Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
B. H. McLean, An Introduction to Greek Epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods: From Alexander the Great to the Reign of Constantine (323 BC-AD 337). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Pp. xx, 516. ISBN 0472112384. £52.50.
Reviewed by D. Graham J. Shipley, University of Leicester


At the invitation of the editors, I take this opportunity to comment briefly on a useful work that appears to have slipped under the radar of leading classical journals, as I discovered recently while preparing material for a taught master's course. (BMCR did not receive a copy.)

The author, a professor of theology at Toronto, has previously published Greek inscriptions from Anatolia, and here displays his high-level linguistic expertise at many points in the book. In the introduction he states his purpose as that of surveying changes in post-classical Greek epigraphy -- not the usual focus of introductory handbooks (pp. 3-4). From my initial acquaintance the book seems potentially useful for new postgraduates in ancient history and classical archaeology, as it draws together copious reference material in nearly 200 short sections. These are grouped into chapters, not all of which follow logically from one another (see outline table of contents below). I am reminded of one of my favourite compendia of know-how, the annual British reference work Whitaker's Almanack, where one finds side by side such topics as the parliamentary system, regional government, local government, the EU parliament, law and order, defence, education, health and social welfare, and so on. One never reads a whole chapter of Whitaker; one uses the index and dips in according to need, to uncover disparate snippets of vital information such as how to address letters to members of the House of Lords, the name of the secretary of the Council of University Classical Departments, or the current state of pension law.

Similarly, each user of McLean will find which sections are most useful to them. Besides its unusual chronological focus -- reflecting the surge of interest in post-classical Greece -- the book's most distinctive feature may be the inclusion, alongside epigraphic technicalities such as the double square bracket, of extensive reference material such as Greek theophoric and non-theophoric names (77-86), the spelling of Roman names and titles in Greek (112-48), changes in letter-forms (40-5), and changes in the pronunciation and spelling of Greek after Alexander (346-57). The last includes such gems as the different reasons for irregularities in respect of words ending in nu (352-3). Thus the book provides invaluable road maps for non-epigraphers faced with passages of inscribed Greek.

Besides a survey of the varieties of documents (181-299; note also 358-68 on epigrams), there is assorted but useful reference information on punctuation and abbreviations (48-63), calendars (149-80), units of currency (369-82), Roman administrative titulature (326-45), and so on. A single volume cannot be expected to give a comprehensive account of all these fields. What is distinctive is their juxtaposition with one another, and with thematic matters such as the processes by which inscriptions are produced (4-18) and epigraphy as material culture (65-73). Having made suggestions in the past about how misspellings and malformed letters may arise, I was particularly interested to see a discussion of how stonecutters may have used handwritten drafts prepared by the authors of the text (9-13).

The main text is followed by a colossal list of abbreviations and full indexes of Greek words, Greek names, and Latin terms, with finally a general index. The volume is well produced; I have yet to find a misprint. An odd feature of some of the photographs, however, is that some of them appear to have been reproduced from earlier (old?) prints in which the letters were inked in (close scrutiny of p. 113 fig. 10 or p. 253 fig. 20 will allow the reader to assess whether I am mistaken).

As an ancient historian who has used, and even sometimes practised in a modest fashion, the study of inscriptions, I can certainly not claim the title of epigrapher. I am not qualified to judge whether the more technical sections of McLean -- for example on onomastics, calendars, and institutions -- are up to date. I imagine that serious students of epigraphy will quickly move beyond this book, as their hands-on experience of inscriptions and squeezes grows. But for taught postgraduates and Ph.D. students in ancient history or classical archaeology who may be seeking to understand epigraphy and the rules of engagement with epigraphic data, alongside other evidential studies, this book provides a useful collection of reference material that would otherwise be hard to bring together. As a hardback of over 500 pages, it is unlikely to be carried into the field, or even to a Mediterranean museum, by a postgraduate. It is certainly no substitute for first-hand experience under the tutelage of those who really know about stones; and it must be complemented by more extended theoretical reflections,1 by studies of particular bodies of published material, and by thematic examinations of new approaches to epigraphic culture.2 But it may be invaluable in lighting the way for those -- surely an increasing number -- who work in a multi-disciplinary fashion.

TABLE OF CONTENTS (abbreviated, other than the Introduction)

Introduction (1-23): the value of inscriptions in the study of antiquity; the interpretation of inscriptions; the scope of this introduction; the making of inscriptions; the quarrying of the stone; the manufacture of the monument; the drafting of the text; the transcription of the text; the engraving of the text; the cost of engraving; errors in the exemplar or draft; errors in the act of transcribing; errors in the act of engraving; ancient corrections and additions; the fate of inscriptions; forgeries; bibliographic references and searches; standard epigraphical series; overview of this introduction

Part 1. General matters
1 Editorial sigla (27-39)
2 Paleography, punctuation, abbreviations, and numerals (40-64):
3 Inscriptions as archaeological artifacts (65-73):
4 The onomastics and prosopography of Greek names (74-111)
5 The onomastics and prosopography of Roman names in Greek inscriptions (112-48)
6 Calendars, eras, and the dating of inscriptions (149-78)

Part 2. The nature of Greek inscriptions
7 The classification of Greek inscriptions (181-214)
8 Decrees (215-27)
9 Honorific decrees, proxeny decrees, and honorific inscriptions (228-45)
10 Dedications and ex-votos (246-59)
11 Funerary inscriptions (260-88)
12 Manumission inscriptions (289-99)

Part 3. Selected topics
13 Magistrates, other functionaries, and the government of the hellenistic city (303-25)
14 Roman administration and functionaries (326-45)
15 Orthography (346-57)
16 Epigrams (358-68)
17 Currency and its commodity value (369-82)

Appendix: electronic tools for research in Greek epigraphy (383-5)

Abbreviations of epigraphical and related classical publications (387-472)

Indexes (473-516)


1.   e.g. J. Bodel (ed.), Epigraphic Evidence: Ancient History from Inscriptions (London and New York, 2001) (focusing more on Roman than Greek); P. J. Rhodes, 'The non-literary written sources', in K. H. Kinzl (ed.), A Companion to the Classical Greek World (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World; Oxford: Blackwell), 45-63 (ch. 3).
2.   For example, A. E. Cooley (ed.), The Afterlife of Inscriptions: Reusing, Rediscovering, Reinventing and Revitalizing Ancient Inscriptions (London, 2000); G. J. Oliver (ed.), The Epigraphy of Death: Studies in the History and Society of Greece and Rome (Liverpool, 2000).

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