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the oxford handbook of

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ROM A N STUDIES
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Edited by

A L E S S A N D RO B A RC H I E S I
and

WA LT E R S C H E I D E L

chapter 6
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EPIGRAPHY
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john bodel

Abbreviations
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Pompey in 52 bce faced a dilemma. The jewel in the crown of the theatre complex in Rome he had inaugurated with great fanfare three years previously, the temple to Victory perched at the top of the seating section, was nearing completion and required a suitably grand dedicatory text to adorn its architrave. Convention demanded a record of his oYce at the time, a third consulship, and Pompey was uncertain whether he ought to write consul tertium or consul tertio. Having consulted the learned men of the day and Wnding opinion divided, he had turned to Cicero, but Cicero, ever unwilling to oVend the powerful, sought refuge in ambiguity by advising him to inscribe only the Wrst four letters of the numeral, TERT, thus avoiding oVence to any whose advice had not been followed. What made Ciceros deft evasion possible was the common Roman practice of abbreviating words in inscriptions, a convention shaped as much by architectural as by rhetorical context. Ciceros freedman Tiro recounted the anecdote in some detail a few years later, but Varro, who knew the right answer (tertium) and cited a verse of Ennius (Annales 290 Skutsch) to prove it, alluded to it only discreetly, remarking that Pompey had behaved timidly (Disciplinae Book 5 Popma, p. 202 Bipont.). Twenty-Wve years later Marcus Agrippa emblazoned the correct form in letters nearly 70 centimetres tall (the largest yet found in Rome) across the Pantheon he had built a few hundred metres to the north: M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIVM. FECIT(Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum [hereafter CIL] 6.30779c). The numeral spelled out in Agrippas dedication appears striking beside the standard abbreviations

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for consul (COS) and the praenomina Marcus (M.) and Lucius (L.), the latter with the patronymic indicator Wlius (F.) in the formulaic phrase indicating paternal descent (Badian 1988: 2034). In it we may recognize the assertive conWdence of the new man, just as we remark Pompeys diYdence and Ciceros shrewdness in their responses to the epigraphic puzzle that Pompeys dedication presented, the solution of which was less a matter of grammar than of epigraphic decorum. How one expressed oneself in a public dedicatory inscription mattered to men concerned with political reputation and public image during the waning days of the Republic, and there were visual as well as verbal conventions for doing so properly that diVered from those that determined literary propriety. It was not just what one said or how one said it but how it appeared that counted. A coda to the story comes down to us at the start of the tenth book of the miscellany by Aulus Gellius known as the Attic Nights. Many years later, when the back wall of Pompeys stage building collapsed and was rebuilt, the number of Pompeys consulship was re-inscribed, not, as before, with the Wrst four letters of the word but with the Roman numeral III, the form that could be read there still in Gellius day (Noctes Atticae 10.1.89). The trend toward abbreviation and concision, not only to save space but for aesthetic eVect, grew with time, as the simple combinations of two and three letters (ligatures) that characterized monumental lettering of the Wrst two centuries ce eventually evolved into the elaborate monograms of the early medieval and Byzantine periods. By Gellius time, around the middle of the second century ce, the mania for curtailing text was in full swing (in one famous document, a record of the regulations of a funerary society at Rome dated in 153 ce, one of nearly every four words142 of 613is abbreviated: Gordon 1983: 14850 no. 66), but the phenomenon was well entrenched, especially in legal contexts, already by the early Wrst century bce, when a standard formula exempting existing arrangements from the new law could be registered simply by the initial letters of the fourteen words needed to write it fully: S.S.S.E.Q.N.I.S.R.E.H.L.N.R. The precise interpretation of the phrase was not always clear even at the end of the Republic (it remains ambiguous today; cf. Badian 1988), and by the time of the Flavian emperors grammarians such as Valerius Probus were compiling glossaries of such formulaic abbreviations to help readers work their way through publicly inscribed documents (Aistermann 1910, De notis iuris; for a modern version, Cagnat 1914: 40772). One standard clause requiring that a statute be posted publicly whence it can be read clearly from the ground (unde de plano recte legi possit) and regularly indicated by initials alone shows that severity of abbreviation was considered no impediment to legibility, which required only that the lettering be clearly seen (cf. Crawford 1996: 1. 1920; Williamson 2005: 31014). Reading public notices in Latin, in the minds of Roman lawmakers and of those who implemented their decisions,

