Read Latin Inscriptions
Leafing through the pages of an epigraphic catalogue, one can read any kind of text, ranging from laws, official documents and contracts, to the names of the deceased inscribed on a tombstone, invocations to the gods, curses against love rivals and even expression of cheers for a favourite gladiator or team of charioteers. Given the Romans’ penchant for the written word, reading an inscription allows us to open a window into ancient Rome itself, to retrieve the unmitigated voice of its inhabitants and to better understand what they thought of themselves and the world around them.
Unfortunately, Latin inscriptions are not easy to access, not even for those who know the language. When writing, the Romans adopted a complex system that relied on the use of abbreviations, instead of spelling out in full each word of the text. Naturally, the system evolved as the Latin language, the Roman institutions and the Latin onomastic conventions changed, and was also subject to a significant degree of geographical localism.
The Summer School on Latin Epigraphy
With over four hundred edited inscriptions, some of which are still on display, the ancient Roman town of Aeclanum in Campania offers much to those who want to study Latin epigraphy in an urban context different from the city of Rome, and yet still at the very heart of Italy. To showcase the peculiarity of the local inscriptions, and to make the discipline more accessible to new students, the Apolline Project is launching a Summer School on Latin epigraphy that will be focusing primarily, but not exclusively, on localism and municipal life outside of Rome. The Summer School will span over two weeks, the first at Pollena Trocchia and the second at Mirabella Eclano.
Students will also be taught how to produce a critical edition for publishing, how to use the C.I.L. and other major corpora to retrieve bibliographical information, and how to employ online databases for comparative studies.
More practical lessons will touch upon the different techniques involved in documenting inscribed monuments in preparation for an edition; students will also be taught how to do rubbings and squeezes.
Theoretical classes will be taught in the facilities of the Apolline Project in Pollena Trocchia (near Naples), and students are required to bring their own laptop. The first part of the course will include a visit to the epigraphic collections of the Museo Archeologico di Napoli and of the Museo Storico Archeologico di Nola.
Some of the topics that will be explored include: paleographic techniques and lithotypes, euergetism in the Roman world, the Roman army in inscriptions, municipal life and epigraphic production, epigraphic habits in the Roman empire, and the epigraphy of minorities (women, slaves, foreigners).
Theoretical classes will be taught in the facilities of the Apolline Project in Mirabella Eclano, and students are required to bring their own laptop. Practical sessions will be carried out on site, in the ancient town of Aeclanum, as well as in the nearby modern town of Mirabella Eclano.
As a result, students will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the various lithotypes used at Aeclanum, and to interpret and study first-hand various kinds of inscriptions. The second part of the course will include a visit to the lapidarium of the Museo del Sannio in Benevento.
While the two weeks are designed as part of a unique course, each can be attended independently from the other. However, students who plan on attending only the second week of the course are expected to have already some knowledge of Latin epigraphy. A basic knowledge of Latin is needed in order to attend the Summer School effectively.
The participation fee for the two weeks combined is 600EUR, while the fee for just one week is 350EUR. The fee covers shared accommodation in the facilities of the Apolline Project at Pollena Trocchia and Mirabella Eclano. Meals will not be provided, but the facilities are equipped with a kitchen, and food can be purchased locally at a reasonable price.
The Summer School will run from July 30th to August 3rd and from August 6th to August 10th (Mon-Fri for a total of 30 hours, with departure on Saturday morning).
The course is limited to 10 places and is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students alike. To apply, click here.
Nota Bene: if you have landed directly in this webpage, you might want to take a look at our other activities here.
