Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.10.13

Filippo Canali De Rossi (ed.), Iscrizioni dello Estremo Oriente Greco. Un repertorio. Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, Bd. 65.   Bonn:  Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2004.  Pp. xvi, 410; ills. 600+.  ISBN 3-7749-3277-8.  €98.00.  

Reviewed by Colin Bailey, University of British Columbia (

This work is a collection of some four hundred and fifty textual documents discovered beyond the Euphrates River or referring to the Greek Far East. Included in the compilation are numerous texts excised from Greek and Roman authors reporting inscriptions in the Greek Far East. With this combination of content, De Rossi has addressed a significant gap in the publication of Greek inscriptions: all the texts presented have already been published but not in a single volume, and thus have been available for simultaneous consultation only through the collection of various articles and reports in journals of low circulation.

De Rossi presents his collection of inscriptions in a highly accessible manner. The texts are divided into twelve large sections, circling clockwise through the East: (I) Iberia and Armenia (pp. 1-17); (II) Mesopotamia (pp. 18-46); (III) Babylonia (pp. 47-86); (IV) Mesene (pp. 87-96); (V) Susiana, Cissia, Elimis (pp. 97-128); (VI) Persia (pp. 129-166); (VII) Media (pp. 167-178); (VIII) Hyrcania and Parthia (pp. 179-182); (IX) Drangiana and Arachosia (pp. 183-194); (X) Bactria and Sogdiana (pp. 194-233); (XI) the Punjab and other Indian regions (pp. 234-239); (XII) the Persian Gulf and Arabia (pp. 240-256). Each of these larger regions is further subdivided according to the city or location in which the texts were found. Furthermore, the table of contents lists each text, noting its provenance and giving a one-line summary, providing a level of convenience which is occasionally lacking in this series.1 An additional convenience is the arrangement of the texts in each subdivision into identifiable groups. Although these groupings are not indicated in the catalogue itself, De Rossi identifies them and explains his criteria for them in the introduction: sacred inscriptions, royal inscriptions, satrapal inscriptions, political inscriptions and private inscriptions (pp. xiv-xvi). Although the occasional inscription seems to have been misplaced within the subdivisions (such as a fragment from Pasargadae listed under Antiochia Persis rather than Pasargadae [p. 151, no. 253] in section VI, Persia), the majority of inscriptions are clearly and chronologically ordered. In addition to the twelve regional sections are two appendices, one presenting additional inscriptions "pertaining to the area in question" (pp. 261-273) and the other a catalogue of over one hundred and fifty coins struck by the various monarchs of the eastern kingdoms, organized according to the same regional scheme as the main body of the catalogue (pp. 274-321).

Each of the twelve regions into which the texts are divided is provided with a brief description of its location and boundaries. In some cases, De Rossi also summarizes the history of the area, laying out in brief the passage of the territory from kingdom to kingdom during the Hellenistic period and its subjugation by a later eastern empire or monarchy. In all cases, De Rossi directs the reader to one or more antique accounts of the area, most often those of Strabo, Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder (for example, pp. 18 [Edessa in Mesopotamia], 39 [Nineveh in Mesopotamia], 87 [Mesene and Spasinou Charax]). These regional descriptions are complemented by additional brief discussions of the cities and areas of provenance. A map of the overall area would have clarified the relative positions of these regions far more vividly, but De Rossi's clockwise procession through the Greek Far East is evident nonetheless.

De Rossi draws attention to those texts which are not strictly speaking inscriptions but which appear instead on parchment or papyrus, on coins or in ancient authors by the use of one of these superscripts, P (pergama), M (monatrie) or L (letteraria), after the catalogue number of the text (pp. xiv-xvi). These notices are matched in some cases by similar superscript indications of texts removed from their original far eastern locations in antiquity (E, esportato), texts imported into far eastern locations (I, importato), texts referring to the far east but from other regions of the ancient world (R, riferimento), and non-Hellenic texts (A, anelleniche).

Each inscription is accompanied, as is to be expected, by a lemma that includes the provenance and publication. The lemmata also contain the material on which the inscription appears, the measurements of that material, the size of the letters and the occasional palaeographic comment; all information, however, is not present in all cases. Of the twelve regional divisions, section V on Susiana, Cissia and Elamis (pp. 97-128) is the most consistent in the presentation of material in the lemmata, providing in almost every case measurements, the omission of which is the single greatest disappointment of the lemmata in other sections. Presumably the absence of measurements and letter sizes reflects their absence from the editio princeps.

