Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.10.26

Milena Minkova, The Personal Names of the Latin Inscriptions of Bulgaria.   Frankfurt:  Peter Lang, 2000.  Pp. 345.  ISBN 3-631-35141-0.  DM 98.00.  

Reviewed by Philip Freeman, Washington University in St. Louis
Word count: 757 words

The final product of a study in Latin onomastics often belies the immense labor and difficulties in its creation. This is certainly the case with Milena Minkova's admirable new collection and study of Latin personal names in the surviving epigraphic material from Bulgaria. The author has sifted through the complete corpus of Latin inscriptions from this eastern corner of the empire to produce much more than a simple list of Roman names. To be sure, the work contains a list of Latin names -- over a thousand total -- but more importantly it is a basis for the study of what these names can tell us about the process of Romanization in the ancient provinces of Moesia Inferior and Thracia.

The work is divided into introductory material, catalogues of names, and indices. The first of these introductory sections briefly describes the Latin material from Bulgaria which consists of approximately 1200-1300 inscriptions total, less than one percent of all Latin inscriptions from the whole of the Roman world. A detailed history of the Bulgarian corpus used in the study follows, with a list of publications going well beyond the CIL and its supplements. Many of these sources would be very difficult to access for those of us without the necessary linguistic skills to find and decipher obscure Bulgarian-language archaeological journals. This section also explains that the work is restricted to Latin inscriptions falling within the present boundaries of Bulgaria, a political unit which does not coincide with the borders of any Roman province (modern Bulgaria includes ancient Moesia Inferior, large parts of Thrace, and small sections of Moesia Superior and Macedonia).

The author next examines the historical and cultural background of the material used. The Latin inscriptions date from the first decade of the Christian era to 580 A.D., from both public and private sources, and thus provide a large sample of materials from which to draw conclusions concerning the Romanization of the area. Greek influences stayed largely to the south of Bulgaria, aside from coastal areas and major lines of trade. Thus, until the barbarian invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries, the only real competition with the native languages came from the Latin culture of Rome.

After a brief review of anthroponymical investigations elsewhere in the empire, Minkova explains the methodology of her work as primarily an annotated list of Roman nomina gentilicia and cognomina, praenomina being rare in inscriptions. Her stated aims in the catalogues are to collect the Bulgarian Latin material, assemble an exhaustive catalogue as part of a general onomasticon of Latin inscriptions of the Roman Empire, and assess the geographic and ethnic origins and social position of those named on the inscriptions.

In the almost three-hundred pages which follow, Minkova does an admirable job of living up to her goals. Some previous onomastic studies nibble around the edges, as it were, of Bulgaria, in areas such as Thrace and Dacia, but Minkova produces the first comprehensive and up-to-date examination of Latin names in this area of the empire. Entries are typically seven to eight lines each and easy enough to understand once the reader becomes familiar with the abbreviations used. Complete bibliographical references begin each entry, often followed by historical, geographical, ethnic, and other pertinent details. The reader might wish for more cultural information with some of the names, but often this absence is simply because the information is unavailable.

The indices list names by ethnic origin, though this can often be difficult to achieve with any certainty. For example, many of the twenty-five Celtic names on page 317 are followed by a question mark and a note on parallel occurrences in other languages. But of those names presented by the author without qualifying remarks, I can find none that is convincingly Celtic.

One of the best sections of the book is an all-too-short short summary essay at the end of the volume. In this section, the author draws a number of important conclusions from the previous catalogues. We learn here, for example, of the significance of the frequent name Aurelius in Bulgaria, the probable origins of Semitic names, and what the inscriptions can tell us about the marriage patterns of Roman soldiers in the region.

But Minkova's study is primarily an anthroponymic work of reference and a starting-point for other investigations, not the definitive study on Roman influence in the northern Balkans. In this work, the scholar interested in Romanization in the provinces will have a valuable new tool for the study of at least one part of the Roman world.

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