Also Seen: Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua XI Online

Peter Thonemann  announced the following on the Classicists list:

This is a message to announce the online publication of a new corpus of Greek and Latin inscriptions, Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua XI: Monuments from Phrygia and Lykaonia.

 MAMA XI is a corpus of 387 inscriptions and other ancient monuments, 292 of which are unpublished, from Phrygia and Lykaonia, recorded by Sir William Calder (1881-1960) and Dr Michael Ballance (†27 July 2006) in the course of annual expeditions to Asia Minor in 1954-1957. The monuments have been edited with full commentaries, and marked-up in xml using EpiDoc electronic editorial conventions, by Peter Thonemann with the assistance of Édouard Chiricat and Charles Crowther.

 The full corpus was published online on 14 September 2012 at the following address: A print volume will be published later as a Roman Society monograph.

 The MAMA XI project has been funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and is based at the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents in Oxford.

‘New’ Fragment of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti Found

Right now my Twitterfeed is overflowing with excitement over the apparent discovery of a fragment of the Res Gestae in Sardis. Mary Beard actually broke the story at her blog an hour or so ago … here’s an excerpt:

Well a new article by Peter Thonemann in Historia 2012 puts the kibosh on that. Because he has realised that a tiny and otherwise insignificant fragment of Greek text published in 1932 in a volume of the inscriptions of the town of Sardis (Buckler and Robinson, 1932) was actually (as Buckler in an unpublished letter had already suspected) a small fragment of the Res Gestae. And Sardis is not in the province of Galatia, but in the province of Asia.

… you’ll want  to read her whole article for what is being kiboshed and the Galatian reference:

That said, the Historia article is — as always — inaccessible to us poor peons whose coporeal forms do not penetrate the ivory walls of academe, but the standard collection of inscriptions from Sardis is available at the Web Archive … I’ve paged through it and can’t really find anything that looks res-gestae-ish, so perhaps it is in a supplement. Whatever the case, it would be interesting if some computer program could be written which compared the various collections of inscriptions found everywhere in the Greco-Roman world. I bet more fragments of the RG would show up (as well as multiple copies of other documents, I suspect).

Crowdsourcing a Greek Inscription Reading

This is a sort of experiment in social media to see whether blogs as a medium might be usefully used to provide better readings of controversial inscriptions. In this case, the inscription may or may not be known to rogueclassicism readers, but there are at least three interpretations of what it says kicking around the internets. I have misgivings about all of them, and so I thought I’d present some photos and context, and so as to not predispose people to a particular reading, only link to those readings at the end. I am providing some notes/questions that I have along the way, which hopefully (again) will not predispose folks to one particular reading or another but will highlight some of the issues that seem outstanding with current readings. Please leave your readings/answers to questions in the comments, or if you’d prefer anonymity, email them to rogueclassicist AT I’m hoping to have some sort of followup to this post.

To begin: the inscription is found on one of a number of ossuaries still  in situ in a tomb in Jerusalem, so we’re dealing with a funerary context. The inscription is only seen in photos (of varying quality) because the tomb was explored via a robotic camera. When the tomb was originally excavated back in 1980 or thereabouts,  the inscription itself does not seem to have been recorded (or if it was, it has not been published). Further complicating things is the fact that the ossuaries were moved around and there are plenty of scratches thereon, which may or may not be affecting the reading of this inscription. Amongst the artifacts found in association with the ossuary inscription was this pot (the inscription is on the ossuary, not this pot):

Figure 1

… such pots are conventionally dated (as far as I’m aware) to the first centuries B.C./B.C.E. to the first century A.D./C.E.. The inscription itself has been presented in a number of photos of varying quality (clicking on the images should bring up larger versions; if not, links to the original photos can be found at the end of this post):

Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

The one I was working from is a variation on the first (it has some circles); it’s probably identical save for the circles:

Figure 5

The following ‘excerpts’ come from this image and have been zoomed 50% … the first line:

Line One


  • it seems to read DIOS, but why would such a word be on what is likely a Jewish ossuary?
  • it is assumed to be one word in some readings; perhaps it carries over to the next line?
  • might it be connected to a month name in the Seleucid calendar (were those month names still being used?
Line Two


  • does this carry over from the previous line?
  • is the first letter an iota, a tau, or maybe even a gamma?
  • are there only four letters here or are there perhaps more?
Line Three


  • is the first letter a tau, an upsilon, or some combination letter (sometimes referred to as a compendia)?
  • how many letters are there in this line?
  • is that Y-shaped thing an upsilon or a psi (is that a scratch or a branch)?
  • is there a small tau beside that or is that just a scratch?
Line four


  • again, how many letters are here?
  • are those letters alpha, gamma, beta or is the second letter a mu or a pi?
  • is the last letter a beta or something with a ligature?

So that’s the inscription. As mentioned above, please feel free to provide your readings in the comments, or if you’d prefer anonymity, email them to rogueclassicist AT

Photo sources:

Previous readings:

Epigraphic Evidence from Perperikon

Interesting item from Radio Bulgaria, which seems to have lost a thing here and there in translation:

In the summer the ancient shrine of Perperikon in Southeastern Bulgaria is the source of hot archeological news. During this year’s digs the team of Prof. Nickolay Ovcharov has come across the first epigraphic (written) evidence about Perperikon. Evidence was found on two monuments with Latin inscriptions as well as on a lead stamp. Archeologists have also dug out a Roman road in Perperikon’s southern section, Prof. Ovcharov told a press conference.

