Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.01.40

Louis Robert, Choix d'écrits. Édité par Denis Rousset avec la collaboration de Philippe Gauthier et Ivana Savalli-Lestrade.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2007.  Pp. 799; figs. 77.  ISBN 978-2-251-38083-4.  €85.00.  

Reviewed by Thomas Corsten, University of Heidelberg and University of Oxford (;
Word count: 3769 words

[A list of the publications reprinted in this volume is given at the end.]

Louis Robert (1904-1985), the greatest Greek epigraphist not only in the past but also for the foreseeable future, has--together with his wife Jeanne--left an awe-inspiring oeuvre of numerous books, innumerable articles and the Bulletin épigraphique from 1938 to 1984 of about 100 pages each year. Some of his books have been reprinted, with or without addenda, and a huge collection of his articles has appeared between 1969 and 1990, supplemented by a reprint of his last articles in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique.1 The book under review is a selection of 24 of his most important articles and shorter publications (including two extracts from books: ch. XV and XVI), and it shows the broad range of subjects which Robert mastered in an unrivalled manner, not only in epigraphy. For he was convinced that inscriptions have to be studied in their historical and geographical context in order to be fully exploited and to arrive at sound conclusions. This was the method which he taught--and preached--throughout his life, as an academic teacher as well as through his publications. His research was thus not restricted to inscriptions in isolation, but he knew how to use most of the other sources available, especially literature, coins, papyri, and the evidence of historical geography (archaeology was apparently only rarely considered helpful). For this reason, the selected articles are not merely or strictly epigraphic: they rather deal with every kind of evidence a scholar of the ancient world can and will encounter when trying to explain inscriptions or when using them.

The book begins, after a photograph of Robert following the title page, with a short biography by Philippe Gauthier. Then come a note on the book and a bibliography in two parts: first, a complete list of all his publications in chronological order (almost 500 items), and second, a list of his articles in alphabetical order of their place of publication (acts of congresses, collections such as Festschriften, and periodicals). References to reprints are given in the first list, and a complete concordance of Robert's reprinted articles, including Choix, is now available on the web.2 The latter indicates that many of the articles reprinted here have already been reprinted in Robert's Opera Minora Selecta. This may seem strange at first, but the Choix is certainly useful for those (individuals and libraries) who cannot afford their own copy of the seven volumes of Opera Minora Selecta. Moreover, the editors have usefully added translations to most of the inscriptions dealt with and, at the end of some articles, references to other (and not only later) publications by Robert on related matters.

The 24 articles republished here are arranged in five thematic sections: (1) methodology, (2) athletes and contests, (3) institutions and rites, (4) from Asia Minor to the Bactriane, (5) cities, kings, and the Romans. After this, there are 77 plates with photographs and maps, and two indexes (ancient sources, general index). Since we have to do with a reprint of well-known articles, there is no point in evaluating each of them; I will instead restrict myself to give as brief an overview as possible of their contents.

The first section (71-171) consists of three opening speeches given by Robert at epigraphic congresses (ch. I, III, V),3 a chapter about Greek and Roman epigraphy in an introduction to the study of history (ch. II) , an article about personal names and Greek civilisation (ch. IV), and a paper given at the eighth congress of the Association Guillaume Budé in 1968 (ch. VI, which has inadvertently dropped out of the table des matières (797). In the first two chapters he addresses questions of method, which he does in part through the example of Adolf Wilhelm and that of his own teacher, Maurice Holleaux. One of Robert's most important and valuable remarks in this regard and in connection with the definition of an "epigraphist" is that the restoration of incompletely preserved inscriptions is only possible with the help of parallels, and that in order to use those in the right way, a long and profound experience is required (e.g. 76, 79, 104, 107-114). He also rightly emphasizes the important contribution of epigraphy to our knowledge of ancient civilizations, which would be considerably more restricted without the information gained from inscriptions. As an example of a field for which most of the evidence is provided by epigraphical texts, the editors have singled out two of Robert's articles on onomastics (ch. IV and V). They demonstrate that the study of personal names is a subject not to be neglected since its results can have implications which go far beyond onomastics; it is thus not only a histoire des noms, but can (and should) lead to a histoire par les noms (148)--therefore a field in which Robert also took great interest. Finally, in the short chapter VI (157-171) he shows the value of a profound knowledge of topography not only for the field of epigraphy and history, but also for the understanding of antiquity in general.