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meant knowing how to decipher the abbreviated formulae. The skills required were not purely linguistic but cultural. As Probus glossary suggests, for one born in the eastern, Greek-speaking parts of the empire and therefore less accustomed to hearing Latin spoken aloud, the system could be baZing. When the same phrase appeared in Greek versions of Roman documents, it was normally written out in full (e.g. Crawford 1996: 1. 241, lines 256; P. Coll. Youtie 1.30; P.Oxy. 8.1100.23, 34.2705.1011). To the question whether a public notice should be posted in Greek or Latin, the early third-century jurist Ulpian replied that it depended upon the locality, but that if it were written up in the open in clear letters, whence it can be read clearly from the ground (the formulaic phrase), no one could claim not to know what it said (Digest 14.3.11.3). It was not assumed that everyone could read, only that readers of the two administrative languages of the Roman Empire (Greek and Latin) would be able to read publicly posted documents in the form in which they were normally published, provided that the letters could be clearly seen. An inability to read, in other words, was no excuse for ignorance of the law, if the law could be locally read. Implicit in the execution of the principle across the empire is the understanding that reading Latin meant deciphering its standard formulae written only in abbreviated form, whereas a similar capacity was not expected of the readers of Greek. The same situation applies equally to other types of inscription: epitaphs, dedications, honorary texts, building inscriptions, labels, administrative documentsvirtually all types of Latin inscription employed speciWc sets of abbreviations, quite apart from those that were embedded in onomastic formulae and were therefore endemic throughout the system (see Salomies 1987: 13948 and Kajava 1994: 22932 on praenomina). Greek usage during the Roman period, on the other hand, although it betrayed the inXuence of Latin practice in expanding greatly its use of abbreviations, especially in titles, never incorporated the system fully into common use and generally restricted itself to Latin loan-words and translated oYces (e.g. Greek antistr(ategos) p(ro)p(raetor); see Mason 1974: 9, 1068). Nor did the Romans share with their Italic neighbours the passion for abbreviation that characterized written Latin as it emerged in Latium during the third century bce (Salomies 1987: 1389). The phenomenon, in other words, was primarily scriptural rather than linguistic, Latin in the Wrst instance and Roman only secondarily and by association. Inevitably, given the patterns of Latin lexical formation and syntax, certain common combinations of letters occurred repeatedly and could be resolved in multiple ways: the pair P P, for example, could stand for any of more than thirty diVerent phrases. How one interpreted a string of initials depended upon where they appeared within a text, what type of text it was, and where the text was located. Contextlinguistic, physical, and cultural determined meaning. Correct reading, in Roman terms, meant knowing how to decode what the abbreviations signiWed, which was not simply a matter of knowing how to read but of being able to interpret the conventions correctly in their setting.

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Letter Forms and Literacy


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The signiWcance of inscriptions for determining general levels of literacy in the ancient world is a matter of controversy (Harris 1989; Beard et al. 1991), but it is clear that basic literacy for the Romans meant some form of epigraphic literacy, in the sense that whatever reading ability a Roman possessed probably included the capacity to decipher public monumental lettering, and whatever writing skills he or she may have exercised were more likely to have been practiced in the forms conventionally deWned as epigraphic than in any other. Epigraphy is traditionally deWned as the study of inscriptionsa term, according to one authoritative opinion, that could properly be applied to any form of writing produced in a given culture with writing instruments and on surfaces other than those normally used in day-to-day life. In Roman society that would exclude, at diVerent times and in diVerent places, writings not only on papyrus and parchment but on thin strips of wood, broken bits of pottery (ostraka), and waxed wooden tablets (though not, perhaps, as universally as generally believed: Meyer 2004: 234). In practice, however, the territory conventionally covered by epigraphy includes all modes of writing that are not regularly employed for the production of literary texts (Panciera 1998: 31314 [ 2006: 1795]). In Roman society that territory encompasses a wide variety of uses and media and styles of script, not all of which would have been equally familiar, or even comprehensible, to all readers. Near the bottom of the scale of epigraphic literacy, for example, we might place the freedman character in Petronius Satyrica who boasts of knowing lapidariae litterae (letters on stone, 58.7), by which he means the type of block capitals (litterae quadratae, 29.1) that were used for monumental texts on stone and bronze (epitaphs, honoriWc inscriptions, oYcial documentslaws, treaties, milestones, and the likeas well as dedications), and publicly posted notices on painted wood (Corbier 2006: 950, for the concept of monumental writing). These are the sorts of texts normally associated with epigraphy and the ones from which many of those without schooling are likely to have learned to read, but in Roman culture the Weld also embraces such vehicles of everyday writing as inked wooden leaves (used for routine communication, both public and private, at military outposts in Britain: Bowman 2003, Terras 2006), metal sheets (conventionally lead, in fact often pewter, the favoured medium for conveying written curses: Gager 1992: 34), the exterior wall surfaces of buildings (commonly pressed into service in Italian towns as billboards for painted election postersChiavia 2002; cf. Mouritsen 1999; Biundo 2003and announcements of gladiatorial exhibitionsSabbatini Tumolesi 1980), and the terracotta fabric of amphorae and other transport vessels (variously stamped, etched, or painted, before or after Wring, with commercial administrative texts and declarations of guez-Almeida 1993)all of which by the time of ownership or responsibility: Rodr

