Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.08.52 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.08.52

Silvia Ferrara, Cypro-Minoan Inscriptions. Volume II: The Corpus.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2013.  Pp. xii, 305; 28 p. of plates.  ISBN 9780199693825.  $185.00.  

Reviewed by Vassilis Petrakis, Research Associate at the National Hellenic Research Foundation (


The volume under review is the second of a two-volume work on the Cypro-Minoan (hereafter CM) inscriptions by Silvia Ferrara, initially based on her 2005 doctoral dissertation. 1 Subtitled The Corpus, this book has been conceived as “a visual counterpart” ( to the discussion presented in the previous volume 2 (hereafter Analysis), but also intended as an “autonomous and self-standing” (p.5) reference work. Defined as an “archaeological corpus” (p.v) of the extant CM material, the format, content and emphasis of this publication represent an intriguing departure from most epigraphic corpora, including the remarkable ‘holistic edition’ of CM inscriptions by Jean-Pierre Olivier (hereafter HoChyMin).3

Following the customary Preface, Acknowledgements and lists of Abbreviations, Illustrations, color Plates and Tables (pp.v-xii), the volume is neatly divided into three main sections, followed by two Appendices, Bibliography, a necessary Addendum and color plates of select material.

The first section (“Introduction: An Archaeological Corpus”, pp.1-12) is necessary reading for anyone wishing to use this book effectively. It begins with a very short introduction to the material (pp.1-2), accompanied by a useful chronological table of the late Middle and Late Bronze Age Cypriot phases, which unfortunately does not include the Early Iron Age phases, where certain inscriptions (notably the Cypro-Geometric Palaepaphos Skales bronze obeloi, pp.86-88) are dated (p.1). Its primary intention is to outline the reasoning behind the conception of the present publication (pp.3-5): Ferrara acknowledges the influence of Nicolle Hirschfeld’s and Joanna Smith’s vision of a CM corpus that would treat inscriptions as archaeological artifacts.4 Such an approach, firmly rooted in Daniel’s fundamental work,5 is now well accommodated within the recent interest shown in the material aspects of writing,6 as also explored in Analysis. Her account naturally stresses the original contributions of the project, but there is also specific reference to its relation with HoChyMin and Analysis. The volume under review works in close synergy with both. The structure of its entries and the relevant sub-fields are described in detail (pp.5-10). Olivier’s catalogue numbering and system of nomenclature (site prefix followed by typological abbreviation and inventory number, the latter continuous within each typological category at the same site, augmented by Ferrara with the abbreviation “Pfus” for P[ierre]fus[aïole] “stone spindle whorl”) are both maintained (p.7). As in HoChyMin, catalogue numbers are throughout prefixed by double sharps (##): this is also maintained in this review for ease of reference. The account is highly comprehensive with minor exceptions: the statement that “ENKO Abou 080 designates the 80 specimens of clay boules found at Enkomi” (p.6) is misleading, since ENKO Abou 080 refers to only one of them (##084 on p.46); also, those readers unfamiliar with the inventory systems of all collections are not informed which “excavation inventory numbers” were missing and have been replaced by “museum [inventory] numbers” or, in the case of double numbering in the Louvre material, which number is which (p.6).

Twenty-seven inscriptions (##218-244, further indicated by the prefix ADD) were not included in HoChyMin for various reasons (pp.10-11). These entries (along with ##211) are accompanied by normalized transcriptions, since this information cannot be retrieved from HoChyMin. This section closes with a comment on the Addendum (ADD ##244, a clay boule from Tiryns, see p.305) and the two Appendices (see infra), as well as two figures. Figure 1.1 (p.12) is a 1:2500000 scale distribution map of inscriptions ##001-243 (Tiryns is not included). Figure 1.2 (p.12), showing the find-spots of CM inscriptions from Enkomi, is very illuminating. Although similar plans for other sites would be welcome, references to the relevant figures in Analysis are consistently given in the “Find-spot” field of each entry, where possible, even if this reduces the autonomy of the volume.

