Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.11.24

A. Chaniotis, T. Corsten, R.S. Stroud, R.A. Tybout (ed.), Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, Volume LIV (2004).   Leiden/Boston:  Brill, 2008.  Pp. xxxiii, 916.  ISBN 9789004166875.  $256.00.  

Reviewed by Julia Lougovaya, University of Heidelberg (
Word count: 1904 words

Supplementum epigraphicum graecum (SEG) reports various publications of a given year pertaining, for the most part, to Greek inscriptions. These publications, which include anything from scholarly works to newspaper articles, are concisely presented in English under numbered lemmata. The lemmata devoted to new epigraphical corpora describe the content of the corpus, indicating inscriptions edited there for the first time and providing concordances to previous editions of already known inscriptions; each entry may also include remarks by the editors of SEG on points of particular interest. Lemmata reporting new inscriptions published outside epigraphical corpora contain the Greek text of the original edition and an apparatus criticus that takes into account opinions expressed in other recent publications as well as those of the editors of SEG; as a rule, the number of the SEG entry for these inscriptions becomes their standard identifier. For previously known inscriptions, SEG reports corrections and revisions to the text along with works from any area of ancient studies that make use of the inscription or contribute to our understanding of it. In all SEG volumes, lemmata are organized on a geographical principle that follows Inscriptiones graecae (IG), while for areas not represented in IG, they are arranged more-or-less clockwise through Asia Minor, the Near East, Egypt and the Kyrenaika. In the last section of the volume, "Varia," the lemmata appear alphabetically by topics. Volume LIV covers the year 2004, while, as is customary, also reporting earlier scholarly works that were previously overlooked or those published after 2004 but pertaining to material from that year. In total, the volume contains 1919 lemmata along with standard indices and a concordance.

Setting aside many other important purposes that SEG serves, I would single out what I consider to be its most exciting one: it attests ongoing epigraphical discoveries and highlights the enormous amount of work that is still to be done in order to improve our understanding of both new and long-known inscriptions. The volume under review alone reports several hundred (sic!) new texts, along with important studies that offer compelling reasons to reconsider well-known inscriptions or demonstrate new ways of approaching epigraphical evidence. Of the new corpora reported in the current volume, one may call attention to lemma no. 979, a corpus of inscriptions from Gaul (Inscriptions grecques de la France), which includes a previously unpublished lead tablet with a letter of a ship-owner to a captain dated to the 3rd century B.C. and found in Marseille (lemma no. 983). Lemma no. 1258, the first volume of The Inscriptions of Sinope (= IGSK 64), offers 74 new inscriptions, of which the alliance between Sinope and the tyrant family of Herakleia, 353-345 B.C., is of particular importance. No. 1385, the second volume of the corpus of inscriptions from Perge (= IGSK 61), contains 152 new inscriptions, the most from any area represented in SEG LIV. No. 1535, a corpus of all inscriptions from Kition and its territories, includes in addition to Greek alphabetic inscriptions texts in Phoenician, Greek syllabic, Latin, Assyrian, Egyptian, Cypro-Minoan, and cuneiform Ugaritic. Lemma no. 1566, a corpus of Greek or bilingual texts with Greek, collects inscriptions from the Far East, that is, east of the Euphrates (Inscrizioni dello Estremo Oriente Greco. Un Repertorio = IGSK 65); the corpus features extensive bibliography, related non-epigraphical documents, and drawings or photographs of nearly all the texts.

Among the most significant recent finds reported in the volume is the archive of bronze tablets from Argos, discovered in 2000 and still awaiting final publication (no. 427). In a most commendable way, the editor of the archive, C.B. Kritzas, has been prompt in providing a preliminary publication of the material, thereby sharing with the international community information about this spectacular find, which the editors of SEG carefully summarize. The archive, dated to the early 4th century B.C., consists of ca. 134 tablets written in the epichoric alphabet and featuring numerous hapax legomena. Most tablets record financial transactions concerning sacred funds of Athena and Hera carried out by political and religious organizations; they also provide a glance into the archival system employed. No. 429 reproduces the text of one of the tablets published by C.B. Kritzas as an example of the newly found material.

Another important installment is the 21 new inscriptions from Halasarna (sanctuary of Apollo) on Kos, no. 742, with 19 texts reproduced in SEG. Of these, a sacrificial calendar (no. 744) and a decree concerning the pledging of sacred vessels (no. 743), both dated to the 3rd century B.C., as well as several honorary decrees, are of particular interest.

Important individual finds range from imperial missives and sacred laws to private letters and curse tablets, and include such inscriptions as a rescript of the emperor Justinian, A.D. 533, from Didyma (no. 1178); a treaty of alliance between the Cretan cities of Eleutherna and Rhaukos, late 3rd century B.C. (no. 841); a sacred law of the late 4th century B.C. found in the Attic deme of Aixone (no. 214); and a long Christian exorcistic text on a lead leaf from Cyprus, which features a dialogue between the archangel Michael and the demon Abyzou (no. 1564). An early Imperial inscription from Kos honors a poetess who was victorious in several musical contests and mentions a statue of a famous past Koan poetess named Delphis (no. 787). Lemma no. 508 reports a study of the earliest surviving sundial (ca. 350-320 B.C.) and reproduces a restoration of the text it bears based on the reconstructed operation of the sundial. No. 694 provides the text with extensive apparatus of a late 6th century B.C. letter on a lead tablet from Olbia on the Northern Shore of the Black Sea. The letter is concerned with a legal conflict involving several traders, but its full interpretation remains difficult. An inscribed kioniskos found in Thebes is the subject of no. 518. The surviving text is a dedication with wording suggesting a military context and mentioning the Attic demes of Oinoe, Phyle, and Eleusis, as well as Chalkis. These facts, along with the late archaic date of the kioniskos, which is supported by the archeological context, make very plausible the identification of the occasion with the conflict between the Athenians and Boeotians in ca. 506, which took place shortly after the Cleisthenic reforms and is narrated in Herodotus 5.77. It is a rare example of a witness from "the other" (that is, non-Athenian) side.1

