Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.12.27 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.12.27

S. P. Vleeming, Demotic Graffiti and Other Short Texts Gathered from many Publications (Short Texts III 1201-2350). Studia Demotica, 12.   Leuven; Paris; Bristol, CT:  Peeters, 2015.  Pp. lxxiv, 595; 1 p. of plates.  ISBN 9789042931879.  €92.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Eugene Cruz-Uribe, Northern Arizona University (

The third volume of the Short Texts series of Prof. Vleeming consists of miscellaneous items that the author has collected under the general heading of graffiti. The author does modify that in the title and on page 335 by noting that certain inscriptions on objects “may not have been strictly speaking graffiti.” This volume is the third of his “Short Texts” series, the previous volumes having been reviewed quite favorably in the BMCR.

The volume is organized in a relatively straightforward manner. Chapters 1-9 present graffiti starting in the south and divided into a series of chapters for each of the regions and sub-regions of Nubia, the Oases, Upper, Middle, and Lower Egypt. Chapter 10 consists of inscriptions found on a variety of objects such as coins, hieratic papyri, hieratic linen pieces, stelae, sculptors’ models and plaques, scribal palettes and writing tables, vases and amphora, other miscellaneous pieces and additions. For each inscription Vleeming assigns a convenient number beginning with 1201 and ending with 2350 (volume I of the series had #1-277 and volume II had #278-1200). Each entry normally consists of the location of the ‘graffito’ geographically, with a bibliographic reference (see ‘Editions and Discussions’, xx-xlv) though journal articles are listed only by journal name, volume, year, and page. The author’s name is sometimes listed in front of the journal (e.g., #1914) and sometimes at the end of the entry heading (e.g., #1915). One must infer that in the cases where an author and monograph are listed (e.g., #2091) with an additional name following the entry that the latter name must have provided, in some manner, a suggested reading. No article titles are listed. Pages lxix through lxxiv contain corrections to entries found in Short Texts volumes I and II.

The strength of this volume resides like any collection of texts in providing a convenient vehicle for bibliographic information on a large number of texts published in a myriad of journals and books. Vleeming is to be congratulated for spending the extensive amount of time to compile this information and for making certain suggested new readings in the manner he followed in the Berichtigungsliste (A. Den Brinker, B. Muhs and S. Vleeming, A Berichtigungslisteof Demotic Documents, 3 vols., Leuven, 2005-2013).

However, this reviewer sees some shortcomings with this volume and its approach. The author limited the number of texts to be included in this volume by deliberately not including graffiti and other short texts found in no fewer than nine major publications (listed on p. vi). In addition, Vleeming notes that some texts were not included (such as those coming from North Saqqara) as they were being worked on and thus he “did not want to impede work on these collections” (p. vii). He then makes certain comments about Demotic graffiti at Philae noting that “the mass of graffiti is so great, the number of texts unworthy of recording is also significant” (p. 22). In some ways that reflects almost word for word some of Griffith’s comments about the Philae graffiti eighty years ago. Is it not our duty as Demotists to record everything that we can find from ancient Egypt and then make a determination on how we can use all of that material to better understand the world of ancient Egypt? For those scholars who work in the field we can understand the author not wanting to encroach on another’s active research. But it is important to be aware of the many other projects currently underway (and the author was able to do this for some graffiti from several preliminary reports, e.g., #1835-1843).

Since the field of Demotic studies lacks an online database of texts, if one is to make a compilation of ‘graffiti’, then it is incumbent on the scholar to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Since that appears to be the manner the author followed in his Short Texts I and II, I am disappointed that he excluded from this volume many hundreds of short texts.

For example, with text #2346 (pp. 500-2) he notes material from the tomb of Psametik in Saqqara (just north of the Unas pyramid). The material was discovered in the burial chamber of the tomb and was first partially recorded by Alexandre Barsanti and published in ASAE 1 (1900), 181ff. Barsanti notes that these texts come from the east, south, and west walls and he details twenty-seven different texts. Vleeming rearranges these texts without comment and lists them in order of what seems to be a commonality of the initial words and the ascending order of numbers. What he does not note is that Barsanti’s number 1 is one of the few examples of a Demotic inscription in situ written vertically rather horizontally which makes it worthy of significant discussion. Vleeming says these texts “seem to be building notes, whose exact purport is not clear.” I was fortunate to have worked with the late Prof. Adel Farid several years before his tragic death on the initial field work to record the texts in the tomb of Psametik (and reported on at the SSEA conference the following year). I hope to finish that field work in the near future, but I am able to comment that the Demotic graffiti from this tomb appear to be records of work done in the tomb to carve the hieroglyphic inscriptions. We initially thought that the dated graffiti marked work finished up to that date as they have sequential dates and many were written at the top of columns of hieroglyphs.

A similar example would be the work of Adel Kilany, “Marks of the quarry workers at the Unfinished Obelisk Quarry, Aswan, Egypt: Preliminary report,” in P. Jockey, ed., Interdisciplinary studies on Mediterranean ancient marbles and stones. Proceedings of the VIIIth International conference of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones used in Antiquity (ASMOSIA), (Aix-en-Provence, 2006), 547-565, who worked at the granite quarries in Aswan. His work has uncovered a series of Demotic graffiti, again quarry-worker marks.

Thus, this reviewer is both excited and disappointed in the results of this volume. It is my hope that the author continues his Short Text series and includes in subsequent volumes those items not found in this one.

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