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date: 18 May 2021

(p. ix) Preface

(p. ix) Preface

Inscriptions are important for anyone interested in the Roman world and Roman culture, whether they regard themselves as literary scholars, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, religious scholars or work in a field that touches on the Roman world from c. 500 BCE to 500 CE and beyond. The two editors of this Handbook and most of the contributors are Roman historians, but the content is intended for a much wider audience than just historians. We have worked on this book inspired by the belief that anyone will benefit in their research or studies from knowing what inscriptions have to offer.

Classicists in the anglophone world study ancient inscriptions to a lesser degree than do scholars working in the other major European traditions. There are many reasons for this situation. To name just one, only in the United Kingdom, among English-speaking countries, are Roman inscriptions part of local and national history. In contrast, all around the Mediterranean and in large parts of Central Europe, Roman inscriptions can be found in the local museum, inscribed potsherds can turn up when digging the foundations for a new school, and a favourite uncle may sport a fragmentary Latin text above the fireplace in his living-room. Inscriptions are physically present in a way that they are not, for instance, in North America outside a few major museum collections such as those in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Montreal, or Toronto.

A major goal of our endeavour is to show why inscriptions matter. Equally important is a desire to demonstrate to classicists and ancient historians, their graduate students, and advanced undergraduates how scholars can work with epigraphic sources. A number of important principles underpin this entire work:

  • The phrase “Roman epigraphy” in the title of this Oxford Handbook was the result of a deliberate choice. We prefer “Roman” over “Latin,” since it is our hope that this volume can serve Roman studies in general. Many inscriptions important for understanding Roman culture are in Greek, and this aspect is neglected if one limits oneself to Latin epigraphy. We have not refrained from including a number of Greek inscriptions, although it has been impossible to dedicate an equal amount of attention to the epigraphy of Greek texts as to the field of Latin inscriptions. For a complete understanding of the traditions and conventions of Greek epigraphy, readers will still need to consult works such as Margherita Guarducci’s masterly four-volume handbook, Epigrafia greca (Rome 1967–78) or A.G. Woodhead’s briefer The Study of Greek Inscriptions (2nd ed., Cambridge 1981).

  • (p. x) Roman epigraphy is a truly international scholarly field and this is reflected both in the background of our contributors and in the scholarly literature cited in the various chapters. Roman studies is a polyglot enterprise and cutting-edge scholarship continues to be published in several other languages besides English, in particular in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

  • We hope that every reader will benefit from the Handbook, but it is aimed less at the “militant epigrapher” than at Roman students and scholars interested in the Roman world in general. By “militant epigrapher,” we mean someone fortunate enough to be part of a project that has permission to publish a newly discovered text, or someone who is entrusted with the republication of previously found inscriptions. We expect few of our readers to be asking a museum for permission to take a squeeze of one of its inscriptions, although we will be among the first to congratulate anyone who does so. Yet, in order to carry out such hands-on work competently, the militant epigrapher will have taken specialized university courses, will have served an apprenticeship in the field, and will consult the standard epigraphic manuals that provide much more technical detail and specialized discussion than was possible and meaningful to include here.

It was with these goals in mind that we decided to structure the contents as we have done. Many epigraphic manuals place a major emphasis on typology. The classification of inscriptions according to type (such as epitaphs, dedications, or honorific inscriptions) and subtype (for instance, senatorial epitaphs, military epitaphs, verse epitaphs) constitutes a clear and straightforward method, and it is indeed important to be aware of the typology of Roman inscriptions. A chapter on this topic (Ch. 6) is to be found in the first of the three main parts of this Handbook, which are, in general, structured thematically. Part I is devoted to a historiographic overview of the development of epigraphy as a discipline and to broad general methodological questions such as how to edit and date an inscription. It also seeks to provide guidance about the main epigraphic publications, both in print and in digital form (Chs. 1–5). Part II emphasizes that inscriptions should be considered as physical artifacts rather than just texts, and looks at the place of such inscribed monuments and objects—of what has been known since Ramsey MacMullen’s coinage of the term in 1982 as the “epigraphic habit”—within Roman society, including a brief exploration of how texts were carved and could be obtained (Chs. 6–8).