The section on athletes and contests (173-278) consists of three articles, the last of which was also an opening address (Eighth International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy at Athens 1982). The first one (175-246) deals, however, not with inscriptions on stone, but with epigrams on athletes by the poet Lucillius (1st century AD), preserved in the Anthologia Palatina. This chapter is not only witness to Robert's profound knowledge of Greek literature, but it also indicates the importance of having a sound knowledge of Greek poetry in order to understand and interpret epigrams on stone which are not always easy to tackle--and there are a great number of them.4 On the other hand, epigrams on stone enrich our image of Greek poetry to a great extent. The next chapter (247-266) treats two contests at Rome, and it comprises the editio princeps of an inscription from Delphi where for the first time the Antoninia Pythia in Rome are mentioned. In addition, the article provides a brief introduction to the terminology of Greek contests and their system. This finds a kind of a continuation in the following article, the opening address at Athens (267-278). There, Robert gives a very valuable overview of the expansion of Greek "games" (a term which he avoided and replaced by "concours") in the Hellenistic and Roman periods throughout the Greek world.

In the third section (Institutions et rites, 279-387), four articles on inscriptions concerning administrative procedures and aspects of ancient religion are reprinted (chapters X-XIII). Chapter X (281-298) is the publication of two stelai in the sanctuary of Ares and Athena in the Attic deme of Acharnai, one of which contains a decree about the erection of an altar for the two gods. The second stele bears the texts of two oaths, the ephebic oath and the oath of the Greeks before the battle of Plataiai. Robert's commentary focusses on the problems of epigraphical texts, which have their counterparts in literature, and on the question of forgeries and/or mutual influence between the two genres. The next chapter (XI: 299-314) contains one of the most important and influential articles by Robert: Les juges étrangers dans la cité grecque of 1973. The institution of foreigns judges, arbitrating controversies within a city, differs from that handling quarrels between cities, a fact which was unequivocally established only by Robert; its first instances are known from the late 4th century B.C. in Asia Minor and on the Aegean Islands, from where it spread to mainland Greece in the 2nd century. The article demonstrates again the importance of epigraphy, since this institution is known from only two passages in Greek literature (and these are not very clear), but there are (in Robert's time) about 200 inscriptions. The last two chapters in this section deal with religion, or rather superstition, in that they have funerary curses (XII: 315-356) and amulets (XIII: 357-387) as their subjects, and they are thus witness to the diversity of material with which an epigraphist is confronted. Of these, ch. XII focuses on curses the origin of which he finds in Asia Minor,5 and the first part (360-375) of ch. XIII, devoted to the explanation of the text on a magical gem, is an example not only of Robert's method but also of his wide range of knowledge and the talent of combining different pieces of evidence: by quoting relevant passages of the Bible and by adducing other magical texts as parallels he is able to demonstrate the Jewish influence on this magical text.

As the previous sections demonstrate, Robert was, in terms of geography, far from being restricted to what he is mostly known for, i.e., Asia Minor. That this was nevertheless his favourite area, has resulted in the last two sections containing for the most part important publications on Anatolia. In five of the six articles (one of them in co-authorship with his wife, Jeanne Robert) in section IV (the longest section: 389-565), texts from Asia Minor are commented upon, the majority of them coming from southern parts of the country, Caria and Lycia. The sixth publication ventures even beyond this in that Greek inscriptions from the outer limits of the Greek world, Bactria (roughly the northern part of modern Afghanistan), are dealt with. The section starts with an important article about the persistence of place names in Asia Minor from antiquity through modern times (XIV: 391-428), in which Robert points to the fact that many ancient toponyms are still preserved in a changed form. This is, however, not without possible pitfalls: the place of the settlement can have moved, taking the name with it; the mere, and often only supposed, resemblance of a modern and an ancient toponym is frequently misleading, especially when the Turkish name is common; and, most importantly, the persistence of names applies after all only to a minority of places.

