Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.05.37

Jean-Claude Decourt, Inscriptions Grecques de la France (IGF). Travaux de la Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée, 38.   Lyon:  Jean Pouilloux, 2004.  Pp. 363; ills.  ISBN 2-903264-80-5.  €38.00.  

Reviewed by Filippo Canali De Rossi, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington DC (
Word count: 1910 words

This book is an inventory of Greek inscriptions (or of inscriptions containing at least some Greek words) that were found within the boundaries of modern France. It is not supposed to include inscriptions that have been imported in modern times, nor those which were found in portions of the Gallic provinces now belonging to other states. It is presented as an improved remake of the Appendix, Pars Prima, in volume XIV of the Inscriptiones Graecae, Berlin 1890, which was also done by a French scholar, Albert Lebègue, and contained about 160 Greek inscriptions including the spurious, while the current volume holds 225 entries, some presenting more than one text.

The project is contiguous in scope with others in the field of ancient epigraphy of the Gauls, concerning either the Celtic,1 the Latin,2 or the Christian inscriptions.3 The material is divided into broad geographical sections corresponding with ancient Augustan provinces (respectively Narbonensis, Aquitania, Lugdunensis, Belgica, Corsica), and further into modern administrative units ("départements", which might be unfamiliar to the non-French reader). More than half of the material (nn. 1-136) belongs to the province of Narbonensis: 45 Greek texts come from Massalia (nn. 2-46), 25 from Nemausus (Nîmes, nn. 100-124, cfr. n. 203), a considerable number from Olbia (Hyères, nn. 64-72, some reunited under a single entry), 9 from Arelate (Arles, nn. 55-63), 7 from Antipolis (Antibes, nn. 80-86). Of the other provinces Lugdunensis presents 20 texts (13 from Lyon and 6 from Autun), Corsica 6, Aquitania 4, Belgica 3. An appendix is reserved for inscriptions which had been mistaken for Greek, while being Gallic or Latin. A final section is devoted to texts whose authenticity is not beyond doubt. There follows a rich provision of 'annexes'.

Some inscriptions do not really belong in the collection: the funerary epigram n. 50 is acknowledged to have been exported from Rome4 and is now in London, therefore it has no more right to figure here than the Rosetta stone; the same holds true for the funerary inscription n. 44, which was imported from Cos; the modern provenance of n. 163 from Athens seems also to be firmly established. Not everybody will agree with the author's choice (p. VIII-IX) to include inscriptions that are distinctly Christian (nn. 35, 36, 53, 62, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 134, 155); it might have been enough to retain the intriguing instances of crypto-Christianism (n. 143 and, possibly, n. 10).

Very few are civic or public inscriptions. The most notable instance is n. 1, a bronze hand bearing the text σύμβολον πρὸς Οὐελαυνίους and n. 81, belonging to a base erected in Antipolis in honor of an εὐεργέτης. An intriguing historical insight is offered by n. 87, related to the prediction made in Syrian Apamea to Septimius Severus, that he would become emperor (Cassius Dio LXXIX, 8, 6). The author of the dedication (Sextus) has a plausible match in Sextus Varius Marcellus, father of the emperor Elagabalus, who is known from a remarkable inscription, also bilingual, in Velitrae (IG XIV, 911).

Among the texts of religious character we may list dedications to the gods (nn. 80, 192), to Dionysos (n. 2), to Zeus (n. 5), to Apollo (nn. 49, 51 and 154, in association with Artemis), to Leto (n. 65), to Aphrodite (n. 64), to Demeter (n. 166), to the Dioscuri (n. 128), to Pan (n. 85), to some unidentified heroes (nn. 47, 67, 78). Among the local cults conspicuous are those of Belenus (n. 6, cfr. n. 170), of the Celtic Mothers (nn. 66, 128), of the personified islands of Lero and Lerine (n. 86), of Nemausus (n. 203), of Larrason (n. 207). From a sanctuary of the civilizing demigod Aristaeus (the same known from the fourth book of Virgil's Georgics) there comes an interesting series of ex-voto offerings (n. 68, 1-48), more of which still remain to be published.

In Nîmes we have a series of inscriptions concerning the Association of the Artists of Dionysos: n. 100 is a monumental inscription mentioning the emperor Trajan; n. 101 is a decree of the Association, issued in the age of Hadrian to honor the quattuorvir municipalis L. Dolabella, who helped the company to participate in the quinquennial games held in Naples; n. 102, combined with n. 104 or, possibly, with n. 105, is a decree in honor of L. Sammius, known from a Latin inscription of the town as archiereus synodi (CIL XII, 3183); n. 106 is possibly a fragment of a decree for an artist, a χοραύλης; other stray texts mention a ὑποκριτής (n. 104) and an ὀρχηστής (n. 63).

