Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Peter Siewert, Hans Taeuber (ed.), Neue Inschriften von Olympia: die ab 1896 veröffentlichten Texte. TYCHE Sonderband, 7. Wien: Verlag Holzhausen, 2013. Pp. 442. ISBN 9783902868473. €83.00.

Reviewed by John Ma, Corpus Christi College, Oxford University (

Version at BMCR home site

This corpus, by a Vienna-based team, presents the "new inscriptions of Olympia" found since the corpus published in 1896 (IvO). The whole body of inscriptions from Olympia will be reworked by the Inscriptiones Graecae as IG 6.1 In the meantime, the Vienna-produced corpus is splendid (though eccentric in presentation).

NIO (to use the editors' abbreviation) does not match the mass gathered in IvO. That had 954 entries (completed by 246 weights); NIO has 368 numbers, though the total figure of inscribed documents is higher: some entries are subdivided, some inserted within the sequence (e.g. 355A), and some stand in for whole categories of objects. The collection gathers scattered texts, often absent from SEG: for instance 57, published in 1905 (K. Kourouniotis), an honorific statue base for one Zenon, called Ἀσιανόν: an "Asianist" rhetor, honoured "for his speeches" (λόγων ἕνεκα). Other texts are well known, even famous: Miltiades' helmet (162, dated to his tyranny rather than Marathon), booty from the Persian wars (144) or Cumae (156-7), Pheidias' cup (304). NIO adds to known genres (to varying degrees: IvO had 319 honorific bases, NIO presents 14 new examples). It also introduces new genres, or gives huge prominence to genres barely represented in the old corpus: inscribed arms and armour, metal bars dedicated to Zeus (perhaps melted down arms), voting tokens (one in IvO, more than a hundred examples in the new corpus), inscriptions on ceramics which constitute the greatest proportion. The new corpus aims to cover everything inscribed, from the seventh century BCE to the late third century CE, including instrumentum domesticum. The material is organized in a "functional" typology (not always clear). The whole is completed by 14 indices by P. Sänger (including all words, and fragmentary words, such as the interesting -στιξα), concordances, and recent bibiographical additions to IvO.

The comprehensiveness has dictated an oddly lavish presentation of building marks and suchlike (pp. 125-49), and of "incomprehensible inscriptions" (pp. 306-13), often a few letters (or even single letters). All texts are clearly edited (though do not follow the genetical principles: ad 54, ISE 60 and other editions should not have been listed with secondary literature). They are translated and commented, with helpful bibliography, as for the epitaph of the Egyptian boxer Agathos Daimon, nicknamed "Camel", who died aged 35 in the ring (69), or for the monument of the Apolloniates (34). But the latter illustrates the problems with the presentation. It is only by looking up Pausanias (5.22.2-4) and exploring the bibliography (notably an illuminating article by J. M. Barringer on the Altis, JdI 124 [2009], 223-50) that one understands that this is a major monument (with paired Greek vs. non-Greek heroes). Furthermore, the corpus gives neither illustrations nor measurements, strangely frustrating in such a large and lavish corpus. Inscribed sling bullets (200), the curious metal bars, the inscribed shield-armbands with reliefs constituting a major corpus of archaic art with texts, are all presented without giving any sense of physicality.