Moving to the Far East, one encounters an extraordinary epigram found in Alexandria in Arachosia (the area of modern Kandahar), no. 1568. The inscription on a limestone plaque that had been attached to a brick wall tells the life story of a certain Sophytos, who experienced the loss and recovery of his fortune. While the loss is said to have been caused by the fates, the recovery is attributed to Sophytos' intelligence, perseverance, and--most notably--his economic genius. Here is a translation of the poem:

Stele of Sophytos

For a long time the house of my ancestors had been thriving
when the unbeatable violence of the triple Fates destroyed it.
But I, Sophytos of the stock of Naratos, all together so small
and pitiably bereft of the support of my parents,
practiced the excellence of the Muses and The Shooter
mixed with noble prudence
and devised a way to build up my ancestral home again:
with fruit-bearing money taken from elsewhere,
I went away from home determined not to come back
until I acquired the greatest abundance of good things.
For this reason I went on merchant ships into many a city
and acquired sound and far-reaching wealth.
Surrounded by praise, I came back to my homeland after innumerable years,
and a delight I proved to be to my well-wishers.
And both the paternal house that was rotten
I made at once stronger out of new means
and, with the tomb having fallen to the ground, I built another one;
and while still alive I set up by the road this telling stele.
Would that my sons and grandchildren keep this house of mine so,
for I have accomplished these enviable deeds!

The inscription is in ten elegiac couplets, and its twenty verses form an acrostic that spells διὰ Σωφύτου τοῦ Ναράτου, "through the efforts of Sophytos son of Naratos." The first letters of each verse are written out to the left of the line beginnings, forming a clear vertical line in order to ensure that the acrostic is not lost on an inattentive reader, a formatting device previously attested in only one shorter verse inscription in Egypt. The exquisite form (acrostics of this length are rare) and display of Sophytos' epigram is matched by its language, which employs exceedingly rare and archaizing words (e.g., εὖνις "deprived," κοκύαι "ancestors," τυννός "so small," φυρτός "mixed"). In all, the language betrays a learned poet, even if not the most inspiring, who managed to tell of one man's business ventures in a lofty manner. Most remarkable is the reference to the money that Sophytos obtained in order to launch his business, which is called τεκνοφόρον ἀργύριον, "fruit-bearing money," quite an elevated name for start-up capital.

As for studies contributing to our understanding of epigraphical evidence in its historical context, I would draw attention to nos. 63-69, which summarize L. Kallet's work on the Athenian tribute quota-lists for the period 421/0-415/4. Kallet questions the traditional placement of fragments of the lists for this period (as given by the editors of the Athenian Tribute Lists) and, pointing out anomalies in the reconstruction of the series as a whole, calls for its entire reexamination. A. Chaniotis' study of epigraphical habit in Hellenistic and Roman Crete (no. 828), which offers a comparison of the inscriptional landscape between the two periods, is a fascinating treatment of inscriptions in their socio-historical context. No. 1245 provides a brief account of H.-L. Fernoux's work on urban elite in Hellenistic and Roman Bithynia, which is heavily based on the inscriptions from the area. Lemma no. 1896bis reports a collection of selected Greek and Roman prayers, with translation and brief commentary, both preserved in literary sources and inscriptions.

It has been traditional to complain about the complicated abbreviation system employed in SEG and the delay in the appearance of the volumes, but the current volume permits a change of attitude. In the preface, the editors explain that the lag of three to four years is their preferred policy since it enables them to incorporate lemmata and corrections from intervening volumes of L'Année épigraphique and Bulletin épigraphique and consequently to provide more reliable texts and notes. While opinions on this policy may vary, the clear statement is very welcome, and the current volume--appearing four years after the year of coverage (2008 and 2004 correspondingly)--is consistent with it. As for the abbreviations, readers should know that the list from the Consolidated Index for SEG XXXVI-XLV (1986-1995), without which it is indeed hard to use any volume, is available on the internet at the SEG site in Leiden (currently under the address List of abbreviations).

The overall quality of production of the volume is high, though I noticed a few, mostly harmless typos (e.g., the apparatus criticus in no. 1568 has "akrostichon" along with "akrostich," neither of which is a word in English; in no. 427, the entry on the Argive bronze archive, two letters of the epichoric alphabet turned into empty boxes, presumably as a result of conversion problems with the electronic files, etc.).


1.   The dedication is said to be an epigram, but what remains of lines 1 and 2 does not scan very well and the surviving wording of the inscription would not be impossible in a non-metrical inscription. For full publication of the inscription, including skepticism about whether or not it is metrical, see now V. Aravantinos, ABSA 101 (2006) 369-377.

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