hyrsch involved in the transaction of 1502 discussed here, as spellings of names were particularly variable in documents from the southern part of what is now Germany and adjoining Austria. If this supposition is correct, Hyrsch/Hyrschl/Hirsl appears to have been deeply rooted in Graz: his father was born there, and early in life he must have moved to nearby Eisenstadt but then returned. Max Grunwald (1936) also mentions that in this year, 1518, a Jew named Herschl was granted permission by Emperor Maximilian I, despite the expulsion, to reside and do business in Lower Austria, the northeastern area of the modern country. Grunwald writes that Herschl “belonged to a family which had stood in the service of the Imperial House for several generations”; “the debt-ridden Emperor owed so much to Herschl that he was forced to order the Viennese to protect him until he could wind up his affairs” (p. 77). This must be the same Hyrsch, and the evidence of these documents supports the statement that the family of Hyrsch was both wealthy and long established.

Reverse of coin issued in Judaea (Yehud, under Persian rule), 4th century B.C.

Gold florin issued at Florence, mid-13th century and thereafter.

Customs house seal of Charles IX of France, Lyons, 16th century. From Sabatier, 1912, Pl. I, No. 9.

Because the fathers of both Jana and Nachman come from Marburg, the close business relations of Nachman and Hyrsch (with all variant spellings), and the similarity of the signets of the two men (if they are not indeed one and the same seal), one gets the feeling there was a close-knit family relationship involved. Hyrsch, like Suezzlein the Judenmeister of Klagenfurt over a century and half earlier, is mentioned in other records as giving money to Catholic causes. The neighboring Jewish communities of Graz, Marburg, Klagenfurt, and Judenburg were quite small, and the probability is that all the wealthier Jews were closely connected either by blood or business ties, and most likely by both.

These three Jewish seals from Graz no longer stylistically relate to the Middle Ages but represent a new type of bourgeois seal, the more intimate signet or finger ring. The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were still medieval times in certain parts of Europe, particularly to the north and east. Graz, like Klagenfurt, was on the southern border of what is now Austria and very close to Italy, more open to the cultural currents flowing from the cosmopolitan Mediterranean and its arm, the Adriatic Sea. The German-speaking lands to the north, however, still were dominated by the medieval mentality, and their seals reflect that fact.

It should be noted that, unlike other Jewish seals from the earlier period, whether personal* or communal, there is no inscription—not Hebrew, Latin, or the vernacular—on these seals. The device is both universal and anonymous: neither the name of the owner nor his religion can be derived from a heraldic lily or five-pointed star. It must follow, therefore, that these seals had little or no legal value, for when a seal could easily be counterfeited or substituted, it had lost its juridical function as a method of identification and thus of authenticating a contract. In a related development, when movable printing type came into use in the mid-fifteenth century, and the use of paper expanded enormously and began to supplant parchment even in legal documents such as these, seal styles were affected. Seals became in a certain sense a decorative accessory as a result, perhaps of some supplemental value in law but not a bona fide instrument of contract enforcement. This conclusion supports the hypothesis that Nachman and Hyrsch used the same signet or that Hyrsch inherited or bought it from Nachman.

Geography likewise buttresses this conclusion. Graz and Klagenfurt, in the old Roman provinces of Styria and Carinthia respectively, were early integrated into the Latin system. As we have seen, the seal was of great importance where Germanic custom prevailed but not under Latin law. This area, like England, represented a mixed culture, with the people speaking a Germanic rather than a Romance language but following laws influenced by Rome. Grunwald states that in lending transactions the agreement was drawn up by a notary and the document was then entered by a city official in a register (1936, p. 46). In Lower Austria documents involving Jews were usually sealed by members of the local nobility. In the case of the 1360 document from Styria sealed by Musch, discussed above, we saw that Friedrich von Walsee, the provincial governor, appended his seal to confirm the contract. Elsewhere, we are informed, the Judenrichter or Jewish judge alone was permitted to seal for the Jews. Rosenberg points out that the Jewish judges were picked from the local nobility and could act in a notarial capacity as well (1914, pp. 22–23), so that there is no necessary conflict involved in these statements. The general cultural conditions throughout the region influenced by the Babenbergs and then the Hapsburgs must have been similar. In the document where Nachman was a principal, for example (see No. 161), the formal language states at the end: “Confirmed with my seal applied hereto and our Jewish signature. In 1492 on Monday after St. George’s Day [April 30].”* This formula, with a seal sometimes used and sometimes not, despite the explicit reference to a seal, is similar to the practice in England, where the same mixed set of historical circumstances prevailed.

