Golden bulls originated in the Byzantine Empire, for which they served as a particularly important diplomatic tool. The empire's official ideology rested on the idea that the Byzantine Emperor was chosen by God to be the ruler of the world's only legitimate empire. The Byzantines were remarkably successful in persuading other states to accept this, presenting golden bulls as acts of imperial grace but using them as de facto treaties without having to admit that foreign powers had any equal standing. They were also a useful means of enabling the empire to maintain the fiction that even humiliating concessions to powerful neighbours were really nothing of the sort.
For nearly eight hundred years, they were issued unilaterally, without obligations on the part of the other party or parties. However, this eventually proved disadvantageous as the Byzantines sought to restrain the efforts of foreign powers to undermine the empire. During the 12th century, the Byzantines began to insert into golden bulls sworn statements of the obligations of their negotiating partners.
Other European monarchs adopted golden bulls in imitation of the Byzantines, but used them much more sparingly. The exceptional nature of non-Byzantine golden bulls gave them a much higher profile than either the Byzantine originals or ordinary proclamations. Notable golden bulls included: