Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.04.36


Heikki Solin, Olli Salomies, and Uta-Maria Liertz (edd.), Acta Colloquii Epigraphici Latini. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 1995. Pp. 425. ISBN 951-653-277-2.


Reviewed by Roger Wright, University of Liverpool, rhpwri@liverpool.ac.uk.

These are the Acts of the conference on Latin epigraphy held at Helsinki on 3rd - 6th September 1991. Of the twenty-five papers, nine are in English, six in Italian, five in German, four in French and one in Spanish. Solin's Introduction is in successively French, German, Italian and English, and he is quite happy for there to be no lingua franca in the field; his own contribution is in German. The whole reinforces the superb reputation that Finnish scholarship has; a determination to know as much as possible in accurate detail, a mission to promulgate this knowledge to a wider world, a professional sense of purpose that can hardly be matched elsewhere (and is found in other Helsinki departments, such as those of English and of other languages, as well as in the Classical field).

The study of epigraphy is often carried out by linguists investigating stone inscriptions (such as in József Herman's admirable current enterprise to computerize all the surviving data), so it is a pleasant surprise to see how remarkably varied the artefacts under examination in this collection turn out to be, and how little duplication of material there is in the separate studies. There is no obvious general plan underlying these twenty-five papers, which will therefore be separately described here.

Iiro Kajanto, "Survival of Latin epigraphy" (13-18), considers inscriptions in Rome in Latin from after the end of the Empire to the present day; "where the old churches have not been as savagely renovated, medieval epitaphs are somewhat more numerous"; indeed, it "is not yet quite extinct".

W. V. Harris, "Instrumentum domesticum and Roman Literacy", 19-27, continues the unconvincingly minimalist campaign in favour of pessimistic assessments of Roman literacy shown in his Ancient Literacy (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989). This volume shows how widespread levels of literacy were, yet Harris gamely claims that people wrote words on artefacts that they could not read. (The "instrumenta domestica" are portable objects). Harris fails to convince largely because he seems unaware that Latin was the ordinary vernacular of most of the inhabitants of the Empire (certainly after the second century A.D.), so writing Latin was for the most part writing their own language rather than (as in Renaissance Europe) a foreign one; yet Harris uses the word "vernacular" to mean non-Latin languages.

Gianfranco Paci, "Etichette plumbee iscritte" (29-40), describes the lead labels added to various artefacts. The average shape is rectangular, and the average size 4cm by 2 cm, and both sides of three of these labels are photographed here, with the wording deciphered. These have more to tell the linguist than might seem -- Paci refers to the "ricchezza lessicale che questo tipo di documentazione sembra riservare".

Christer Bruun, "Private Munificence in Italy and the Evidence from Lead Pipe Stamps" (41-58) investigates what we are to deduce from the Proper Names that appear in the genitive case on Roman plumbing; the person so mentioned can be the owner, or the building supervisor, or -- as examined at length here -- the benefactor who paid for water pipes that lead to public baths (as if something such as "ex munificentia" is to be understood before the genitive). This information seems to be a message intended for public consumption, even though they are usually underground.

Giuseppe Camodeca, "Nuovi dati sulla struttura e funzione documentale delle tabulae ceratae nella prassi campana" (59-77) describes in detail, with diagrams and photographs, practical aspects of the formation of wax tablets, in particular diptychs and triptychs, made in the area south of Rome in the first century A.D. (including Pompeii).

Marc Mayer, "Las inscripciones pintadas en Hispania. Estado de la cuestión" (79-92) considers in detail texts from one of the largest, most Romanized but least studied areas of the Empire, the Iberian Peninsula. The texts in this case are the words found in paintings (not engraved, not graffiti, not on pottery), and they are catalogued in alphabetical order of modern Spanish (but not Portuguese) province; Murcia is currently the most interesting area, with two panels of the Cueva Negra inscriptions reproduced schematically, and the nine main ones presented in clearer form in an appendix.

Heikki Solin, "Zur Entstehung und Psychologie von Schreibfehlern in lateinischen Inschriften" (93-111) mainly concerns spelling mistakes in inscriptions that are unlikely to be due to phonetic or other linguistic evolution or confusion, with a thought-inducing list on p.104 and a photo of an unusually incorrect inscription on p.108; linguists should perhaps be more prepared than they are to concede that mistakes that might have a phonetic inspiration need not necessarily be so caused. Solin also considers whether the masons used an instruction manual, and the presence of Hebrew, Phoenician and African names.

Mireille Corbier, "L'écriture dans l'image" (113-61) is the longest contribution; and is a solid and interesting monograph in itself, on the role of written words in pictorial image, and the way in which they can complete, attenuate or clarify the message conveyed in the picture. Sometimes there is writing on one of the elements of the picture ("L'épigraphie au second degré" is how Corbier refers to it); this includes inscriptions on the temple featured on the obverse of some of Octavian's coinage, and an altar dedicated DEO MERCURIO within an illustration from Vindolanda; or writing positioned on an object which helps us understand what it is, but without it representing writing actually on the object (e.g. a bridge with the word PONS on it). The category "L'écriture dans le champ de l'image", where writing fills a gap in the picture, includes such cases as the artist's name, the owner's name, the name of the participants or places or animals, reproductions of the dialogue of the characters, quotations from poetry or philosophy, etc. Sometimes the artist has felt a need to fill almost every space, exemplified here first by a wonderful mosaic now in Madrid (p.133), and then by a mosaic of games-players from Tunisia, one half of which is to be viewed from the other side (so half the writing in the photo appears upside-down). A four-part dialogue is represented on a mosaic from Cordoba. Most pictures have no words, of course, which in turns makes the presence of words marked and probably significant. This study, for all its comprehensive fascination and 42 well-produced photographs, is still, as Corbier says, just a "première enquête".

Ivan Di Stefano Manzella, "Problemi di paleografia epigrafica latina" (163-81) presents another valuable representation of the current state of an art, in this case of what can be said about and deduced from different styles of forming the individual letters in inscriptions. Individual letter shapes vary both chronologically and geographically; different types of L are especially represented here; this knowledge can be used to detect forgeries, or falsifications of the date. Once again, the quality of the photographic reproduction (in black and white) is exceptionally clear.

Antonio Sartori, "L'impaginazione delle iscrizioni" (183-200) also presents us with clear and valuable technical data; "impaginazione" is Italian for the layout on a printed page, but also applicable to the way in which the words of an inscription are designed to produce an eye-pleasing ensemble. The photographs are here supplemented with geometrical drawings to show relative distances and shapes, with suggestions as to how complicated multiple representations of people and words were arranged in advance. References to Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy and modern works on Speed Reading and the effect of page layout on comprehension (the "colpo d'occhio") help Sartori show that, on the whole, the Roman craftsmen knew more than they may have been given credit for.

Mika Kajava, "Some Remarks on the Erasure of Inscriptions in the Roman World (with Special Reference to the Case of Cn. Piso, cos. 7 B.C.)" (201-10) considers why some names have been officially erased from the record, but not in detail how (although sometimes a square base could be moved round so that an existing legend faced the wall and a new one could be put on the newly visible face).

Werner Eck, "'Tituli honorarii', curriculum vitae und Selbstdarstellung in der Hohen Kaiserzeit" (211-37) considers who wrote such honorary titles ("self-representation"), with a lengthy list.

Callie Williamson, "The Display of Law and Archival Practice in Rome" (239-51) investigates the thousands of bronze tablets that carried legal texts in small and abbreviated lettering, whose large headings caught the eye of the passer-by; Williamson sees a function in attracting such interest for both symbolic (ceremonial) and educational purposes, since the archival records were the ones with legal value.

Ekkehard Weber, "Zur Entstehung der lateinischen Grabinschriften" (253-61) considers the development of inscriptional practices on sarcophagi.

The late Marcel Le Glay, "L'inscription latine comme document d'histoire religieuse" (263-67) argues, against E. R. Dodds (Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, Cambridge, 1965), that we can learn a great deal about Roman religion from inscriptions, and even about geographical variations (it might, for example, be significant that the phrase "gratias agens" is far commoner in the Danubian provinces than further west.)

Olli Salomies makes "Some Observations on Consular Dating in Roman Inscriptions of the Empire" (270-92), in particular, that dates on inscriptions are quite rare (although consular dating is even so present in over a thousand cases between 99 and 238 A.D.); the monuments in question are also unusual in themselves in many other respects.

Martti Leiwo, "The Mixed Languages in Roman Inscriptions" (293-301), presents interesting data: Latin texts written with the Greek alphabet. Despite the title, these are not "mixed languages" at all, but just cases in which one language is written in an alphabet usually used for another. These texts would be of great interest to linguists if Leiwo gave them a date, but do not bear the weight of the sociolinguistic speculation that Leiwo attaches to them (although they could certainly be used in a wider historical-sociolinguistic study).

Stanislaw Mrozek, "Einige wirtschaftliche Aspekte der Herstellung von Inschriften in der frühen römischen Kaiserzeit" (303-12) considers the workers and traders in marble ("marmor lunense"), with a list of 27 inscribed marble monuments from Pannonia, Italy and Africa with indications of how much they cost.

Leszek Mrozewicz, "Inschriften in Militärlagern: Formular, Stifter und Ausführer. Einwirkung" (313-18) concerns military camps and the data that survive from them.

Silvio Panciera, "La produzione epigrafica di Roma in età repubblicana. Le officine lapidarie" (319-42) is an impressive attempt to analyse the epigraphic production of masons in pre-Imperial Rome, with an appendix detailing the 182 items investigated; he considers the type of stone used and where it was from, and the purpose of the inscription (which at the early time was usually "sacro-prescrittivo"). "Impaginazione" is considered here again. The conclusion is that such stark periodization as is implied in Panciera's title is not helpful, for details evolve through the period and they do not all change with the end of the Republic.

Timo Sironen, "La cultura epigrafica dei Peligni" (343-46) takes his expertise to an originally non-Latin-speaking area; of the surviving documentation, c.300 are in Latin and c.50 in Peligno (from the 3rd to the 1st century B.C.; in the Roman alphabet). Greek influence is also visible.

Michel Tarpin, "Modèles italiens et ateliers indigènes: un exemple lyonnais" (347-72) is an account, with a map and extensive photographs, of the evidence that has recently come to light of a stonemason's workshop in Roman Lyons (on the "colline de Croix-Rousse"). The particular interest lies in the discovery of several related inscriptions together in their workshop of origin.

Athanasios Rizakis, "Le grec face au latin. Le paysage linguistique dans la peninsule balkanique sous l'empire" (373-91) considers the evidence that can come, from inscriptions in Greece, concerning the progressive but partial Romanisation of the area, prior to the eventual reversal of that process and the hellenisation of Roman culture there.

Barbara Levick, "The Latin Inscriptions of Asia Minor" (393-402) extends this theme Eastwards, where the ratio of Greek to Latin inscriptions is strikingly high except in Ephesus (which provides about a third of Levick's data), where many of them were erected by or for soldiers. As Levick points out, "inscribed monuments involved parties who might not be linguistically homogeneous". The choice of Latin for an inscription in the West was automatic; no other language there had any prestige; but in the East Greek had such prestige, and the choice of a Roman inscription in a mainly Greek-speaking milieu may therefore be an assertion of some other social attitude than the merely linguistic.

Fergus Millar, in "Latin in the Epigraphy of the Roman Near East" (403-19), begins by considering the "titulus" placed above Jesus on the Cross. The four gospels (written in Greek, of course) record it separately, but one also tells us that it was in three languages (Hebrew, Latin and Greek, mentioned in that order in John 19.19-20; Hebrew is not clearly distinguished from Aramaic at that time, whatever distinctions may be made by subsequent scholars). Other examples of Latin inscriptions in the area tend to be military. Palmyra is also considered here, being trilingual (Greek, Latin and "Palmyrene"), with five examples of parallel trilingual texts; the discussion becomes more specifically philological, and shows what a great deal can still be done with these ancient data.

The whole volume is thus a mine of information and ideas. No general conclusion or overview is drawn, and that is not a bad thing; there is more work to be done, and the fossilizing tendency of premature generalization is worth avoiding. Meanwhile, for information on the varied world of Roman writing on physical objects other than papyrus, this is the volume to approach.