In ch. XV (429-470) is reprinted a chapter of the (re)publication of the inscriptions in the Collection Froehner, in which Robert, after discussing the identification of Theangela in Caria, comments upon three texts from the site which were first edited by M. Rostovtzeff. The first inscription is a treaty between the city of Theangela and the dynast Eupolemos, which is discussed by Robert especially in regard to the identity of Eupolemos, to the historical context, and to the topography of Theangela. Second, a decree of Troizen for a citizen of Theangela. Here, Robert limits his commentary to references to the editio princeps which he corrects briefly in some points. To the commentary on the last inscription, a decree of Theangela, he adds several texts from or mentioning the city or its citizens, which do not appear in the list of inscriptions in Ruge's article in Pauly-Wissowa. This chapter gives a good idea of how Robert worked and how inscriptions are best commented upon and used as historical sources: by comparing (and supplementing, if necessary) them with other texts and by placing them in an historical and geographical context, in order to gain new insights.

We remain in Caria with ch. XVI (471-499; this is only a part of Robert's article in BCH Suppl. I) on an honorific decree from Delos concerning a proxenos from an Antiocheia. This article is a typical piece of Robertian scholarship and method. It is not an exhaustive commentary on each detail of the text but is almost solely concerned with two problems emerging from the honorand's ethnic. First, starting from the ethnic Antiocheus, Robert discusses at great length (472-481) the problems of identifying a city with a dynastic name among the many homonymous cities (such as Antiocheia, Herakleia, Laodikeia etc.). He then goes on to identify the Antiocheia in the Delian inscription with the Carian city of Alabanda and elaborates on the period during which Alabanda was called Antiocheia, using also numismatic evidence and correcting several mistaken ideas on the way. He has thus used the inscription, which has otherwise nothing unusual, as a starting point for a general discussion of two problems with which historians often have to deal.

Next come two further chapters about Asia Minor, this time dealing with Lycia (ch. XVII, 501-518, and XVIII, 519-531). In the first, Robert explains an epigram from Xanthos on the dynast Arbinas (4th cent. BC) who boasts of having conquered three Lycian cities in one month. By making extensive use of the historical geography as well as several travel accounts from the last centuries, he concludes that Arbinas must have resided in and started his conquests from Tlos and not from Kaunos as was believed previously.6 Another, this time early hellenistic, epigram is at the center of the short ch. XVIII. Preserved not on stone but in Stephanus of Byzantium, it honors the Ptolemaic general Neoptolemos, who was not a Pisidian (as was understood so far, starting from a misunderstanding by Stephanus himself) but helped the citizens of Tlos against the Galatians in alliance with Pisidians and Thracians. Stephanus' misinterpretation of the epigram has also induced him --mistakenly--to suppose a second Tlos in Pisidia.

The last chapter in this section (XIX: 533-565) deals with inscriptions from the eastern frontier of the Greek world, Baktriane, found during the French excavations of Ai Khanoum, a city on the Oxus river. Robert publishes two texts, the first of which is a dedication to Hermes and Herakles, the gods of the gymnasium; it was found in a building complex which was identified as such. The other inscription contains the last five of what must have been a long series of principles of the Seven Sages, introduced by an epigram of the dedicant, the philosopher Klearchos of Soloi. These two texts are witness again of the importance of the gymnasium and of philosophy for the hellenization of a formerly 'barbarian' region. And their treatment by Robert demonstrates again his methods as well as his wide and varied knowledge: He takes the name Kineas in the epigram as a starting point of a long and exhaustive examination of its distribution in order to elucidate the origin of this particular Kineas; he then proceeds to a long study of the the life and the philosophy of Klearchos to which this comparatively short inscription can contribute considerably--if one can exploit it as (only?) Robert could.

The last section (V, 567-703), with five items, concerns inscriptions with a wider historical significance, i.e. texts which give insight into the relation between cities, the Hellenistic kings, and finally the Romans. In addition, one article (no. XXIII) is about coins, a field in which Robert was also very knowledgeable.