Our research at Aeclanum
Aeclanum was one of the major centres of epigraphic production in Roman Hirpinia. As a consequence, the study of its inscriptions plays a key role in understanding better how the city was organised, and who lived there. Every year, in conjunction with the Summer School, the project runs an epigraphic survey of ancient Aeclanum and its surroundings, with the ultimate aim of studying and cataloguing all the surviving inscriptions. In 2017, more than 50 pieces of evidence have been documented, most of which are yet unpublished or in need of a revised edition. Spanning through the centuries, these inscriptions illustrate different aspects of the social and economic history of Aeclanum, from its economic ties to the surrounding woodlands, to the role that the Via Appia played in the local civic life; from the importance of the ancient cults in the early Empire, to the later emergence of a thriving Christian community, one of the few to boast the presence of an exorcista.
We have already presented an example of our work at the British Epigraphy Society Autumn Colloquium on the 11th of November 2017, with the title “An inscription celebrating Geta's first consulship? - A new case of damnatio from Aeclanum” and are currently working on publishing many new revised editions and new additions to the existing corpus. Below is an example of what we produce while on site.
Short description: Epitaph of Rufinius Sirbinus.
Current location: Aeclanum, archaeological park.
Find spot: Unknown.
Main editions: AE 1997, 386.
- Monument and external elements -
Type of material support: Semi-cylindrical headstone (cupa), improperly called “arca lucana” by part of the scholarship (for example, Volpe 1990).
Material used: Local limestone.
Measurements in centimetres: H. circa 44; W. circa 141 (fr. I, circa 97; fr. II, circa 44); D. circa 54.
State of conservation: Well preserved. The monument is fractured in two fragments that line up perfectly. Signs of erosion both at the front and the top of monument, which do not preclude the legibility of the text.
Decorative scheme: None.
Measurements in centimetres and brief description of the epigraphic frame: Fairly elaborated epigraphic frame (H. circa 30; W. circa 37.5; T. circa 3.6.), which includes a decorative element mimicking the shape of a bow both at the left and the right side of the panel.
Height of letters in centimetres: I circa 3.5; II between circa 3.5 and 3.6; III between circa 3.5 and 3.6; IV between circa 2.8 and 3; V between circa 2.4 and 2.6.
Palaeographic analysis: The letters are carved with a triangular-headed chisel in the capital writing style but with very slight actuarian influxes, especially in the shape of the letter “o” which is elongated and rather thin. There is minimal variation in the height of the letters within the same line, which remain consistent throughout the first three lines; the letters are noticeably shorter in the last two lines, a solution that might have been adopted to optimise the space left after the incision of the first three lines. Serifs are present, and are especially noticeable in the letters “m”; “d”: “b”; “I”. No use of shadowing techniques. The only punctuation mark present is a simple drilled hole.
Further observations: The surface of the stone is neatly smoothed and polished; the monument is of noticeably higher quality than much of the rest of the similar production found at Aeclanum.
- Text and internal elements -
Type of inscription: Funerary inscription (epitaph, headstone).
RVFINIVS · SVCCES
SVS · ALUMNO 5
sus · alumno
To the Manes. To Rufinius Sirbinus. Rufinius Successus (made this) for (his) fosterling.
Critical apparatus: The way the name of the alumnus is spelled, which could be transliterated into “Classic” Latin Silvinus, highlights two transformative linguistic phenomena already documented in inscriptions, where the letter “r” replaces the letter “l” and the letter “b” replaces the letter “v” (see for example AE 1936, 120, where ‘vibos’ and ‘parabit’ are found alongside ‘vixit’). I have decided to keep the original letters, since I consider these variation in spelling to be an indication of the evolving spoken Latin used by at least some strata of the population, and not errors made by the lapicide.
Further observations: The term alumnus indicates a fosterling. The term encompasses a wide umbrella of different legal statuses, ranging from adoptive son to quasi-slave. Given the absence of any other element, it is difficult to assess the legal (and social) standing of Sirbinus.
The formula D M is attested from at least the second half of the 1st century AD, especially around the time of the Flavians. However, it becomes progressively common through the 2nd century AD and, depending on the area, it is still in use for most of the 3rd century AD.
Date: Between the early 2nd century and the end of the 3rd century AD; the spelling of the name of the deceased suggests that a date from the second half of the 2nd century AD is more likely.