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Augustus were normally being written in a more attentuated and informal type of capital letters called actuarial or cursive (BischoV 1990: 5461). It is diYcult to know what percentage of the readers of block capitals would have had diYculty with the cursive writing of everyday correspondence and business documents, but some, at least would have reacted similarly to the slave Pseudolus in Plautus comedy of the same name, who described the letters as mounting one another and likened the markings to chicken scratches (Plautus, Pseudolus 2130) but was able to read the text of a private letter nonetheless (3972). A more elegant version of the same cursive capitals (canonical or rustic) was learned by the tiny minority of readers who acquired formal schooling past the elementary level and served as the standard literary bookhand until the third century. Already by then literary texts were being produced in a form of cursive minuscule that ultimately predominated for the rest of antiquity (thus establishing the basis of the dual system of lettering we have today: BischoV 1990: 636), and monumental inscriptions were being carved in taller, attenuated, heavily serifed letters more similar to those drawn with a brush than those incised with a sharp instrument. Toward the end of the fourth century, at about the same time that Jerome was writing out in minuscule cursive, at the behest of his employer Pope Damasus, what would become the Vulgate version of the Bible (382/385 ce), Damasus was also commissioning his oYcial engraver (Furius Donysius) Filocalus to carve epitaphs and other monumental texts in an elegant block-capital script distinguished by elaborate curly serifs that Filocalus had designed speciWcally for formal inscribed public lettering (see e.g. Gordon 1983: 1768 no. 91 [383 ce]). Two decades later Augustine was commending to his congregation as more accessible and retainable than the holy scripture entombed in the book four verses he had inscribed in a chapel for all to read and learn (Sermones 319.8; Sanders 1990). By that time the palaeographic paths of epigraphic and literary writing had diverged decisively, and although they subsequently tracked certain courses in parallel, the two tracks tended to develop more independently of one another than they had done earlier during the classical period.

Latin Epigraphic Culture


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Throughout the Roman era diVerent forms of writing were appropriate to diVerent media and diVerent contexts. Deviation from the norm signalled speciWc intent. Thus two famous late-antique (late Wfth- or early sixth-century) codices of Virgil written in the traditional lapidary block capitals aimed to confer monumentality on the text (BischoV 1990: 59), just as a woman with the Punic name Beccut in