The first chapter (no. XX, 569-601) treats a decree of Ilion. As a parallel, Robert adduces a papyrus of the same period since both documents concern the same matter, i.e. royal cult (569-601); either one can thus be used to explain the other, and this is what Robert does in a masterly fashion. However, as often, he begins with something else: the inscription was first thought to come from Sigeion, and this presents him with the opportunity to give a brief overview of the evidence for this city and to correct the first few lines of an inscription from there (which has nothing to do with the subject of the article). The chapter provides also a good example of another characteristic of Robert's publications: he can fill pages with parallels--and if it is only to rule most of them out again as not applicable--when restoring a single word in an inscription, as is here the case for lines 31-32 (577-584).

In chapter XXI (604-621) Robert publishes an honorary inscription for Theophanes of Mytilene which was found in Istanbul but must, as he can show, have been transported there in late antiquity. His commentary concentrates on the growing role of benefactors in the Hellenistic period, and he places Theophanes and his honors in the context of similar men of the 1st century B.C.

Chapter XII (623-645) is only a part of an article which appeared in L'Antiquité Classique 35, 1966 (pp. 401-431 of 377-432). Robert republishes an inscription from Aphrodisias which serves him again as an example of how and how not to publish inscriptions by calling attention to conventions of editing and commenting, the prerequisite of which is to understand the text first and to place it in the right context (and, of course, to work from parallels).

The next chapter (XXIII, 647-671) demonstrates that Robert was also a brilliant numismatist--or perhaps rather a brilliant historian who knew how to make the most use of all kinds of sources, including coins. He deals here with coins (and inscriptions) of the Imperial period from Lydia in two paragraphs, the first and longer one of which concerns coin types of Hypaipa. In this context, he studies the cult of Persian Artemis (Anahita) and Persian personal names, both of which survived the end of Persian rule in this region for a long time. He does this by comparing the coins and inscriptions of Hypaipa with those of several other cities in Lydia, especially Hierokaisareia, and concludes that there was not one single cult of Persian Artemis in Lydia, but different manifestations of it in different cities. In the second paragraph, Robert explains the foundation of a festival celebrated at Sardis for the new god Elagabalus, who was introduced by the emperor named after this god.

The last chapter (XXIV, 673-703), about city rivalries in Asia Minor in the Imperial period by way of the example of Nikomedeia and Nikaia in Bithynia, is fundamental for the understanding of civic life and civic pride in the provinces of the East. It is not only important for its conclusions but also--like so many others of Robert's articles--for his method. The basis for the examination of city rivalries are, again, inscriptions, coins, and literature (Dio Chrysostom and Cassius Dio, both natives of Bithynia, and Herodian). As Robert makes quite clear at the end of the article, each of the three genres has its shortcomings which can only be remedied by the help of the others: coins were not minted under every emperor, literature is often full of allusions which can be made understandable for us only with the help of coins and inscriptions, and the preservation of inscriptions is subject to chance. It is in most cases only the combination of all of these which can lead to a reliable reconstruction of past events, and that is what Robert demonstrates brilliantly in this last chapter.

In sum, this book--like each individual publication by Robert--shows clearly the method every epigraphist or, rather, every historian should follow, i.e., to start from the evidence (not from theories), that is from all available sorts of evidence, in this case inscriptions, coins and literature, and from there to move to drawing conclusions. It is true that theories nowadays have, not without reason, been assigned a greater value than in Robert's times (although this was not so long ago), but his oeuvre shows that primary evidence has to be the basis from which to work. There are, however, differences. The corpus of ancient literature hardly grows anymore, but its interpretation can considerably be advanced not only by the application of theories (sometimes rather lofty theories, and one doubts whether in those cases the result has to be considered progress) but by placing it in the context of other kinds of primary sources: inscriptions, coins, papyri (and also archaeological evidence). It is these sources, whose number is still constantly growing, which in this way provide new insights into the ancient world. Robert's Choix d'écrits as well as everything he has written should be compulsory reading for every student and scholar of antiquity--and especially for the many in our times who are busy destroying the foundation on which all serious research is based: the study of ancient documents.

List of reprinted articles:

I. "L'oeuvre d'Ad. Wilhelm. L'épigraphie et ses méthodes." Communication inaugurale au IIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Paris 1952, in Actes IIe Congrès Intern. Épigraphie Paris 1952. Paris 1953, 1-20.

II. "Les épigraphies et l'épigraphie grecque et romaine", L'histoire et ses méthodes. Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, Paris 1961, 453-497.

