BMCR 2023.11.33

Corpus of Greek Graffiti from Dalmatia

, , , , Corpus of Greek Graffiti from Dalmatia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022. Pp. 370. ISBN 9781905670987.

This corpus of inscriptions gathers some seven hundred mostly unpublished Greek and a few Latin graffiti on pottery and ceramic artefacts from Dalmatia dating from the late sixth to the first century B.C., thus providing a significant contribution to scholarship on the epigraphy of the Adriatic.

In the preface the authors give a brief overview of previous publications or preliminary reports of the epigraphic finds and underline that the material that they publish comes from recent excavations by Branko Kirigin and Slobodan Čače. A two-page introduction offers a useful overview of excavations in Dalmatia. The following corpus of inscriptions is organized in chapters by date[1] and geography (north to south: Venac, Nin, Zadar, Murter, Cape Ploča, Marina, Trogir, Resnik, Brač, Hvar, Vis, Palagruža, Nakovana cave, Korčula, Lastovo, and Grandina).[2] The book concludes with a ‘general comment’, bibliography, and an index of personal names.

An introduction to each chapter provides information about the geographic location of the site, the historical background, the literary sources, the history of the excavations, and a basic bibliography, though it could be more detailed. For each inscription one finds archaeological information, a transcription, references to earlier publications, identification of type and date of the inscription, and a drawing and/or photo.

Most of the graffiti come from Palagruža and Cape Ploča:

Palagruža: the largest group of the material published in this work dates from the late sixth century B.C. to the end of the Hellenistic period and consists mostly of post-firing graffiti (the only dipinto is Pa172) on open vessels of Attic origin. The authors provide a useful map for the distribution of graffiti and attribute the rarity of joining sherds to the construction of a Late Roman fortification which disturbed all the earlier structures. In this chapter the inscriptions are grouped by type (?) although the “Diomedes”, “anetheke”, and “synnautai” groups are in fact all votive inscriptions with the dedication verb attested or implied: i) the “Diomedes group” (Pa1-40) preserves the hero’s name in the dative and in different Greek epichoric alphabets (e.g., Pa2 with a suggested Ionian origin); ii) the “anetheke group” (Pa41-50) preserves the only complete graffito (Pa41: Σoλειος ανεθέκε,[3] c. 500 B.C.); iii) the “synnautai group” (Pa51-9) presents the rare formula “X and his crew (gift) for Diomedes” which is found also at the Ploča sanctuary;[4] iii) “parts of names or ethnics” (Pa60-67); iv) “other ‘longer’ texts” (Pa68-81); v) “graffiti with fewer than four assured letters preserved” (Pa82-244).

Cape Ploča has yielded material from a sanctuary dedicated to Diomedes (fourth B.C. to first century A.D.) associated with the Elder Pliny’s promunturium Diomedis: of the 341 mostly unpublished fragments of pottery with post-firing graffiti, 231 are presented with edited text and drawing, and those with uncertain lettering are simply catalogued at the end of the chapter. These votive inscriptions occur mostly on local Dalmatian and imported drinking vessels from Italy, Albania, and Asia Minor which reveal the great importance of the peninsula along the Adriatic. The common formulaic dedications with the name of Diomedes in the dative, the word δῶρον (P2), and the rare expression καὶ οἱ συνναῦται (restored in P4, P6, P10) verify the role of this sanctuary in the maritime routes of the Hellenistic period.