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third-century Mactar (Tunisia) hoped to elevate the Latin hexameters she composed for her daughters epitaph by having them inscribed on a standard tombstone with the type of cursive capitals in which contemporary literary works were pigraphique, 196970, 658; cf. Corbier 2006: 801). Each made produced (LAnn ee E a bid for authority by transposing lettering associated with one medium to the other, in the understanding that the mode of writing would convey particular connotations derived from its normal range of uses in the diVerent spheres. To the socially ambitious, for whom epigraphic propriety was a matter of prestige, correct usage meant more than simply knowing what abbreviations or lettering to use where. Epigraphy, like literature, had genres, and the generic boundaries of diVerent types of text, like those of letter forms, had to be observed: an epitaph was not an honoriWc inscription, although both might record similar information with similar commemorative intent; a dedication to a god diVered greatly from that to patron, even if both employed the same syntax (cf. Eck 1984: 1335, 14952; Judge 1997). Where and how an inscription was displayed was integral to its genre and quite often also to its message, which could be subverted by displacement of the text (ChioY 2001; Feraudi-Gru enais 2003). Accordingly, Beccut, like Agrippa a parvenu in the social ranks in which her epigraphic statement places her, while pushing the limits of acceptable experimentation with form, nonetheless, like Agrippa, knew what the text she composed ought to say and drew the line at content. Not so the wealthy freedman Trimalchio, whose anxiety about the suitability of his preposterously worded epitaph (Satyrica 71.12) reXects both the height of his social pretension and the depth of his insensitivity to epitaphic idiom and form: what he says is not entirely outr e, only out of place in an epitaph or incorrectly placed within the normal structure of one (Bodel 1999: 423). In Petronius satiric portrait the incongruous juxtaposition of modes and cultural contexts conveys humour rather than authority, and similar epigraphic faux pas provoked similar reactions in the real world. The younger Pliny, in describing to a correspondent the rural sanctuary of the river-god Clitumnus near Hispellum in Umbria, characterizes the vows of thanks and praise inscribed by grateful visitors across the walls and columns of the precinct as mostly admirable but occasionally laughable (Pliny, Letters 8.8.7; cf. Beard 1991: 3940). Rusticity of language was not itself a source of amusement to Pliny and his supercilious friends; rather, it was the formality of the written commemoration of a humble personal event, whether in a cursive graYto or a carved plaque, that rendered the texts incongruously inept. Banality, for the sophisticated, was worse than faulty execution. Trimalchio, as always an infallible guide, falls short in both: when accidentally bruised by a slave, he will not allow the mishap to pass without an inscription but hammers out on the spot three limping verses of doggerel on the unexpected turns of Fortune of a sort one can read in numerous variations among the surviving inscribed verse epitaphs (Petronius, Satyrica 55.23; cf. Lattimore 1942: 1548). Elsewhere Pliny waxes indignant about commemorative inscriptions inappropriately denied to (Letters

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6.10.35) or bestowed upon (7.29.2, 8.6.14) recipients deserving of diVerent epigraphic treatment (Verginius Rufus, deprived of an epitaph; the imperial freedman Pallas honoured by senatorial decree: Woolf 1996: 256), and Petronius, by drawing attention to his narrators varied reception of the profusion of inscribed texts in me Trimalchios home, implicates his own reader in a hermeneutic mise en ab (Nelis-Cl ement and Nelis 2005: 116). Both authors bear witness to a reading culture that recognized literary and epigraphic modes as distinct but constantly in dialogue with one another, neither being intrinsically high nor low but each with its own range of registers.

Graffiti
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As Trimalchios behaviour and Plinys testimony further demonstrate, the Roman fascination with inscriptions extended to the production as well as the consumption of texts and inXuenced behaviour well below the highest levels of society. At the precinct of Clitumnus, according to Pliny, the humble dedications were inscribed on all the columns and all the walls (Letters 8.8.7), and indeed, where evidence is well preserved, as in the Campanian towns buried by Vesuvius in 79 ce, we can see that scribblers with a variety of interests, from sex to commerce to literature to public entertainments, availed themselves of public (and private) walls and monuments to publicize their messages wherever they could (Gigante 1979; Franklin 1991). One often-cited graYto found scrawled up on the basilica, in the amphitheatre, and at the theatre at Pompeii marvels (in elegiac verse) that the wall which supports it has not collapsed under the load of writing it bears (Carmina Latina Epigraphica [hereafter CLE] 957; cf. Franklin 1991: 823). At another well-frequented street corner near the centre of town more than 120 texts scratched onto the walls outside a brothel regale passers-by with greetings, prostitutes advertisements, and clients accounts of their triumphs and disappointments (CIL 4.21732301, at VII.12.1820; cf. Varone 2005). In the basilica one scribbler wrote up in Augustan elegiacs an Epicurean reXection on love, which another answered with an imprecation against the reader, a third with a target-reversing (on the one) who wrote it, a fourth with conWrmation (right), a Wfth, who evidently hoped to end the discussion, with an apparently independent salutation to a Hedystus (CIL 4.1837 CLE 949). Beneath it another versifying wag paired a famous Virgilian hexameter (Aeneid 6.460) with a lasciviously undercutting pentameter in a manner reminiscent of contemporary Menippean satire (e.g. Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 3.23, Petronius, Satyrica 111.12, 112.23; cf. Cugusi 1985: 2335). Next to another door an obscene bit of doggerel is