III. "Situation des études classiques." Discours d'introduction au VIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Munich 1972, in Bull. Assoc. Guillaume Budé 1973, 167-184.

IV. "Noms de personnes et civilisation grecque. I. Noms de personnes dans Marseille grecque", in Journal des Savants 1968, 197-213.

V. "L'onomastique grecque". Discours d'ouverture au VIIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Constantza 1977, in Actes du VIIe Congrès intern. d'épigr. gr. et lat. Constantza 1977. 1979, 31-42.

VI. "Géographie et philologie ou la terre et le papier", in Actes du VIIIe Congrès de l'Association Guillaume Budé 1968. 1969, 67-86.

VII. "Les épigrammes satiriques de Lucillius sur les athlètes. Parodie et réalités", in Entretiens sur l'Antiquité classique, XIV. L'épigramme grecque. 1969, 179-295.

VIII. "Deux concours grecs à Rome", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1970, 6-27.

IX. "Les concours grecs." Discours d'ouverture au VIIIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Athènes 1982, in Actes du VIIIe Congrès intern. d'épigr. gr. et lat. Athènes 1982. 1984, 35-45.

X. "Inscriptions du dème d'Acharnai", in Études épigraphiques et philologiques 1938, 293-316.

XI. "Les juges étrangers dans la cité grecque", in Xenion. Festschrift für Pan. I. Zepos. 1973, 765-782.

XII. "Malédictions funéraires grecques", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1978, 241-289.

XIII. "Amulettes grecques" in Journal des Savants 1981, 3-44.

XIV. (with J. Robert) "La persistance de la toponymie antique dans l'Anatolie", in La toponymie antique. Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg 12-14 juin 1975. 1977, 11-63.

XV. "Inscriptions de Théangéla en Carie", in Collection Froehner I Inscriptions grecques. 1936, 65-101.

XVI. "Sur une proxène d'Antioche de Carie", part of "Sur des inscriptions de Délos", in Bull. Corr. Hell. Supplément I. Études déliennes. 1973, 435-466.

XVII. "Les conquêtes du dynaste lycien Arbinas", in Journal des Savants 1978, 3-34.

XVIII. "Une épigramme hellénistique de Lycie", in Journal des Savants 1983, 241-258.

XIX. "De Delphes à l'Oxus. Inscriptions grecques nouvelles de la Bactriane", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1968, 416-457.

XX. "Sur un décret d'Ilion et sur un papyrus concernant des cultes royaux", in Amer. Stud. Papyrology I. Essays in honor of C. B. Welles. 1966, 175-211.

XXI. "Théophane de Mytilène à Constantinople", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1969, 42-64.

XXII. "Inscriptions d'Aphrodisias: C. Julius Zoilos", part of "Inscriptions d'Aphrodisias", in L'Antiquité Classique 35, 1966, 401-432.

XXIII. "Monnaies grecques de l'époque impériale", in Revue numismatique 1976, 25-56.

XXIV. "La titulature de Nicée et de Nicomédie. La gloire et la haine", in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 81, 1977, 1-39.


1.   Louis Robert, Opera Minora Selecta, Amsterdam, 1969-1990, and Documents d'Asie Mineure. Paris 1987.
3.   These are the Second, Sixth and Seventh International Congress(es) of Greek and Latin Epigraphy (Paris 1952, Munich 1972, and Constanza 1977 respectively).
4.   The Greek inscriptions in verse from the East are now conveniently assembled (with German translations) in R. Merkelbach - J. Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten. 5 volumes, Stuttgart-Leipzig 1998, Munich 2001-2004.
5.   See now J. H. M. Strubbe, Arai Epitymbioi. Imprecations against Desecrators of the Grave in the Greek Epitaphs of Asia Minor. A Catalogue (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien 52, Bonn 1997)
6.   Cf., however, W. Tietz, Der Golf von Fethiye. Politische, ethnische und kulturelle Strukturen einer Grenzregion vom Beginn der nachweisbaren Besiedlung bis in die römische Kaiserzeit, Bonn 2003, 93-99, who thinks that Arbinas first ruled Termessos, but after being exiled from there, fled to Daidala and (re)conquered Telmessos and the other cities from there.

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