The July 1, 1244, charter given by Duke Frederick II to the Jews of the duchy of Austria refers to all conditions, to oaths, witnesses, and seals. The seal is specifically alluded to in the 25th paragraph: “Likewise, if a Jew should lend money on the possessions or on notes of magnates in the land and should prove it by his notes and seal, we will assign the pledged possessions to the Jew and defend them for him against violence.” The inclusion of the seal as evidence of validity indicates that it still had some importance. The writer has been informed by an official of the Austrian House, Court and State Archives at Vienna that sealing and not notarial attestation, was the custom in Styria during the fourteenth century. We are thus faced with an inconclusive situation in which the value of sealing throughout Hapsburg territory varied according to the time and place but undoubtedly declined in juridical force at the end of the Middle Ages.

The knight Wilhalmb Schrot, who was a party to the 1518 document with Hirsi (Hyrsch), likewise sealed with a signet, indicating that the use of the finger ring in this area was not limited to Jews but was a general practice, a further demonstration that the social milieu determined the type and nature of such personal European seals and not the religion of the owner.


*With the exception of cases where an ancient cameo or similar incised precious stone was used in lieu of a personal seal, as was done by Aaron of York. The unusual seal of Musch has already been discussed.

*In modern German this would read: “Bestätigt mit meinem aufgedrückten Petschaft und unserer jüdischen Unterschrift. Gegeben 1492 am Montag nach Georgstag.” The Hebrew endorsement and name immediately follow.

*With the exception of cases where an ancient cameo or similar incised precious stone was used in lieu of a personal seal, as was done by Aaron of York. The unusual seal of Musch has already been discussed.

*In modern German this would read: “Bestätigt mit meinem aufgedrückten Petschaft und unserer jüdischen Unterschrift. Gegeben 1492 am Montag nach Georgstag.” The Hebrew endorsement and name immediately follow.

Geography likewise buttresses this conclusion. Graz and Klagenfurt, in the old Roman provinces of Styria and Carinthia respectively, were early integrated into the Latin system. As we have seen, the seal was of great importance where Germanic custom prevailed but not under Latin law. This area, like England, represented a mixed culture, with the people speaking a Germanic rather than a Romance language but following laws influenced by Rome. Grunwald states that in lending transactions the agreement was drawn up by a notary and the document was then entered by a city official in a register (1936, p. 46). In Lower Austria documents involving Jews were usually sealed by members of the local nobility. In the case of the 1360 document from Styria sealed by Musch, discussed above, we saw that Friedrich von Walsee, the provincial governor, appended his seal to confirm the contract. Elsewhere, we are informed, the Judenrichter or Jewish judge alone was permitted to seal for the Jews. Rosenberg points out that the Jewish judges were picked from the local nobility and could act in a notarial capacity as well (1914, pp. 22–23), so that there is no necessary conflict involved in these statements. The general cultural conditions throughout the region influenced by the Babenbergs and then the Hapsburgs must have been similar. In the document where Nachman was a principal, for example (see No. 161), the formal language states at the end: “Confirmed with my seal applied hereto and our Jewish signature. In 1492 on Monday after St. George’s Day [April 30].”* This formula, with a seal sometimes used and sometimes not, despite the explicit reference to a seal, is similar to the practice in England, where the same mixed set of historical circumstances prevailed.

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Judenburg, Styria

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
303-305
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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