The second section (“The Inscriptions”, pp.13-126) includes the entries of the 243 artifacts in catalogue number order. Only sequences of at least two signs are included, with two exceptions: ADD ##222-223, two Enkomi loom-weights bearing single signs which Ferrara considers as possible logograms (pp.4, 115-116). The so-called CM ‘pot-marks’ are excluded (pp.3-4), although the similarity of several of them with proper CM graphemes should be noted.7

Undoubtedly, the highlight of each entry is the wealth of information provided about “Context” and the “Typological and Epigraphic Remarks”. These data illustrate most clearly the purpose of this corpus to underscore the physical aspects of the inscription itself, the artifact that carries the inscription and, where appropriate, associated finds (either inscribed or not). The quality and value of this information can be fully appreciated, however, when this volume is used alongside Analysis. Unfortunately, entries for ##001-210 and ##212-217 do not normally include normalized transcriptions, making a reference to HoChyMin necessary.

The “Catalogue” (pp.127-281) is a seminal part of the book, since it includes all the photographs (by the author herself except where otherwise noted in the respective entry) accompanied by drawings (by Dimitris Tsouris, except for the Maroni Vournes material drawn by Alison South, pp.278-280). Scales are consistently stated and 1:1 wherever possible. Coverage is not complete (regrettably this includes some of the additional material not included in HoChyMin): certain artifacts lack photos or drawings, while a few are not illustrated at all. These omissions are understandable, as most of the non-illustrated objects were not found for autopsy during the preparation of the Corpus (in certain cases an already published drawing could have been reproduced).8

Photos are overall of very good quality. It is important that the Ugarit and Maroni material is given photographic coverage, since this material was only represented with drawings in HoChyMin. The fifty color plates that close the volume are the color versions of b/w photos in this section. Drawings are ‘maximalistic’, sometimes detracting attention from the inscription itself. This is not a disadvantage, because it gives a perspective quite complementary to the HoChyMin drawings that focused on the inscriptions only. The use of stippling is effective (if not excessive occasionally) and conveys well the condition of the inscribed surfaces and the tri-dimensionality of each artifact. Although the stated objective of the drawings is to illustrate the object in its entirety (p.5), a few drawings focus, as in HoChyMin, on the inscription only.9 It is important to note that most drawings here do not follow the usual conventions of archaeological artifact illustrations (except from South’s drawings for ADD ##239-241): for instance, pottery is not shown in profile and there are generally no sections. The decision to accompany the drawings of boules with the exploded view of the full inscription (pp.128-142) was excellent, but this could have been done for certain distorted areas of other convex surfaces, including the edges of tablets (e.g. ##208 top lines of side A, ##212, ##214). A drawing convention indicating explicitly which marks are parts of the ductus and which are cracks or wear-marks would have been desirable.

The reasoning behind the separation of the entries from their accompanying illustrations is not explained. Presenting both text and image(s) on the same page might have been more user-friendly, but this is only done for the Addendum (p.305). However, page references to the illustrations are consistently given at the end of each entry.

Appendix 1 (“List of Cypro-Minoan objects and their possible functions”, pp.283-293) summarily presents, in tabular fashion, a list of the 243 inventoried artifacts (again, the new Tiryns boule is not included). This is very handy. For more information on the columns “Context-Possible function” and “Possible subject matter”, the reader should be referred to the relevant fields in the catalogue entries (pp.13-126), as well as to the discussions in Analysis.

Appendix 2 (“List of sign variants”, p.295) is a table of the chief sign forms, classified as variants of 83 different graphemes of a single writing system (‘archaic’ or CM0 variants, as represented on ##001, are not included). The chart illustrates well Ferrara’s main thesis, critical of Émilia Masson’s distinction of four classes of CM writing, following (and building upon) Tom Palaima’s own critique of this classification.10 The reader should carefully compare her ‘integrated’ sign-table with Olivier’s revised classification (HoChyMin, p.413).

The bibliography (pp.297-304) includes references used throughout the volume (certain overlap with those in Analysis pp.296-320 is perfectly understandable). One discrepancy: HoChyMin (abbreviated so on p.x) is also included here and is consistently referred to as “Olivier (2007)” in the catalogue entries.