The following sites have yielded a comparatively small number of graffiti: Vis, ancient Issa: nineteen graffiti roughly incised on drinking and pouring vessels and, rarely, on lamps from cemeteries, a workshop, and a cave. The most extended inscriptions are a first-century B.C. Latin graffito on an oenochoe (V8), a pre-firing graffito (V9: Προκλας) on a first-century B.C. urn, and a numerical inscription on a pithos indicating price or capacity (V19); Hvar, ancient Pharos: fifteen graffiti dated to the Classical and Hellenistic periods mostly incised after firing with a few rendered before firing on loom-weights; Nakovana cave: seven graffiti mostly on imported drinking vessels, revealing ritual activities at the foot of a phallic stalagmite and dating from the second half of the fourth to the early first century A.D. Worth mentioning are: a third-century B.C. graffito in Doric dialect (Na1: ἁδυποτ[); a graffito (Na3: ]της), for which the authors propose the possible restoration [Aphrodi]tes as a dedication to the deity worshipped in the cave; a graffito of a name (Na4, Ευκλη[.) on a miniature Hellenistic amphora; Na5, Na6, and Na7 Latin graffiti from late Hellenistic to the Roman period of which Na7 preserves the rare Illyric name Ammartus and the Greek Heraklidas; Korčula ancient Korkyra Melaina, known from the Lumbarda psephisma[5]: seven graffiti consisting of letters and symbols on bowls and skyphoi come from the Hellenistic necropolis; Murter: a Hellenistic one-letter graffito; Marina, cave of Sveti Philip i Jakov: five inscribed sherds from the Hellenistic period of which FJ1 (Δαματ̣[) is interpreted as a dedication to Demeter; Nin, ancient Aenona: two fourth/third-century B.C. graffiti preserving only one letter each; Venac: a mid-Hellenistic graffito; Zadar, ancient Iader, an important port which has never thoroughly been studied: a third/first-century B.C. graffito of a letter and a drawing; Trogir, ancient Tragurion: one Hellenistic graffito (Tr1) consists of the word ἔν[εστι] followed by numerals (?); Resnik: from the area of the port three mould-made “Megarian Bowls” dated to the second century B.C. preserve a few letters interpreted as owners’ inscriptions; Brač, ancient Brattia or Elaphoussa: three graffiti, of which the one is interpreted as a commercial graffito (ca. 470 B.C.); Lastovo, ancient Ladesta: two incised letters on open vases from Rača cave reveal ritual activities similar to those in Nakovana cave.

In the brief general conclusion, the authors stress the wide variety of the inscribed ceramic objects in some areas (e.g., Hvar and Vis) as opposed to the predominance of drinking vessels in the sanctuary sites (e.g., Ploča and Palagruža). They also discuss the similarities of this epigraphic record to that from other commercial sanctuaries, such as those at Naukratis, Gravisca, and Adria. Furthermore, there is a short comment on the alphabets and dialects of the inscriptions and of the synnautai formula as a rare group dedication.

The chief contribution of this book lies in its publication of previously unpublished inscriptions from the upper Adriatic, where inscriptions on stone are extremely rare before the Roman period. It is also helpful that this work brings together epigraphic material formerly scattered throughout a variety of less accessible studies. The authors publish all of the graffiti and the alphabetic and non-alphabetic marks on pottery, the latter being an epigraphic type which is much more important than previously thought. This will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the epigraphic habit by promoting comparisons with other large sets of inscribed artefacts, especially from coastal settlements.

The major problem in this publication is the low quality of the photographs provided, which are essential for any revisions, corrections, and further research on material that is not easily accessible.[6] Also, the drawings are often not helpful or do not correspond to the published text (e.g., in P9, p. 21: ]ματριο[ | ]….ω̣..[ , where a Λ is drawn instead of M and the Ω is not discernible; cf. similar problems in P25, P26, P29, P35, P42).  Although the authors have argued for the use of drawings due to the worn surface of the material (p. 14), drawings of graffiti are often a matter of interpretation. High-resolution photographs are necessary. The problem becomes more acute when it comes to fragments with uncertain lettering (Cape Ploča, pp. 96-102) for which no photographs or drawings are provided. Furthermore, some issues with dating (e.g., in Pa5 the letter-shape of omicron and the shape of mu suggest a date earlier than the fourth century B.C.) are due to the lack of stratigraphic data and of dated parallels from the area. A more extended introduction and general conclusion on the significance of this epigraphic record for interconnections within the Adriatic Sea and with the Mediterranean is said to lie beyond the scope of this publication but would have been welcome. The index of names at the end is useful, but a list of the alphabets and dialectic forms would also be valuable.