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circumscribed within a perimeter drawn in the shape of a tablet to suggest a formal public notice (CIL 4.1517; cf. CLE 955). Whether inXating or deXating, Pompeian humour tended to manifest itself in graYti through an interplay of form and content; the ingenuity exercised was not only verbal but often visual and situational. In a room in the House of Pansa (VI.6.1), for example, a hexameter Greek palindrome written retrograde is accompanied by the same text running left to right in Roman characters (CIL 4.2400a; cf. Gigante 1979: 767); beside it a certain Curvius and his friends engaged in a series of salutations in which the words are arranged in normal sequence left to right but proper names are spelled backwards (CIL 4.2400dg). One of them (Aemilius), a professional poster-painter (scriptor) and inveterate scribbler (he is credited with some thirty-Wve graYti at Pompeii) habitually wrote his name in this fashion (Franklin 1991: 913). What one senses throughout is an exuberant delight in writing in its various forms and a fascination with its multiple usesutilitarian, decorative, and performative (e.g. apotropaic). Above all, one observes an active appreciation of the graphic and visual elements of inscribed texts, which often complemented crude images etched or painted near them and sometimes incorporated visual imagery into the script itself (e.g. CIL 4.4716, 4755, the signature of an architect Crescens, who wrote his name and title into the shape of a ship; cf. Corbier 2006: 91128 on text in images; Langner 2001: 32, 7984 on pictorial graYti and rebuses). So too at Rome, in a tavern of the Augustan era discovered beneath Santa Maria Maggiore, an entire wall was decorated with nonsense graYti and epigraphic jeux despritalphabets, letter groups, lists of Roman numerals, palindromes (in Greek and Latin), magic word squares (able to be read both vertically and horizontally), and the like (Castr en 1972; cf. Gigante 1979: 779). Whatever value such evidence may have for determining general levels of literacy, it unequivocally illustrates a characteristic feature of the Roman epigraphic habit, a certain joie de scrivere devoid of utilitarian purpose and independent of any functional use. It is often pointed out, not incorrectly, that, unlike literary texts, which provide access only to the world of the educated elite, inscriptions open a window into the lives of ordinary Romans otherwise largely closed to us. It should be added at the same time (but often is not) that the formulaic nature of much epigraphic expression undermines the wishful thinking that we read unWltered in the inscriptional record the thoughts and sentiments of the man in the street. We do not, as even such apparently spontaneous eVusions as we Wnd among the Pompeiian graYti indicate. Rarely, when a text rises above mere salutation or erotic declaration of the x with y here variety, do we Wnd genuine originality of thought or expression (Gigante 1979: 20321; Cugusi 1985: 21719; cf. Langner 2001: 13941). Creativity, where it is found, emerges rather in the presentation of the writing, wit in mock-heroic parody or the incongruous juxtaposition of formulaic elements. Many more quotations of well-known verses by famous Augustan authors than

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original compositions crowd Pompeian walls (Gigante 1979: 7199, 142201; cf. Corbier 2006: 735). When unattributed verses of more than ordinary sophistication are encountered, they Wnd their place in literary discussions of Hellenistic epigram (e.g. Gigante 1979: 8899). The Pompeian graYtist who signed his elegiac compositions Tiburtinus epoese, for example, has a substantial bibliography (Lieberg 2005; cf. Cugusi 1985: 2437). But the observation that usually follows on such encountersthat some Pompeians were remarkably literategets hold of the wrong end of the stick: more noteworthy than that some residents of (or visitors to: one oft-repeated distich represents the perspective of an urban tourist longing for a return to Rome: Cugusi 1985: 21719) a coastal town on the fashionable Bay of Naples were suYciently cultured to write original epigrams is the fact that any who could do so would publicize their work by writing it up on public walls. The graYti are invaluable as a source of information primarily as a cultural phenomenon, less for what they say (one hopes that Pompeians sex lives were more imaginative than their accounts of them) than for the way they say it and the fact that it is said at all.

