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Edited by Andrej Petrovic, Ivana Petrovic and Edmund Thomas

Written by an international cast of experts, The Materiality of Text showcases a wide range of innovative methodologies from ancient history, literary studies, epigraphy, and art history and provides a multi-disciplinary perspective on the physicality of writing in antiquity. The contributions focus on epigraphic texts in order to gauge questions of their placement, presence, and perception: starting with an analysis of the forms of writing and its perception as an act of physical and cultural intervention, the volume moves on to consider the texts’ ubiquity and strategic positioning within epigraphic, literary, and architectural spaces. The contributors rethink modern assumptions about the processes of writing and reading and establish novel ways of thinking about the physical forms of ancient texts.

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Alexei Zadorojnyi

Summary

The aim of the paper is to examine socio-cultural assumptions behind the perception of epigraphic writing among the pepaideumenoi of the empire in the second century CE, and, relatedly, to outline the ideologies of Greek epigraphic writtenness through close readings of select key passages from authors of the Second Sophistic. In the first section, the paper investigates attitudes to epigraphic writing in Pollux’ Onomasticon (especially 5.149-50) and discusses the apparent accentuation of ancientness and (un)readability of inscriptions. In the second part, the argument addresses issues of epigraphic literacy, elite monumentalization and political prestige by zeroing in on a passage from Arrian’s Periplous and dissecting the spectrum of meanings implied in Greek adjective eusēmos. The third section examines the ideological force of graffitism which sources of second century CE cast as the socio-cultural antipode of high epigraphy; the focus is now on the epithet asēmos.

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Volume-editor Andrej Petrovic, Ivana Petrovic and Edmund Thomas

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Volume-editor Andrej Petrovic, Ivana Petrovic and Edmund Thomas

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Ida Östenberg

Summary

This article targets erased Roman inscriptions in terms of materiality. It argues that the physical material and form of inscriptions played a crucial part in the phenomenon commonly termed damnatio memoriae. Materiality is further applied as a theoretical concept. Hence, the paper discusses changed, attacked, and erased inscriptions as agents that transmitted novel messages of the past and present to their viewers. It argues that these messages often differed from the original purpose of the erasures.

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Sean V. Leatherbury

Summary

This paper explores the symbolism of the tabula ansata (“tablet-with-handles”), a popular frame for monumental donor inscriptions in the Roman period. While patrons continued to use this form to frame texts in late antiquity, changing mediums affected how patrons conceived of and how audiences interpreted the meaning and significance of the frame. This paper discusses the origins of the tabula form and focuses on three Late Antique examples of the tabula in Italy, Greece, and Jordan that adapted variants of the Roman form, clarifying how transformations in material impacted the form’s function as a sign for “monumentality.”

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Katharina Bolle

Summary

This paper aims to demonstrate the importance of inscriptional context and argues that by studying the specific material appearance of an inscription, such as the size, setting, texture, shape, letter-design, and environmental relation to other objects, we can gauge the ancient viewer’s perception and interpretation of an inscription.

The method is illustrated with an analysis of two sets of inscriptions from the 4th cent. CE Ostia, set up by two Roman officials, Flavius Octavius Victor and Ragonius Vincentius Celsus. Both men were praefecti annonae and both improved the bath-facilities at Ostia and set up inscriptions in order to commemorate this activity. The analysis of the specific visual design and spatial arrangement of inscriptions set up to commemorate the deeds of each man reveals that each had adopted a markedly different strategy for inscribing their memory in the inscriptional dossier of Ostia: the inscriptions set up by Celsus pursue clarity to the point of redundancy, whereas Victor’s display a unique and highly aesthetic visual design, which goes hand-in-hand with the sophisticated textual content of his bilingual inscriptions. Victor commemorated his deeds inside the baths by setting up inscriptions partially composed in verse, and even one in Greek, thus limiting his audience to the educated elite, whereas Celsus placed his bold and repetitive formulaic Latin inscriptions on the outside. His strategy was to achieve optimal visibility and legibility, so as to reach the widest possible audience.

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Fanny Opdenhoff

Summary

The aspects of materiality treated in this paper concern the physical relations between several inscriptions as well as between inscriptions and their surroundings. At Pompeii, painted, scratched and carved writings, which are by their content related to various social fields, intertwine in complex spatial arrangements. This topic is explored here by way of case studies dealing with the exterior walls in three different neighbourhoods. The main suggestion that the paper makes is that the ongoing material modifications in the assemblages of texts forced the viewer to reassess the relationships in every instance and caused a continuous shifting of the function and meaning in such urban communication.

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Ioannis Mylonopoulos

Summary

This paper studies the reluctance of ancient Greeks to inscribe dedicatory texts on the architraves of temples in particular, but also on altars and buildings in general that were deemed sacred. Although most scholars have claimed for nearly a century that temples were simply monumental architectural backdrops for altars and ritual activities taking place in the open, the fact that the Greeks persistently avoided defining the houses of their gods as votive offerings via all too visibly placed inscriptions reveals that temples were considered something special. Thus our understanding of ancient temples’ functions and significance has to be revisited.