The absence of specific data is in many cases not a significant failing, thanks to numerous and often excellent images of the inscriptions. De Rossi notes in his preface that he was unable to view much of the material by autopsy, but he has compensated for this admirably with his assemblage of illustrations (p. v). Line drawings or photographs of the squeezes often appear together with the photographs of the inscriptions. Of the approximately four hundred and fifty entries in the catalogue, excluding the appendices, a mere sixty-two, many of which are amphora seals, weights or very small fragments, are without an illustration of any kind. The illustrations are often of such high quality that the text can be clearly seen and easily read.

The transcriptions are presented in a font sufficiently large to be easily scanned. Underdots were not used by the publisher, and very occasionally the placement of square brackets is questionable; the clarity of the illustrations, though, allows us to form our own opinion on the accuracy and reliability of the readings. There is, for example, what appears to be an alphabet of Greek letters on bricks from the fortification wall at Samarkand, represented in the transcription as a regular sequential ordering of the characters, though the illustration indicates that additional characters were included and that some of the Greek letters were in fact transposed (no. 389; cf. no. 275). In most cases, however, objections to the readings are a question of aesthetics, and at no time are the transcriptions or the placement of brackets and the supplements a cause for significant concern.

Italian translations of the Greek text are sporadically provided. Neither those texts whose Greek is particularly difficult and elaborate nor those texts of apparent historical importance and interest are consistently translated. Such texts are occasionally translated, but not regularly. On the other hand, some texts whose Greek is clear and straightforward are translated for no apparent reason.

Non-Hellenic inscriptions, when presented, are often translated. These non-Hellenic inscriptions, however, present an inconsistency. In a survey of inscriptions from the far Greek East, it is natural that many non-Greek texts should appear. Thus, it is no surprise that De Rossi should present several texts from Babylon and Bactria written in the indigenous languages with the Greek alphabet (cat. nos. 117-125, 314-320). On the other hand, it is surprising that Greek texts are undeniably emphasized at the expense of the second language in bilingual inscriptions. In some cases, this is a minor inconvenience, as in the case of a bilingual Greek and Hebrew inscription: the Greek presents a simple funerary inscription listing several names; the Hebrew, however, is not transcribed and it is not clear if it included anything beyond the names of the deceased individuals (no. 26). Similarly, a mosaic from Mas'udije in Mesopotamia includes the signature of the workman in Greek, below which are two lines in Syriac letters mentioned in the lemma to the inscription, but not transcribed, transliterated, translated or otherwise treated; one might assume that the Syriac is simply a translation of the Greek signature, but this is not made clear (no. 32; cf. no. 25). Furthermore, only the Greek inscription on an altar containing both a Greek text and an Assyrian text is presented (no. 65). De Rossi comments that the Assyrian inscription is a dedication by Salmanassar III to the Seven Gods, but no transcription, transliteration or translation is provided. This absence is particularly notable in light of De Rossi's hope, expressed in the Introduction, that this catalogue will serve as an introduction to "the history of Hellenism in these most distant places, whether through its colonies or through its cultural influence" (p. xvi): cultural influence is to be observed both in the presence of Greek texts and in the persistence of local texts and reuse of older stones. Although Salmanassar III significantly predates a Greek presence in Mesopotamia, the reuse of a monument bearing his inscription is important in any consideration of cultural influence.

A catalogue of inscriptions is admittedly not the obvious place for such consideration. Yet the influences of Greek culture on local culture and of local culture on Greek culture are important points in the understanding of many of these inscriptions, raising questions about, for example, the persistence of indigenous languages, the ascendancy -- or lack thereof -- of the Greek language and the perception of these inscriptions by local citizens. The texts, however, are presented from a decidedly Greek perspective: it would not be unreasonable to have entitled the collection Greci Iscrizioni dello estremo oriente greco. The absence of a translation or even a transcription of indigenous languages is not, sadly, a rare occurrence; for example, a damaged Greek dedication is supplemented from the Aramaic text of the inscription, which is neither translated nor transcribed (no. 83). Indigenous languages are occasionally presented in translation (no. 88) or in transcription and translation (nos. 109, 163). In some cases, reference is made to texts in local tongues (with no Greek) which are not included in the catalogue. This absence of indigenous languages is significant, particularly since it is noted in a text (translated by De Rossi) that translations from an indigenous language to Greek could be inconsistent for various reasons: the quality of the stone, errors of the lapicide, obscurity in the manuscript or errors of translation (no. 291, pp. 187-189); thus, the translation of the Aramaic of text 4 provides a more complete epitaph than does the Greek. Naturally, not all bilingual texts will differ from one another, but the potential does exist and is an argument for the inclusion of both or all versions in order to present the inscriptions completely.