Some inscriptions may be related to art, identifying for example the subject or the author of a relief or a bust, like the poets Homer (n. 205) portrayed between two female figures, Ibycus (n. 198, signed by Praxiteles), Philitas (n. 199), or the sculptors Myron (n. 201) and Alexandros (n. 132). Mosaicists' signatures are given on nn. 124 and 127, while some mosaics recently found in Autun portray the poet Anacreon (n. 156), along with the philosophers Epicurus and Metrodoros (nn. 157-158), each accompanied by an extensive caption. Other mosaic inscriptions are nn. 3, 136, 202.

A few inscriptions might be related to agonistic sports: n. 7 is possibly the mention of a stadium ([τ]ὸ στάδιο[ν], cfr. also n. 32); n. 15, on a small plate of bronze, celebrates an old gymnasiarch who, as an ephebe, had won in a contest of εὐταξία. On n. 75 scenes of wrestling and boxing are accompanied by short captions, while n. 142 is the epitaph of a promising gymnast, who died at the very young age of 10, possibly performing a difficult exercise.

The most common category is indeed that of the funerary inscriptions, among which the epigrams deserve special mention: n. 9 develops the theme of piety towards the father; n. 11 (fragmentary) possibly hides a highly dramatic plot, since we are told that a malevolent or foolish son (κακόβουλον τέκνον) ended up weaving an unhappy destiny for his parents; n. 23 has very interesting astrological connotations; n. 73 is for a child who died at the age of 7, possibly from falling from a ladder; n. 118 is for a foreign woman who was taken away by Pluto, and n. 119 is a very fine floral epigram.

Also the epitaphs of the most plain character (e.g.: nn. 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 47, 48, 52, 54, 55, 69, 76, 82, 89, 93, 120, 121, 123, 164, 168, 169, 223) may reveal onomastic peculiarities like, for example, the use of geographic denominations for proper names (n. 19 Συρίσκη, n. 22 Βηθυνίσκη, n. 29 Λιβάς: this should also account for n. 30, Μαρίσκη); these might in general refer to slaves or freedwomen, but at least in one case (n. 16) the possibility also arises that we are dealing with prostitutes. A considerable number of texts comprise just one word or a very short saying in Greek: these are mostly funerary inscriptions using the Latin formula sub ascia (e.g. nn. 56, 57, 126, 144, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152).

Only very few of these Greek inscriptions are noteworthy for the Roman prosopography of the Gauls: the equestrian cursus honorum of T. Porcius Cornelianus (n. 8), who had performed a number of military and civil services and, by familiar tradition, was a priest of Leucothea; the epitaph of M. Iulius Ligus, procurator Augusti (n. 85); that of L. Herennius Praesens (n. 38); the fine portrait of Titius Gemellus (n. 161). Among the inscriptions mentioning Roman emperors, one should not forget a dedication to Antoninus Pius in an inscription from Narbona (n. 133): according to the first editor, Héron, this might have been set up when Antoninus, himself a native of Nemausus, restored the civic thermae that had been destroyed by fire.

Written on lead are some messages referring to trade: an invitation to the captain of a ship for a quick sail (n. 4), a bilingual (Celtic and Greek) sale agreement (n. 135); of another promising letter on lead (n. 130) too few words have been deciphered to evaluate the context. On a potsherd has been handed down a message concerning the sending of some slaves (n. 71); relevant to this context is also the epitaph of an Arab from the village of Athela, Thaimos son of Saad (n. 141): he, despite having been enrolled in the senate of Canatha in native Trachonitis, moved to Gallia and settled down in Lyon, exercising there a flourishing trade in wares from Aquitania.

Some of the inscriptions belong to an educational context, like n. 17 (the epitaph of a professor, καθηγητής) or n. 21 (for a teacher of Latin, γραμματικὸς Ῥωμαικός); n. 131, from Baeterra (Béziers) is a gravestone dedicated to a man by his brother who was from Cilician Mopsuestia: the two of them were rhetors. A number of texts also record physicians: the god Apollo is twice styled as ἰατρός in dedications (nn. 49, 154); n. 94 and n. 224 are funerary texts for doctors; n. 133 is a dedication to the emperor Pius by two physicians; a medical context probably lies behind the small statue of a very thin, almost fading man (n. 162, now in the Museum at Dumbarton Oaks).

