BMCR 2006.07.23

Supplementum epigraphicum graecum. Volume 51 (2001)

, , , Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum. Amsterdam: Brill Academic Pub, 2005. v. ; 24 cm. ISBN 9789050634595. €160.00.

Specialists in Greek epigraphy will need no introduction to the Supplementum epigraphicum graecum ( SEG), which, along with the “Bulletin épigraphique,” published annually in (usually) the second number of the Revue des études grecques, provides one of the essential tools of epigraphic research. Greek epigraphy is sometimes regarded as a difficult field, accessible only to scholars trained in its arcana. While it is certainly true that the study of inscriptions presents challenges, the field makes essential contributions to the study of the history, literature, and culture of the larger Greek and Roman world. As such it deserves wide attention from non-specialist scholars and graduate students in Classics; it is to this audience, by way of introduction and invitation, that this review is addressed.

Every year thousands of books and articles on aspects of Greek epigraphy are published, ranging from major new corpora to small technical contributions. Many of these publications appear in highly specialized journals of limited circulation. The modern version of the SEG (I do not here enter into the publication history of this serial, which was suspended for a time and revived in the form in which it appears today) aims to collect, in a single volume, lemmata covering every single such publication over the course of a calendar year (2363 lemmata in this volume). Each lemma (all in English) gives not only the bibliographic references to the publication in question but, in the case of new inscriptions or inscriptions newly restored, a Greek text and apparatus, and a summary of content and argument of the publication. These ambitious goals partly explain the four-year delay in publication, but are also fundamental to the value of the SEG : scholars without easy access to the mass of epigraphical publications can find quickly texts and studies in which they are interested, with the Greek and an abstract.

SEG 51, like earlier volumes, follows a standard organizational scheme. New publications are presented first in the geographic order of the volumes of Inscriptiones graecae (i.e., beginning with Athens), and then, for the parts of the world not encompassed in the original plan of IG, in a roughly clockwise order through Asia Minor, the Near East, Egypt, and the Kyrenaika. Within each region the entries follow a rough chronological and/or alphabetic order. The abstracts evince careful, thorough reading of the articles which they summarize; that is to say, the reader will get a very good idea from the abstract about the content and argument of the publication under consideration. By providing in addition full Greek texts of virtually all important new inscriptions and new readings and restorations of old ones, SEG permits its readers quickly to assess the interest and relevance to their work of a very wide range of publications. Very full indices (covering pp. 753-937) provide rapid access to lemmata relevant to particular issues (personal names, topics, Greek words, etc.), and a concordance with earlier publications (so that it is easy to check whether a particular inscription has been studied in a new publication).

The last section, “Varia” (pp. 709-752), collects by topic lemmata on books and articles with a heavy epigraphic component or which are relevant to epigraphic studies but do not fall in a particular geographic category (for example, studies using a wide range of inscriptions from various places). Here scholars will find entries on religion and piracy and onomastics and athletics and a plethora of other topics; sometimes the most interesting work, especially for the non-specialist, appears in the “Varia” section.

It would be impossible to the space of a review to notice all the many new texts and publications contained in SEG 51. Perhaps a brief mention of some may give some sense of the riches to be found in the volume: new fragments from excavations at Messene have yielded a more complete text of an honorary decree for Tiberius Claudius Saithidas Kailianos, known from Pausanias (458); new manumission inscriptions from Delphi which also contribute to our understanding of chronology are presented (605-607); an important new study of Thessalonike in the time of Paul exploits much epigraphic material to illuminate the early imperial history of the city (883); several new and important studies of the customs law of Asia found at Ephesos are summarized (1574 and 2358); a study of professional associations which includes a catalogue of 191 inscriptions is announced, with (as usual) a very useful concordance with corpora and SEG s (2278). One could go on and on.

Perhaps a word is in order about that great bane of epigraphic study, abbreviations. The editors provide a list of special abbreviations for this volume (pp. xxiv-xxxiii), which is very helpful as far as it goes. But it intentionally does not cover publications whose abbreviations can be found in the consolidated index to SEG volumes 36-45 or in L’Année philologique for 1999-2001. This practice may pose considerable challenges for the non-specialist reader who, interested in (say) bilingual graffiti, puzzles over IThSy 321 at lemma 2170, which does not appear in the list of abbreviations. (It is André Bernand, De Thèbes à Syène, Paris 1989.) There is no easy solution to this problem; it would expand each volume of SEG unconscionably to include every single abbreviation. But non-specialist users need to be aware of this potential source of confusion.

It is sometimes suggested that the SEG is otiose for specialists, who will already know all the publications it covers by the time a volume appears. Perhaps so, sometimes, but I remember a review of an earlier volume by the late D. M. Lewis — who, as editor of the third edition of volume I of Inscriptiones graecae, was no piker in the epigraphic world — writing that he learned about a new Athenian inscription from reading that SEG. It is also true that the “Bulletin épigraphique,” which appears more quickly, alerts scholars in a more timely fashion to new texts and new publications (though the “Bulletin,” whose abstracts are often more opinionated than the SEG‘s and which less frequently gives complete Greek texts, serves a different and complementary role; we need both it and the SEG). But this criticism, if it is a criticism, misses the real service of the SEG. These volumes form a permanent annual repository of epigraphic publications. A scholar starting research in some topic that has an epigraphic component will begin with a reading of the now 51 volumes of SEG, abetted by the comprehensive indices (both volume by volume and the occasional comprehensive ones), to find texts and studies relevant to the research. As such, SEG deserves a permanent place in any library where students and scholars study Greek and Roman antiquity; this newest volume is a worthy addition to that collection.

For many years SEG has been published (as this volume) by J. C. Gieben in Amsterdam. Gieben performed a wonderful service for the scholarly world by producing these volumes with an eye to their permanence: printed on heavy stock in big clear type, and bound to stand up to constant use; he also kept virtually all the back issues in print. Sadly, Gieben himself passed away recently. He will be sorely missed in the scholarly community, but luckily Brill in Leiden stepped in and agreed to continue producing the SEG. We may therefore look forward to future volumes, under the joint editorship, starting with this volume 51, of A. Chaniotis, T. Corsten, R. S. Stroud, and R. A. Tybout.