Given the wide variety of texts and locales represented in this collection, to demand a detailed commentary for each entry would be unreasonable. Nonetheless, several of the major texts do receive extensive commentaries, providing both historical background and the occasional linguistic explanation (for example, the res gestae of Shapur I, no. 261; three religio-philosophical decrees of King Piodassus-Asoka found in Alexandria in Arachosia, nos. 290-292; and three inscriptions relating to the provision of water for a sanctuary, nos. 316-318). Even within these commentaries, though, the explanation of foreign titles is somewhat frustrating if the reader does not have prior familiarity with them. An official with the title karalrango, for example, first appears in the collection in texts 316 and 317 from Surkh Kotal, but is discussed only in text 318, from Rabatak. Similarly, it is only in text 6 that the title pitaxes is equated with magister equitum, though it had appeared in two earlier texts without any comment. With these exceptions, foreign and transliterated titles are commented upon. Some forms and uses of Greek words, however, are passed over -- for example, ἐγλάμψαι (no. 187) and the apparent use of ἐγείρω for the erection of statues (no. 92) -- when such comments would have been a good starting point for the study of the Hellenization of these regions. These are minor criticisms, though, particularly since the official titles are eventually explained. A common shortcoming in the commentaries, though, is the absence of the dating criteria for those texts which do not contain an internal date. This deficiency is most noticeable in a text celebrating the eastern campaigns of Ptolemy III Euergetes: the text has five entries (nos. 75, 249, 270, 301, 451). The first four entries refer the reader to the fifth, which presents the transcription, translation and commentary. The commentary establishes a date after 241 BC, that is, after the end of the third Syrian war; each of the earlier entries, however, gives a specific date of 245 BC, with no explanation.

The text of Ptolemy's campaigns leads to one final inconsistency. The inscription names Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia and Media, and so could reasonably be entered under any of those sections. Such entries do exist, but only in the form of a reference to text 451, transcribed and commented upon in the first appendix, "Other Texts relating to the area in question." De Rossi's introduction of the superscript markers allows this text to be included in the main catalogue instead of being relegated to an appendix, but this opportunity is passed over in this case. On the other hand, a series of dedications by caravan merchants in Palmyra appears in the subsection of Spasinou Charax in the region of Mesene, the place of origin of the merchants (nos.148-165). The superscript indication draws attention to the fact that these texts are not actually from Spasinou Charax.

The collection does provide a foundation for future research in that the textual evidence is now available in a single volume. Furthermore, the volume contains not only the expected indices -- sacred, personal and place names, Greek and non-Greek words and others, covering over fifty pages -- but it also includes an index of "symbols and words of obscure interpretation", isolating these inscriptions for individual study -- and comparison -- but not removing them from their regional contexts. The places of provenance also appear in an index, while the index of Greek names provides not only the names and references but also a brief identification of each individual, where possible. All of the inscriptions are listed in chronological order, irrespective of their provenance in a final index. De Rossi also provides an extensive bibliography of over five hundred items and identifies at the end of relevant entries which catalogue entries pertain to that source.

Despite the occasional shortcoming in the commentaries, De Rossi's collection of fine illustrations and complete indices combine to make this volume an invaluable contribution to the study of the eastern Greek world, providing a foundation for the study of the interplay between Greek and indigenous cultures.


1.   The tables of contents in the Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien series are often not as detailed as that provided by De Rossi. More common is a simple table providing the outline of the overall arrangement of the inscriptions (cf., Sayar, M.H., Die Inschriften von Anazarbos und Umgebung Teil 1, Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, Bd. 56. Bonn (2000); Corsten, Thomas, Die Inschriften von Kibyra Teil 1, Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, Bd. 60. Bonn (2002)). Merkelbach provides a comparably detailed table in his edition of the inscriptions from Kalchedon (Merkelbach, R., Die Inschriften von Kalchedon Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, Bd. 20. Bonn (1980)).

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