The size of the team involved may have contributed to a lack of focus in the commentary. In spite of a complex system of attribution (p. 11), it is often unclear who is responsible for additions to the commentary (for instance on 201, a golden phiale dedicated by the Kypselids "from Herakleia"). Multi-authorship has led to unintegrated commentary, and an occasional hit-or-miss quality. For instance, on the name Oitas (inscribed on the bowl 315), complete the reference to Hesychius with an attestation at Epidauros (LGPN IIIa; cf. Oitaos at Pharsalos, LGPN IIIb); the name Isarchos (inscribed on cup 295) appears rather more widely than just Keos and Kythnos (the only places mentioned). To the bibliography on 54, the statue of Damon of Patras, add F. Canali de Rossi, ISE iii (2nd edn), 244–56. The treatment of 60 (SEG 31.372), a statue base for the Messenian Ti. Claudius Kalligenes calls for comment. The text in NIO omits the ancient punctuation marks, and the translation is incorrect: ἐπὶ τῷ στεφάνῳ τῆς ἀριστοπολειτείας καὶ τοῖς ἀρίστοις does not mean that the city of the Messenians honoured Kalligenes "with the crown of best citizenship and feasts", as in 61, but that Kalligenes, as part of his appointment as dekaprotos, paid for the crown as summa honoraria and offered celebratory banquets (J. and L. Robert, BullEpig 82, 186 and B. Puech, REA 85 (1983), 30-1). The first reference does not figure in the bibliography; the second reference only appears as an SEG item, without mentioning Puech's divergent interpretations: the description of Kalligenes as ἀξιόνεικον as a reference to participation in the Olympics (rather than in a "best citizenship" competition in Messene, T. Schwertfeger), and his identification as the honorand of IvO 458 rather than as his grandson.

What matters is that NIO is full of interesting things. There are fascinating titbits: the earliest mention of fish-sauce in Greek (335), points of dialectal history, a helmet perhaps owned by an Iranian called Wolf (193, ca. 500 BCE), the prohibition on finger-breaking during the wrestling competition (2), which evidently lapsed in later times. This prohibition appears in a late sixth-century regulation, which mentions "the Eleians and their allies", an early indication of the perioikic cities dominated by Elis. A pan-Hellenic arbitration (5) of the 470s shows a similar arrangements in Boiotia, where the Thespians lead a confederation of "those with them"; more importantly, the document shows attempts at settling grievances against Medizing states (Boiotians, Thessalians) on the part of other Greek states (Athens, Thespiai), a startling, non-Thucydidean image of the early Pentekontaeteia. Equally startling is a citizenship grant (5A) where two men are given Eleian citizenship, including a share in the "epoikia in Sparta and Euboia": in P. Siewert's interpretation, resident communities of Eleians living in Sparta and Euboia ca. 450 BCE. The importance of Sparta at Olympia is reflected by seats for Spartan proxenoi (49-50), and the dedication of weapons by a Spartan in his own name, an indication of the way in which Olympia served for Spartan elite display (161, sixth century BCE).

War is further represented through collective post-battle dedications. Two helmets (one captured by an Italian city, the other by a Boiotian city) are labelled Ὀλυμπίανδε, "(send) to Olympia" (169, 169A, incidentally the earliest attestation of the toponym, as noted by Siewert; ca. 650 BCE). The material gives a picture of endemic warfare waged from the seventh century onwards by communities in Arkadia (including small Psophis, 147), Boiotia (where the Thebans fought against Hyettos, 122, and the Tanagraians appear both as victors and vanquished), and the north-east Peloponnese (where Argos won a major victory over Corinth ca. 500 BCE, first noted by A. Jackson). Much material comes from the West— in fact over half (13 out of 20 entries). A captured greave indicates the participation of Sikyonians in the Corinthian-led operations against Athens at Halieis, during the First Peloponnesian War, a detail not in Thucydides (159).

For the late Classical period, an alliance between Pisa, the Akroreian cities, and the Arkadian League shows the imbrication between local breakaway dynamics and high politics that characterizes fourth-century political history (11, 365/4 BCE). An Eleian law forbids the banishment of the children of exiles, the confiscation of the latter's property, and the selling but also the sending abroad of exiles' property by relatives: it hence regulates that other characteristic of fourth-century political history, exile and stasis (8). For the Hellenistic period, a number of treaties show the role of Olympia as a site of publicity for inter-state agreements in mainland Greece (9, 13, 14, 15). On the third-century BCE treaty of alliance between the Aitolian and Akarnanian Leagues (8), add O. Dany, Akarnanien im Hellenismus (1999).2 Interestingly, the frontier between the two Leagues was devolved, in the case of a particular territory, the Prantis, to the two neighbouring communities, the Akarnanian polis of Stratos and an Aitolian community, the Agraioi: membership of a League does not amount to surrendering all agency or autonomy (it is unhelpful to call members of such equality-based and constitutional Leagues "dependent poleis"). For the late Hellenistic period, a statue base for Kritolaos, "defender of the Attic land" honours the Peripatetic who took part in the "philosophers' embassy" to Rome in 156/5 BCE (53).

