BMCR 2005.10.41

Corpus Inscriptionum Regni Bosporani: Album Imaginum

, , , , Corpus Inscriptionum Regni Bosporani: Album Imaginum. St Petersburg: Biblioteca Classica Petropolitana and the St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2004. xvi, 432; loose maps 4, CD-Roms 2.

1 Responses

The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of this review and acknowledges both her ignorance of Russian and her gratitude for the help of numerous patient colleagues with skills in this area.

The Corpus Inscriptionum Regni Bosporani is the only collection of the scattered publications of more than 1300 Greek inscriptions from the Bosporus region.1 This is a substantial but little-known body of texts: the inscriptions range in length from a few letters to 30 or more lines of well-preserved text and in date from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD.2 The corpus provides almost all the information that modern scholars expect in a definitive edition: dating, provenance, current location, translation, and extensive discussion. The one significant exception is illustrations, since budgetary constraints during the Soviet era forced the editors to produce the text without the photographs that had been intended to accompany them. The same constraints may also be responsible for the extremely condensed format of the corpus, a single volume of nearly a thousand pages packed with dense, small print.

Now, forty years after the publication of the original corpus, the promised illustrations have finally appeared,3 and appeared in a manner that is much to the credit of post-Soviet Russian Classicists. A sumptuous album of high-quality photographs, accompanied by CDs with digital versions of the pictures and by several excellent maps of the region, this volume seems to come from a different world from that of the original corpus.

There is also another important difference between the two. The original corpus is entirely in Russian except for the texts of the inscriptions themselves. Those unable to read Cyrillic cannot understand any of the explanatory information provided, not even the dates and placenames that one would normally be able to extract from an edition in a language one does not know. This fact has been a serious barrier to the use of the corpus by non-Russian epigraphers, and the editors of the supplementary album took care not to extend that barrier by making this work bilingual in Russian and Latin. Perhaps more importantly, they took the opportunity offered by the production of a second volume to make the original corpus more accessible by including a key to the corpus in which some basic information about each inscription is given in Latin.

The illustrations themselves are of excellent quality and very well reproduced. In many cases the text is clearly legible; skilled epigraphers without access to the original corpus will in some cases be able to use this book on its own, though most of us will still prefer to see an actual edition. Most of the illustrations are pictures of the stones themselves, but some show drawings or squeezes. These latter are given for stones that had disappeared before the compilation of the original corpus, and with admirable consistency the editors of this volume have made an effort to illustrate the particular drawings or squeezes that were used by the editors of the original. In a few cases no illustrations are given at all, and in some others readers are directed to the accompanying CD for an illustration.

Almost as important as the illustrations themselves is the section that follows them, entitled “Lemmata,” which consists of the essential information on each inscription, given in Latin. The book would probably have been easier to use had this information been given on the same page as the picture of the inscription to which it applies rather than collected after the illustrations, but the result might have been a volume too heavy to use easily. In any case, the Lemmata section is helpful not only to those using the illustrations but also to non-Russian-speakers using the original edition, since it is in essence a translation of the basic information given there about the inscriptions (unfortunately, the few inscriptions for which no illustration is given also lack an entry in the Lemmata section). The information provided includes a brief description of each stone, its dimensions, the date and location of its original discovery, its current location (including, where possible, museum inventory numbers), and the location of relevant references to discussions of the inscription in secondary literature. Dates are provided only occasionally, when a precise year can be identified; the omission of any indication of date for inscriptions that can be only approximately dated is unfortunate as a date within the span of a century or two is often very useful, and the nine-century span of the corpus is daunting. Numerous corrections have been made to the information provided in the original volume, and additional information about the images is sometimes provided, but in general bibliography has not been updated.

The Lemmata section is followed by a lengthy explanation of the history of the illustrations in this volume. This is in Russian, followed by a very brief summary in Latin. The history serves, among other functions, as an acknowledgements section, crediting not only those who worked to produce the current volume of illustrations, but also the earlier scholars who attempted to produce it and, even if they did not ultimately manage to do so, made contributions that are included in the final result. Before the current editors began their work, the collection contained photographs of 970 inscriptions; the published volume has photographs or drawings of 1222 inscriptions. In some cases inscriptions were re-photographed because the editors could not obtain permission to use material gathered by other scholars. The sad chronicle of the earlier attempts to publish these illustrations is a poignant reminder of the difficulties under which Classicists labored during the Soviet period.

The volume also includes two appendices. The first is a list of the inscriptions in the corpus for which squeezes are available in the Institue of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg (formerly the Leningrad Department of the Institute of Archaeology), with reference numbers to that collection. More than half the inscriptions in the corpus seem to be represented in that collection, making the appendix a valuable tool for those with access to the squeeze collection. The second appendix is a topographical concordance of the town of Kerch (where most of the inscriptions were found), enabling one to match ancient and modern names for various points in the town.

The material provided in this volume relates only to inscriptions included in the earlier corpus, and the 200 or so discovered since then are generally ignored.4 This restriction, while in some ways saddening, means that the two volumes fit very well with one another, and the original numbering of the inscriptions is undisturbed.