Part III considers the importance of inscriptions for our understanding of many aspects of the Roman world. It begins by considering Roman public life from the early Republic to Late Antiquity (Chs. 9–18). This section focuses in particular on the Roman state, its government, and its hierarchical structures. After a discussion of Republican epigraphy (Ch. 9), it then provides detailed coverage of the imperial period. From an analysis of how Roman emperors and the imperial family can be studied in inscriptions (Ch. 10), the treatment moves via senators and equites Romani to the local elites of Italy and the provinces in the West and the East (Chs. 11–13), and then focuses structurally on Roman government, lawgiving and legal matters, and the Roman army before (p. xi) considering how inscriptions contribute to our knowledge of military and political events in Roman history (Chs. 14–17). The final chapter surveys some of distinctive features of the epigraphy (both Latin and Greek) of the late antique world (Ch. 18).

The next section considers how Roman inscriptions are useful for the study of religious matters, looking separately at Rome and Italy, the Roman provinces, and so-called Christian epigraphy (Chs. 19–21). Inscriptions are just as valuable for throwing light on social and economic history, as chapters on the city of Rome, social life in town and country, euergetism, spectacle, the family, women, slaves, death and burial, travel, and economic life demonstrate (Chs. 22–31). The chapters in the concluding section (Chs. 32–35) explore the spread of some of the many languages spoken and inscribed across the Roman world, the various levels and types of Latin found in these, not least verse inscriptions, and the general issue of what they can reveal about literacy. They demonstrate how our understanding of some key aspects of the culture of the Roman Empire can be enhanced by the use of epigraphic evidence.

Cross-references between chapters abound, and we are much obliged to our contributors, who have gracefully agreed to having their texts, footnotes, and bibliographies abbreviated, sometimes considerably, by the insertion of cross-references to other chapters where the same or similar material is discussed or illustrated. As a result, the volume is intended to be used as an integrated whole, and the various chapters support each other.

For their help in making this Handbook possible, there are many individuals and institutions we wish to thank. Pride of place must go to Oxford University Press, in the persons of the Classics Editor Stefan Vranka and his assistant Sarah Pirovitz, for their unstinting support, wise counsel, and patience, and to Jayanthi Bhaskar and all her team at Newgen Knowledge Works in Chennai for their efficiency in the production phase. For their help in providing illustrations, we are very grateful to all the museums, institutions, and individuals who have provided images. Many other individuals have assisted us in a variety of ways since the inception of the project: Juan Manuel Abascal, José María Álvarez Martínez, Mariarosaria Barbera, Silvia Bartoli, Andreas Bendlin, Fabrizio Bisconti, John Bodel, László Borhy, Marco Buonocore, Antonio Caballos, Giuseppe Camodeca, Angela Carbonara, Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro, Simon Corcoran, Dóra Csordás, Francesco D’Andria, Nora Dimitrova, Ivan Di Stefano Manzella, Angela Donati, Claude Eilers, Denis Feissel, Luigi Fozzati, Rosanna Friggeri, Filippo Maria Gambari, Michele George, Helena Gimeno, Alessandra Giovenco, Gian Luca Gregori, Jürgen Hammerstaedt, Ortolf Harl, Anne Heller, Lawrence Keppie, Robert Knapp, Michael Kunst, Orsolya Láng, Alma Serena Lucianelli, María Ángeles Magallón, Mario Edoardo Minoja, Stephen Mitchell, Zsolt Mráv, Graham Nisbet, Simo Örma, Father Justinus Pagnamenta, Antonio Paolucci, Claudio Parisi Presicce, Mauricio Pastor, Andrea Pessina, Ambrogio M. Piazzoni, José Remesal, Tullia Ritti, Charlotte Roueché, Valeria Sampaolo, Robbi Siegel, Thomas Schattner, Manfred Schmidt, Christopher Smith, Heikki Solin, Vassiliki Stamatopoulou, Chris Sutherns, Lyudmil Vagalinski, Juan Valadés Sierra, Alain Vernhet, Agata Villa, Roger Wilson, Michel Zink, and Paula Zsidi. We are also grateful for various research assistants (p. xii) from the Collaborative Programme in Ancient History (ColPAH) run jointly by the University of Toronto and York University who have helped in preparing this volume: Alex Cushing, Mary Franks, Angela Hug, and Tommaso Leoni. Theodora Bruun and Barry Torch lent their considerable graphics skills to the preparation of various line-drawings and graphs. Special thanks are owed to Alison Keith, former Chair of the Classics Department, University of Toronto, for facilitating the editing of the Handbook.

Last but not least, in fact most of all, we wish to express our sincere gratitude to all our contributors who worked so hard, assisted in various ways in finding illustrations and in acquiring the required permissions to publish them, and patiently waited for the volume to appear. We have learned much in the editing of this volume and we trust that it will prove useful to readers.

Christer Bruun

Jonathan Edmondson