There are a large number of misprints and errors in the presentation of the texts: most of these errors occur when accents and breathing marks are omitted or wrongly placed in the ancient Greek text (e.g., Na4, p. 223-24: Ευκλη[; Pa41, p. 157-58: Σoλειος ανεθέκε). Also, the dots are not always placed correctly under the letter (maybe due to the specific font) or sometimes they have not been marked at all (for example, dots are necessary for: P13, p. 24, under mu; P58, p. 46, under heta). The vacat siglum when dealing with inscriptions on pottery is not necessary (e.g., HV4, p. 120). In Pa77, p. 174 ‘grammata’ instead of the correct ‘grammmatika’ ekpomata.

One may express reservation about some readings and restorations. For example:

P4 (p. 18): a different restoration is suggested in SEG 55.658.1 based on the editio princeps (no photo). The drawing provided in this publication does not allow any corrections.

P13 (p. 24), Διο]μήδι εὔχα[ν?: more correctly εὐχάν or εὐχαριστήριον an expression similar to δῶρον in votive inscriptions; P18, p. 28, ]ντόκλ(η)ς Δ[: the ending -ντοκλῆς is elsewhere attested and <η> would be more suitable; Pa14 (p. 147-48): the reading [Διομή]δι and the suggested Ionian origin of the writer remain simply an assumption, given that the two preserved letters (ΔΙ) seem to be a different incision from the above lines; Tr1 (p. 108): the restoration ἔν[εστι] seems quite uncertain, because a semicircle on the last hasta of the nu most probably forms a ligature ΕΝΡ, which along with the lunate epsilon dates most probably to a later period;[7] HV2 (p. 119): instead of Αντι|φιλο another possible reading would be Ἀντι[ and Φιλο[, two different names written one below the other, continuing in the missing part of the base; HV4 (p. 120): the reading vacΣΤΙvac seems problematic because the peculiar sigma forms probably a ligature with another unclear letter (ΣΑΤΙ? or ΑΣΤΙ?[- -]); Pa63 (p. 167): the attribution of the name Επ[ιγέν]ης to the Eretrian painter remains doubtful given that the post-firing potters’ signatures are not common;[8] Na1 (p. 222-23): the reading ἁδυποτ[ (maybe hαδύποτ[) is interpreted as an example of “bon mots”, but the  reading hαδυπότ[ιον (cf. ἡδυπότιον or ἡδυποτίς, SEG 50.1043) denoting a cup name could also be possible.

Overall, this book is a valuable supplement and adds substantially to our knowledge of the epigraphy in Dalmatia by bringing new material to broader attention. Since many sites are not yet completely excavated and published, this work is very important for any evaluation for the role of the Adriatic sites in the Greco-Roman world.



[1] At the preface (p. ix) the authors explain their choice to arrange the inscriptions by date and not by type because of the uncertain nature and the paucity of finds.

[2] A small sample of 150 graffiti/’semiliterate marking’ on transport amphorae from Gradina are presented in the Appendix (p. 241).

[3] For the ancient Greek text, I follow the orthography of the editors without diacritics, in case they are omitted in the edition.

[4] The word synnautai can be securely restored only in Pa55 and 56.

[5] Marohnić Jelena, Potrebica Hrvoje, Vuković Miroslav 2021. A new fragment of the Greek land division decree from Lumbarda on the island of Korčula. ZPE 220: 137-43.

[6] An online database may provide a solution to this problem.

[7] Cf. inscriptions on lead-weights (158/157 B.C.): SEG 61.1459-1470, esp. 1469: (Ἔτους) ενρ´.

[8] For incised signatures on pottery, see: Beth Cohen 1991. The Literate Potter. A Tradition on Incised Signatures on Attic Vases. Metropolitan Museum Journal 26: 49-95.