Text and Context


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The Pompeian couplet addressed to a wall burdened with graYti has often been invoked to suggest the pervasiveness of writing at Pompeii: a commonplace repeated four times in diVerent hands, it no more demonstrates the truth of that supposition (though it no doubt supports it) than it does the wit of even one of the town residents. Rather, it suggests a phenomenon no less interesting: the prevalence of an impulse to share publicly and anonymously a platitude that serves no other communicative purpose than to call attention to its setting amidst numerous similarly autonomous texts and the close association of all of them with their architectural supports. The union of text and material context celebrated in a written form that participates meta-textually in the phenomenon it describes represents precisely the sort of conceptual fusion that lies at the heart of Roman epigraphic culture. Epigraphy as a discipline is sometimes celebrated (mainly by epigraphists) as the place where archaeology and philology meet, where the study of texts and objects comes together in the interest of a holistic interpretation that is sometimes more philological, sometimes more archaeological, but is always in some sense broadly historical in that it Xeshes out the framework of our picture of a culture (e.g. Sanders 1984). Less often remarked is the contemporary ancient perception of inscribed writing as exploiting both realms in full awareness of its position at the intersection of the two. A variation of the same ironic tag

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written up in Greek in the imperial palace on the Palatine hill in Rome takes the conceit to a self-contradictory extreme and at the same time reminds us that the ultimate source of this particular form of epigraphic self-consciousness, itself an urban phenomenon, lay in Alexandria of the Hellenistic period: many have written many things, the graYtist declares with pointed polyptoton: I alone have written nothing (Castr en and Lilius 1970: 145). The desire to express oneself in public writing, however, and concern with the forms it took, were characteristic particularly of Roman imperial culture, where the epigraphic impulse inXuenced the behaviour of Romans of high and low station alike. Pompey, Pliny, Trimalchio, and the Pompeian scribblers shared a mentality about publicly inscribed texts, whether formal or informal, that both unites them, despite the range of their social diVerences, and distinguishes them among the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean world as distinctively Roman. The ecumenical quality of the Roman epigraphic habit sets it apart from that of other peoples in the ancient world, even those (such as the residents of Hellenistic Asia Minor) for whom monumental public texts were a regular part of the urban fabric. Often, as Roman power spread unevenly across the western provinces, the clearest sign of an established Roman presence in an area was the emergence there of the characteristic types of Latin inscription (particularly epitaphs and honoriWc monuments); even in cases where native linguistic and commemorative traditions continued to thrive, the advent of Roman rule usually meant the disappearance of local scripts and a reorientation of local epigraphic behaviours along Roman lines (Woolf 1994; Beltr an Lloris 1995). Eventually, most regions of the Western Empire shared a common epigraphic culture, based on that at Rome and centred on public honoriWc monuments, civil administrative texts, and epitaphs, which, despite numerous minor local variations, provided a cultural lingua franca for the commemorative expression of diverse populations across Europe and North Africa. Urbanized parts of the eastern Mediterranean nurtured well-established traditions of diverse epigraphic expression which, though clearly betraying the inXuence of the new conventions, were less fully overwhelmed by the full onslaught of Roman epigraphic practice and retained many of their own, often localized and distinctive features (Bodel 2001a: 1315). Radical abbreviation never fully caught on in the eastern Mediterranean, nor did the Greek-speaking regions of the empire adopt the western practice of engraving public laws, senatorial decrees, and imperial edicts on bronze to signal their legitimacy, but instead preserved a regional preference (driven only partly by the availability of resources) for stone (Williamson 2005: 3967; cf. Thomas 1995). There are thus two levels at which we should try to understand what has come to be known as Roman epigraphic culture, one primarily social, centring on a new or increased use of monumental inscribed writing for honoriWc (self-)representation as a means of articulating status relations, which manifested itself across the empire following the imposition of Roman rule; the other more narrowly scriptural,

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conWned to the western parts of the empire and, although not purely linguistic, nonetheless closely associated with the Latin alphabet and the way it was used to represent public writing at Rome. The Wrst may have had a wider inXuence on behaviour throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, but the second was more characteristic in its preoccupation with the appearance of the writing and the physicality of its supports, and thus comes closer to what made the Latin epigraphic culture of the Western Empire more essentially Roman.