The reason we can be sure of Kritolaos' identity is that he is ἵστορ' Ἀριστοτέλους, "knowledgeable in Aristotle". Other culturally important figures are the men of letters honoured in Roman-era Olympia (57, 62 are bases of statues for rhetors). Earlier documents show the interplay between culture and power in striking ways. A late archaic document (8) on visitors to the shrine mentions "those below Epidamnos, the Libyans, the Cretans": apart from the curious designation of (presumably) Greeks from Libya as Λίβυες, the use of Epidamnos as a limit reflects a mental map charted from Olympia. This map illuminates the first appearance of the place in Thucydides: this is one of the edges of the Greek world. An Attic lekythos bore, on its inscribed foot (the only surviving part), Φιλαγορία κάκιστον, "Love of public speaking (?) is worst" (341, ca. 460 BCE). Rather than an injunction to close-lippedness in a context of athletic training (Siewert), this is perhaps a political statement, a programmatically terse critique of demagogic politics in the notoriously democratic polity of Elis (notably reflected in the voting tokens: above). The many grain-measures (καρπόμετρα) for barley-meal and inscribed as public property (250-9) might have been used not for state regulation of retail, but for grain distribution, in connection with state institutions. The shrine perhaps ran a parallel, if restricted, system of distribution and production, judging by grain-measures and a weight-loom inscribed as "Olympic" (257, 266).

One vessel inscribed as public (δεμόσιον) also bears an erastic inscription (Λαχάρες καλός). The Attic lettering and spelling are a giveaway. This is precisely not a public vessel, but (I suggest) a joke. The Athenian author playfully opposes writing as a sign of public authority and as the performance of private erotic desire (260). This text comes from the site of Pheidias' workshop, where other vessels with the official inscription δαμόσιον were found (261-4): public meals at Eleian expense for the workforce on the chryselephantine statue of Zeus? Hence the allusion in bowl 260, the Athenian author and the audience both being familiar with perhaps humdrum public rations. All the material from the workshop should have been cross-referenced as a meaningful assemblage in its own right: ownership inscriptions (non-local names, 279-307), a vessel belonging to a team of workmen named after its leader, Oitas (269), jocular sympotic inscriptions (338-40), inscribed moulds (94). From dedications-rich Olympia come other inscriptions relative to the production of art, namely assembly-marks for large bronze statues or cauldrons (93, 95-105); here one misses parallels.3 Inscriptions also embodied self-conscious reflections on art: a pair of Argive artists describe themselves as "knowing techna from their fathers" (65, also SEG48.545, ca530-460 BCE), one Dikon dedicated a strigil to Zeus, "having made it himself: for this is the skill (sophia) he has" (one misses a photograph).

One of the privately inscribed cups from the workshop of Pheidias was his own, and its publication exemplifies the qualities and the eccentricities of this corpus (304). This is the first publication, and the absence of illustration or measurements is odd (especially since the bibliography notes lack of measurements in earlier publications). Yet the bibliography and commentary are helpful on the question of authenticity (secure); the type of cup is interestingly identified as a rustic or traveller's type; and someone (it is unclear who) notes that the punctuation, Φειδίο: εἰμί, put emphasis on the name of Pheidias— as workshop boss or famous artist?4


1.   See already K. Hallof, K. Herrmann, S. Prignitz, "Alte und Neue Inschriften aus Olympia I", Chiron 42 (2012), 213-38, publishing nos. 33A, 51, 53 of the Vienna corpus; further BullEpig 2013, 149 (M. Sève).
2.   Reviewed by J. Roy, BMCR 2000.02.21.
3.   C. Mattusch, Greek Bronze Statuary (1988), 173-4; SEG 46.1705.
4.   I thank A. Ellis-Evans, W. Mack (both authors of their own reviews of NIO).

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