The use of Russian and Latin in this volume would make excellent material for a study in bilingualism. The two title pages, one in Latin and one in Russian, suggest that the two languages have equal status, but already by the back of the second title page, on which the editors and other contributors are listed, a difference in linguistic usage appears: the Russian version, but not the Latin, includes specific information on the individual contributions of particular people listed. As if to emphasize the distinction, each person is given his or her full set of initials in the Russian version, but only one initial in the Latin. Perhaps more seriously, the way the entries are arranged makes the relationship between the information given in the two languages unclear, so that a reader without knowledge of Cyrillic will not necessarily realize that the Latin is an abridged translation rather than a different set of information.

The prefatory material follows a similar pattern. Two explanations, one an editorial preface and the other a description of what is in the volume and accompanying CDs, are each given twice, and in both cases the Latin is an abridged — in some places a severely abridged — version of the Russian. The task of readers unfamiliar with Russian is further complicated by the fact that the Latin is not straightforward; while almost always grammatically correct and sometimes positively elegant, it is frequently difficult to understand. Modern scholarly Latin is sometimes hard to understand because its authors were trying to show off their command of rare words and constructions, but the difficulty here seems to come from a different source: the information has been condensed in such a way that some phrases do not mean anything in particular unless one knows what is in the Russian version. An additional problem is the way that the Latin sections of this book refer to the principal town of the region (the find spot of the vast majority of the inscriptions) sometimes with its (Latinized) Greek name Panticapaeum and sometimes with its Russian name Kerch, without making it clear that these are the same place.

This pattern of language use shifts abruptly when one reaches the main body of the book, for the headings under which the illustrations are given are only in Latin, as is the Lemmata section that follows. The first appendix is bilingual, with some information given only in Latin, but the second appendix is entirely in Russian, and the errata at the end are entirely in Latin. Such a linguistic distribution will make readers who know Latin but not Russian and those who know Russian but not Latin equally nervous about what they are missing.

Several large maps of the region and of Kerch are also provided. These are reproduced from earlier publications and are therefore diverse in their format, quality, and language use. Given the complete absence of maps in the original corpus, these are a welcome tool, though their diversity is somewhat bewildering. The maps are printed on large sheets of paper not attached to the book in any way, a format that makes them easy to use along with the text but also easy to lose, especially for libraries.

The book is accompanied by two CDs with pdf files of all the photographs in the volume. A few inscriptions, the quality of whose images was too low to justify inclusion in the printed volume, are illustrated only on the CDs. Some photographs are more legible in the electronic version than in the printed version, while others are more legible in the printed version (though this latter defect of the CDs can be remedied by enlarging the pictures on the screen). Many of the photographs in the printed volume have been cropped to show only the inscription itself, while those on the CDs are uncropped and therefore show more of the stones and give one a better understanding of how the inscriptions are placed. In the electronic version there is one inscription per page, and the information given in the Lemmata section appears directly underneath the illustration; this means that the electronic version is in many ways simpler to use than the printed volume and also that the pagination of the two does not coincide.

In addition to the photographs themselves and the Lemmata, the CDs contain pdf duplications of all the text portions of the volume and of the maps. The editors also thoughtfully included a version of Adobe Acrobat to enable users who do not already have this software to use the CDs, and both the maps and the portions of text that readers might need to refer to repeatedly while looking at the illustrations are given on both disks for convenience. In general the CDs are extremely well done — a reader who had only the CDs and not the print version would be no worse off than one who had both, and considerably better off than one who had only the print version — and could to advantage be taken as a model by future producers of such materials.

This publication is a high quality piece of work that will be of considerable use to scholars for years to come. It contains much valuable information, though it is a pity that the format in which that information is presented sometimes does not facilitate understanding what it is. Scholars and institutions that own the original corpus will probably want to acquire this volume, as it greatly increases the usefulness of that work. However, such acquisition cannot be handled through the normal channels, and the book has no set price. Those interested in obtaining it should contact the Bibliotheca Classica Petropolitana at

[[For a response to this review by Askold Ivantchik, please see BMCR 2005.11.20.]]


1. Most were published by V. Latyschev in Inscriptiones Orae Septentrionalis Ponti Euxini vol. 2 (St Petersburg 1890) and vol. 4 (St Petersburg 1901), and thereafter until 1922 in various issues of the Russian periodicals IAK, ZMNP, and IRAIMK. Others, published by Y. Marti, can be found in IRAIMK 104 (1935). The CIRB often provides more information than these earlier publications, particularly in the case of dates and of historical and philological commentary, and gives some corrections to information in the earlier editions. However, the IOSPE is still useful, particularly outside Russia, because its base language is Latin (the other publications mentioned here are only in Russian).

2. The earliest inscriptions come from the first half of the fifth century BC, and the latest from the early fourth century AD. This cutoff point was chosen not because Greek inscriptions cease in the fourth century but because from that point they are predominantly Christian, and Christian inscriptions are not included in CIRB (except one, CIRB add. 3). Almost all the CIRB inscriptions are in Greek, but one (CIRB 46) is in Latin, one (CIRB 691) is a Latin-Greek bilingual, and one (CIRB 736) is a Greek-Jewish bilingual.

3. Many of the photographs in this volume were originally collected by Latyschev to go with his publications, while others were produced by the editors of CIRB and still others by the editors of the present album. They belong to the St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

4. This figure includes about 160 published and at least 40 unpublished inscriptions. The published inscriptions are scattered, with the largest group to be found in V. Jajlenko, “Materialy po Bosporskoj epigrafike,” in Nadpisi i jazyki Maloj Azii, Kipra i antichonogo Severnogo Prichernomor’ia (Moscow 1987), pp. 4-200.