The Addendum (ADD ##244) (p.305, cf. also p.11) is fully justified. The clay boule inscribed with three CM signs from a LH IIIC Developed context from the Lower Citadel of Tiryns (2nd quarter of the 12th century BC, approximately contemporary with Level IIIA at Enkomi associated with most clay boules found there) has been a sensational find, exemplarily published by Melissa Vetters (accompanying illustrations are reproduced from Vetters’ publication).11

The editing is excellent, with scarce typos, few of them deserving mention (e.g. p.290, footnote 2 referring to the Opheltas obelos is misplaced).

Minor criticisms notwithstanding, the immense labor that has gone into the preparation and completion of this volume, and its ensuing value, cannot be obscured. This admirable publication represents a further major advance in Cypro-Minoan studies. It supports the archaeological perspective offered in Analysis by providing the full data-base behind it. Its welcome ‒arguably necessary‒ emphasis on the materiality of CM writing has had an inevitable consequence, however: as a corpus of extant CM inscriptions, this volume can be most effectively used alongside the more free-standing Analysis and the inscription-focused HoChyMin. Although the autonomy of Ferrara’s new CM corpus is far from complete, no student of Cypriot writing can afford to ignore this publication, which should find the place it rightfully deserves on the shelf of any library interested in the archaeology and epigraphy of the island.


1.   S. Ferrara An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Cypro-Minoan Script. PhD Thesis, University of London 2005.
2.   S. Ferrara Cypro-Minoan Inscriptions. Volume I: Analysis Oxford 2012, reviewed by Matthew Scarborough at BMCR 2013.02.04.
3.   J.-P. Olivier. Édition Holistique des Textes Chypro-Minoens. Pisa-Roma 2007.
4.   J.S. Smith and N. Hirschfeld. “The Cypro-Minoan corpus project takes an archaeological approach.” Near Eastern Archaeology 62 (1999), pp.129-130. Also N. Hirschfeld, “Cypro-Minoan” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (ca. 3000-1000 BC), edited by E.H. Cline, Oxford 2010, pp.373-384 (at pp.374, 382-383).
5.   J.F. Daniel. “Prolegomena to the Cypro-Minoan script.” AJA 45(1941), pp.249-282, where the importance of considering grapheme morphology and variation in the context of the writing medium is stressed.
6.   Most recently, Writing as Material Practice: Substance, Surface and Medium, edited by K.E. Piquette and R.D. Whitehouse, London 2013 (especially pp.1-13).
7.   Daniel (supra n.5, p.253) was the first to exclude single signs, regardless of their morphological similarity to CM signs used in sequences (the latter probably phonographically). However, application of this criterion should be made with caution, since CM sign-sequences also occur incised on pottery: cases displaying such contextual as well as morphological similarity might be considered as associated with true CM writing (cf. Hirschfeld, supra n.4, pp.376-377).
8.   Without photos: ##081, ##096, ##104, ##106-107, ##111, ##124, ##148, ##159-160, ##163-164, ##168, ##183, ##189-190, ##193, ##196-197, ##200, ADD ##219, ADD ##225, ADD ##229, ADD ##233 and ADD ##235; without drawings: ##157, ##207 side B, ##209, ##217 and ADD ##232); not illustrated altogether: ##073 whose illustration is nonetheless quoted on p.42, the reported as missing ##151-152, ##173, ##186, ADD ##226, ADD ##228, ADD ##234 and ADD ##243, and the reportedly anepigraphic ADD ##230. The drawing of #157 (by A. South apud G. Cadogan, J. Driessen and S. Ferrara, “Four Cypro-Minoan inscriptions from Maroni Vournes” SMEA 51(2009), pp.145-164, at pp.156, fig.9 and p.158, fig.11) is not reproduced, unlike drawings for ADD ##239-241 from the same publication.
9.   Examples are ##109 on p.158, ##112 on p.161 and ##188-189 on pp.234-235.
10.   T.G. Palaima. “Cypro-Minoan scripts: Problems of historical context” in Problems in Decipherment, edited by Y. Duhoux, T.G. Palaima and J. Bennet, Louvain 1989, pp.121-187. Ferrara discusses these problems fully in Analysis as well as “Writing in Cypro-Minoan: one script, too many?” in P. Steele (ed.) Syllabic Writing in Cyprus and its Context, Cambridge 2013, pp.49-76.
11.   M. Vetters. “A clay ball with a Cypro-Minoan inscription from Tiryns.” Archäologischer Anzeiger 2011 (2), pp.1-49.

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