Cui Bono?
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Implicit in the preceding discussion has been the belief that understanding the epigraphic culture of the Romans requires bearing in mind the context in which the writing was produced, not only in the narrow and speciWc senses of where, when, how, and why but more broadly within a spectrum of writing cultures, each with its own distinctive hues. Doing so makes it possible to avoid many of the pitfalls of epigraphic bias that dot the mineWeld of historical interpretation, the treacherous territory that unwary investigators too often stumble into when they fail to account for the Wlter through which all inscribed information comes down to usthe epigraphic climate that inXuenced what was inscribed when and where (Bodel 2001a: 349, 467). Many, however, approach Latin inscriptions with speciWc interests and questions, and alert to the problem of bias. What is there for them? Ancient historians, who perhaps have more frequent recourse to epigraphic evidence than others, are the ones most frequently catered for in manuals and general introductions (e.g. Calabi Limentani 1991; Bodel 2001) and the ones most likely to know what to expect to Wnd. What do Latin inscriptions oVer to the philologist, the linguist, or the archaeologist? For the philologist and the linguist there are the grammar of colloquial speech and the phonology of contemporary spoken Latin (e.g. V a an anen 1966; cf. Marcillet-Jaubert 1960), as well as the occasional intrusion into the classical lexicon and Latin literary texts of even the most humble epigraphic forms (Bodel 1989). Our knowledge of early Latinindeed, our direct knowledge of any Latin before the middle of the Wrst century bceis exclusively epigraphic (cf. Vine 1993; Hartmann 2005). For the archaeologist, most helpfully, there is the tell-tale function served by any inscription found in situ or by a group of inscriptions found together of identifying a place (a building, a street, a sanctuary, an estate, a town) or indicating a purpose (Panciera 1998: 31622 [17971801]). Milestones, boundary markers, and other territorial delimiters (e.g. epitaphs declaring the size of a tombplot: Eck 1987: 823) give invaluable assistance to topographers; catalogue texts

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listing features of a building or appurtenances to a property are a boon to architectural historians. Apart from artists signatures and labels on paintings and sculpture, epigraphy serves the art historian by anchoring the chronology of the typologies of objects so important for understanding stylistic developments. Students of literature may Wnd among the carmina epigraphica short works of more than passing interest and occasional merit that beneWt from the same kind of exegesis as literary texts (e.g. Horsfall 1985; Courtney 1995; cf. Cugusi 2004). For those interested in the reception of classical literature, the story often begins with inscriptions and the implicit and explicit testimony they bear to the contemporary reading of authors whose works have come down to us also (Hoogma 1969). Scholars of Roman law depend upon inscriptions not only for the great bronze exemplars of public statutes (Crawford 1996), decrees of the senatein Greek (Sherk 1969) and Latin (e.g. Eck, Caballos, and Fern andez 1996)municipal charters (e.g. Lamberti 1993), and the like, but also for a large body of private law touched upon only in passing by the juristic sources (notably tomb law, virtually a Weld unto itself: e.g. De Visscher 1963; AA. VV. 2004). The list could go on: there are very few areas of Roman Studies that inscriptions do not somehow illuminate. If there is a general bias to the preponderance of their testimony, it is a chronological one, weighted heavily in the Imperial period and particularly in the Wrst three centuries ce (less than 2 per cent, fewer than 4,200 of some 220,000 surviving Latin inscriptions on stone, are datable to before the death of Caesar: cf. Solin 1999: 37991). That epigraphy seems to touch so widely throughout the territory of Roman Studies is one sign of its centrality to the culture. In the diversely multicultural Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire, setting up an inscription in one of its characteristic Roman forms not only signiWed being Roman, it enacted it. In that sense epigraphy has a claim to the attention not only of Romanists but of anyone interested in understanding the civilizations of the ancient world.

Further reading
The best introduction to the subject in English, Gordon 1983, is regrettably out of print, but a good and more accessible alternative exists in Keppie 1991, and handbooks on a larger scale are anticipated soon from both Oxford and Cambridge. Of the older guides, that of Sandys 1927 provides a useful introduction for general classicists. For more serious study, Cagnat 1914, though necessarily out of date in certain respects, remains fundamental. Calabi-Limentani 1991 provides the best modern equivalent. Di Stefano 1987 is a technical guide to editing texts on stone that presents much useful information of interest also to more general readers. McClean 2002 makes ignoring the Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Imperial East less excusable for Romanists than it once was. Synthetic overviews are oVered by Bodel 2001, on the uses of inscriptions as historical evidence, and Corbier 2006, which unites several important studies on monumental public writing in Rome, a topic for

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which the studies of Petrucci (1993 and 1998) provide essential orientation. Schmidt 2007 gives a concise and up-to-date history and prospectus of the standard corpus (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum), which now comprises some 180,000 inscriptions in eighteen volumes, most with multiple fascicles. B erard et al. 2000, with annual supplements on the internet, is an indispensable guide to the vast bibliography.

References
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