Some objects might express their function through an inscription: the words put on n. 45 indicate that this is probably a dish for charity ("It is of Ariston: put it, let it, leave!"); inscription n. 84 declares the nature of the object as a phallus (θεράπων Ἀφροδίτης); n. 145 is a brilliant declaration (on a funerary inscription) of the effects of envy, "burning ... eyes and heart" (τήκι ὄμματα καὶ κραδίην); a cup invites one to drink in honor of Demeter (n. 166); and the wise sayings of Anakreon (n. 156), Metrodoros (n. 157) and Epikuros (n. 158) are unfortunately too long to be reported here.

A special interest is raised by magic inscriptions: we have an example of heptagram (n. 140), a judiciary defixio (n. 70), and some adiurationes (nn. 90-91, 159), a spell against diseases affecting the harvest. It is necessary to register, too, a number of unintelligible fragments and inscriptions: nn. 32, 37, 41, 58, 59, 60, 61, 72, 74, 77, 79, 83, 88, 129, 153, 160, 165, 167, 182, 186, 225, some of them counting as Gallo-Greek (nn. 171-178).

Of the alleged fakes, more than a few seem actually genuine (nn. 187, 191, 193, 218), others are at least worthy of careful reconsideration (nn. 185, 188, 195, 206, 210, 220, 223, 224, 225), and even some documents of acknowledged counterfeit status could be rehabilitated with proper arguments (nn. 189, 211). In general, however, it would have been more expedient to display the dubious texts in their place according to the geographical order.

Considering some individual inscriptions, I would finally like to suggest the following improvements:

1) n. 15, line 2: the reading γεραίτερος νικήσας should be retained: cfr. n. 125, πρεσβύτερος χορηγήσας.

2) n. 43, line 1: the date sιγ' is a misreading: the drawing shows sιτ', that is year 316 of the Seleucid era, corresponding to 4/5 AD.

3) n. 216: as the inscription belongs to a fountain it should be read as παγά, "spring", and could as well be genuine.

Thus the interesting content of this volume, for which the editor is to be highly praised, having succeeded in a very meticulous work.5


1.   Recueil de inscriptions gauloises, under the direction of Paul-Marie Duval as a supplement to "Gallia", 45, Paris 1985- .
2.   Inscriptions latines de Narbonnaise, supplement to "Gallia", 44, Paris 1985- .
3.   Recueil des inscriptions chrétiennes de la Gaule antérieures à la Renaissance carolingienne, under the direction of H.-I. Marrou, then of C. Pietri and finally of N. Gauthier, Paris 1975- .
4.   The Roman provenance of this sarcophagus has been demonstrated by Luigi Moretti, Inscriptiones Graecae Urbis Romae, vol. III, Roma 1979, 316. I am not willing to share D.'s skepticism about the identification of its subject with Proculus Pontianus, cos. of 238 AD, as it is perfectly appropriate for a consul to be well versed in rhetorical skills (cfr. F. Canali De Rossi, Il ruolo dei patroni, Leipzig 2001) and, in addition, ὕπατοι alone (line 7) cannot signify "men of excellent virtue".
5.   It may be appropriate to gather here some minor critical remarks: 1) the headings should be more informative, and systematically give the provenance (when different from the actual location), and an approximate chronology. 2) It is rather confusing to have three slightly divergent numerical series for the same material: the IGF and picture numbers could have been unified, and the IGG series, referring to an original archive in Lyon, downsized or altogether omitted. 3) It is superfluous to have a double concordance at the end of the volume, as the first half is already to be found under the individual lemmata. 4) The map on plate I is too small, especially with regard to the most represented southern region. 5) References to this same collection are preceded throughout by the self-styled abbreviation IGF: this could have been avoided with a more consistent use of the bold character. 6) The commentary is sometimes exceedingly long, which is especially frustrating when it comes to aporetic conclusions. 7) With a superfluous zeal, in a number of cases all the divergent readings of previous authors are extensively reported. 8) The following misprints or slight errors also occur: p. 54, line 19: Proc(l)us; p. 55, line 23: IGUR (III); p. 79, line 30: mit{t}i e rit{t}i; p. 108, line 33: kaiserzei(t)licher; p. 112, line 25: Sextus Var(i)us Marcellus; p. 211, line 29: (3)00-(2)99; p. 275, n. 179: the correct division is VERCILLASO | LIMARI F.; p. 296, line 39: Heichel{d}heim; fig. 91 (plate XVIII) is printed upside down.

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