“In early August local people told us about a fragment they had seen on the road. We checked into the case and found out that that this is the road from Roman times that connected Perperikon with the branch of the main road East-West-Europe-Asia, the famous Via Egnatia. Five kilometers from Perperikon it branches to reach the stone city. This branch was made especially to serve the city. We found a 30 m fragment from the road into the woods. There we also found an ancient smithy. Coins that we unearthed have been dated to the end 4, early 5 c. AD, the heyday of Perperikon. During digs on the road we were happy to find the first fragment from an inscription, and soon we found two other such fragments. Obviously, they come from different eras. The letters used are either Latin or ancient Greek.”

For deciphering the texts Nickolay Ovcharov referred to Prof. Vasilka Gerasimova, researcher from the National Museum of History and professor at New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria’s best expert in Latin epigraphy. She has dated the epigraphic monuments. The oldest one among them originated in 4-5 c. and the most recent one – in 16-17 c.

Dr. Zdravko Dimitrov, specialist in Antiquity archeology, confirmed this evidence and said: “These are the first pieces of epigraphic evidence in Perperikon. The first one is from a gravestone with a name of Syrian origin written on it. The deciphering of the name suggests that the Perperikon population included immigrants from Syria and Asia Minor. They were rich people and focused mostly on trade and crafts. The second inscription has a very low relief and is difficult to read.”

The last inscription found away from the Roman road in Perperikon has puzzled the team of Prof. Ovcharov. “The letters could be interpreted as recent, written by shepherds in 1950s, for instance”, Prof. Ovcharov explains.

“Later however the inscription was dated to 16-17 c. and for sure one of the names on it is the Christian name Cosmas. It is not clear whether it is Bulgarian or Greek, because in both cases the spelling would be the same”, Prof. Ovcharov added. The most recent find in Perperikon is a lead stamp from 11 c. On one side it depicts Virgin Mary with the Holy Infant and on the other side the name Museli Bakuriani is written.

The Radio Bulgaria piece includes several photos, including one which presumably are the inscriptions:

Radio Bulgaria Photo
Radio Bulgaria Photo

I’ve fiddled with the image in Photoshop but can’t really get a handle on the inscriptions; I think the top one is the one which mentions the ‘Christian’ name Kosmas, but that’s not at all certain. Whatever the case, are there really no Greek or Latin inscriptions from Peperikon (e.g. in IGBulg?)??

CSI Ancient Greece?

Interesting item from New Scientist which is making the rounds of Slashdot (and I just saw it float past on a couple of Twitter entries too). Here’s the incipit:

You might call it “CSI Ancient Greece”. A computer technique can tell the difference between ancient inscriptions created by different artisans, a feat that ordinarily consumes years of human scholarship.

“This is the first time anything like this had been done on a computer,” says Stephen Tracy, a Greek scholar and epigrapher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who challenged a team of computer scientists to attribute 24 ancient Greek inscriptions to their rightful maker. “They knew nothing about inscriptions,” he says.

Tracy has spent his career making such attributions, which help scholars attach firmer dates to the tens of thousands of ancient Athenian and Attican stone inscriptions that have been found.

“Most inscriptions we find are very fragmentary,” Tracy says. “They are very difficult to date and, as is true of all archaeological artefacts, the better the date you can give to an artefact, the more it can tell you.”

Just as English handwriting morphed from ornate script filled with curvy flourishes to the utilitarian penmanship practiced today, Greek marble inscriptions evolved over the course of the civilisation.

“Lettering of the fifth century BC and lettering of the first century BC don’t look very much alike, and even a novice can tell them apart,” Tracy says.

But narrowing inscriptions to a window smaller than 100 years requires a better trained eye, not to mention far more time and effort; Tracy spent 15 years on his first book.

“One iota [a letter of the Greek alphabet] is pretty much like another, but I know one inscriber who makes an iota with a small little stroke at the top of the letter. I don’t know another cutter who does. That becomes, for him, like a signature,” says Tracy, who relies principally on the shape of individual letters to attribute authorship.

However, these signatures aren’t always apparent even after painstaking analysis, and attributions can vary among scholars, says Michail Panagopoulos, a computer scientist at the National Technical University of Athens, who led the project along with colleague Constantin Papaodysseus.

“I could show you two ‘A’s that look exactly the same, and I can tell you they are form different writers,” Panagopoulos says.

Panagopoulos’ team determined what different cutters meant each letter to look like by overlaying digital scans of the same letter in each individual inscription. They call this average a letter’s “platonic realisation”.

After performing this calculation for six Greek letters selected for their distinctness – Α, Ρ, Μ, Ν, Ο and Σ – across all 24 inscriptions, Panagopoulos’ team compared all the scripts that Tracy provided.

The researchers correctly attributed the inscriptions to six different cutters, who worked between 334 BC and 134 BC – a 100-per-cent success rate. “I was both surprised and encouraged,” Tracy says of their success.

“This is a very difficult problem,” agrees Lambert Schomaker, a researcher at University of Groningen, Netherlands, who has developed computational methods to identify the handwriting of mediaeval monks, which is much easier to link to a writer compared with chisel marks on stone.

I wonder, though, if an apprentice would make letters the same way his mentor did …

The New Scientist piece seems based on a couple of papers, one ‘techie’, one ‘arky’: