Publication in a digital world

One of the key points about I.Sicily is that it will be continuously updated – it is not a one-time publication, but an ongoing project. When something new is discovered about a text, or we manage to study it directly, the edition will be revised and updated. But that presents a very particular problem: how to publish or cite something that is not stable?

You can always cite the I.Sicily number and go to the online edition at its webpage (e.g., but that will always present you with the latest version. That’s fine if all you want is unambiguously to reference that inscription. But what if you were making an argument which relied on the reading of the text, and in between your first and second visits to the I.Sicily edition’s webpage we visited the stone and decided the reading is different? If you simply cited the I.Sicily page URL, your future readers would think you had made a mistake and be unable to work out why.

There is an important conceptual difference here, between the identifier for a text (e.g. the I.Sicily or Trismegistos number, intended simply as a unique identifier for the individual inscription in the abstract – and in the case of I.Sicily resolving to the latest edition) and a specific edition of the text (think of any paper publication). This distinction is already quite blurred in epigraphy, and scholars frequently use edition numbers, such as the inscription’s publication in CIL or the report of a text in SEG, more as an abstract identifier than to make any specific assertion about that particular edition. The entirely understandable habit of saying, e.g., CIL 10.7133 = AE 1989.342g = ISic000413 already begins to do this, since what this is saying is that all three of these refer to the same inscription; what it does not (should not) mean is that all three of these are actually equal or identical as editions or publications of that inscription. This distinction has been further blurred by the development of the major text databases such as EDH, EDCS or EDR, which, just like I.Sicily or Trismegistos, or indeed any other epigraphic publication, assign the inscription their own unique identifier. However, because these large text databases are primarily aggregators of existing editions, it has become increasingly convenient simply to cite one or other of these database numbers as a proxy for the inscription; but at the same time, in many cases, what is actually being cited is the text, using the edition reported by that database but without actually considering which edition that might be, let alone acknowledging it. Even more worryingly, perhaps, citation of the texts in these databases is done without ever normally acknowledging the database’s creators, or the individual(s) who prepared that particular dataset. Mind you, that already happens most of the time in our citation of texts from CIL or IG – how often does anyone explicitly acknowledge the author of the corpus? (This touches on a whole separate problem, for another day – the attribution of proper credit for digital publications.)

In those dim and distant days before Coronavirus, in February 2020, I.Sicily attended the IV meeting in Hamburg. We gave a brief presentation there of a solution we are adopting for this problem. Then the pandemic happened, and it’s taken time actually to implement it – but thanks to James Chartrand at Open Sky Solutions, we’re now fully operational.

Commonly, when citing a web-page, one includes the date of access. That offers a very limited ‘defence’ against the problem of change, post-citation, which we noted above. A more robust method (but not universally endorsed, because of debates around copyright and intellectual property) is to archive a copy of the page for one’s self, prior to citation, using resources such as the Wayback Machine or the WebCite service (the latter however is no longer accepting new deposits). I.Sicily instead now does this for you, generating citable, stable and permanent copies, with a DOI, in the Zenodo open access repository. Moreover, the copy of the EpiDoc XML file in Zenodo is accompanied by a human-readable PDF copy (including an image where available), making this a fully usable copy for any researcher. To return to the example of ISic003380 with which we began, the current edition is archived at:

The DOI is in turn embedded in the I.Sicily file, and displayed on the edition’s I.Sicily webpage, to make citation easy:

A new copy, with a new DOI, will be uploaded into Zenodo each time the file is significantly revised. The list of DOIs and dates of upload is recorded within each I.Sicily file, so it is always possible also to trace back the previous editions.

We do not suggest that you should always cite an I.Sicily edition via the Zenodo DOI (although if you do, we would ask you to cite it, as suggested above, as a full publication, recognising the authors involved). But, if you are citing the I.Sicily page as an edition, rather than simply to identify the inscription, we would strongly recommend that you do so.

I.Sicily at a ‘Crossroads’

We are very excited to announce the receipt of an ERC Advanced Grant award, under the LOGO_ERC-FLAG_EU_acronym ‘Crossreads‘, with the full title ‘Text, materiality, and multiculturalism at the crossroads of the ancient Mediterranean‘.

‘Crossreads’ will offer the first coherent account of the interactions and interplay of linguistic and textual material culture in ancient Sicily over a period of 1,500 years. Sicily was a multilingual, multicultural region at the crossroads of the ancient Mediterranean, colonised and invaded repeatedly by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. History has traditionally prioritised literary texts, creating a Helleno- and Romanocentric narrative, which often relegates the island to a footnote. However, the inhabitants, native and immigrant, did write and those texts survive, engraved on a variety of durable materials – the practice of epigraphy. These texts embrace a broad socio-economic range, across public and private life. Proceeding from an unparalleled unification and exploitation of all the texts from the island (7th cent. BCE – 7th cent. CE) in a single corpus, ‘Crossreads’ will combine the insights from the collected corpus with the insights and analysis resulting from three major subprojects. These will explore the historical linguistics of the texts, the social, economic and practical materiality of the stone texts, and the physical forms of the writing systems employed – and interactions between all these aspects. Building upon a successful pilot project (I.Sicily), ‘Crossreads’ will bring all these inscribed objects together for the first time in a comprehensive, open-source, digital corpus using international standards to encode text, images and contextual data. The project pioneers the use in ancient epigraphic studies of new digital tools in palaeography and linguistic annotation, and offers the first petrographic analysis of the use of stone on the island. No such analysis has been attempted on this scale nor across this range of material, and it promises unparalleled insights into the cultural interactions at the heart of the Mediterranean, between Greek East and Latin West, North Africa, indigenous voices, and others.


The project (2020-2025) will be directed by Professor Jonathan Prag (Oxford), and will employ a six  post-doctoral researchers: firstly to develop a comprehensive corpus of all the inscribed texts in all formats from ancient Sicily; secondly to work on linguistic analysis of this material; thirdly a palaeographic analysis; and fourthly, the petrographic analysis of the stones employed in monumental epigraphy on the island. For the palaeographic analysis, we are excited to be collaborating with colleagues at King’s Digital Lab (KCL), in development of the Archetype software platform. For the petrographic analysis, we look forward to a highly productive collaboration with Professor Paolo Mazzoleni and colleagues at the University of Catania, Sicily.


A summer in Sicily

One of the advantages of currently co-directing an excavation at the beautiful site of ancient Halaesa is that it means that we’re based in Sicily for a whole month.


The hill of ancient Halaesa (Tusa, ME), seen from the south

This provides us with a wonderful opportunity to make a series of visits to museums and sites all over the island, in pursuit of inscriptions. It has also provided an extended opportunity to study the epigraphy of Halaesa in depth, which is unusually rich, and a subject to which we shall return in another blog post.

This summer’s travels included the chance to visit a whole series of locations rich in epigraphy, including a return to Catania to continue to work on the material in the Castello Ursino (Inscriptions in the Castello Ursino, Catania), but also visits to the sites of Tyndaris and Soluntum, both equipped with excellent antiquariums.


In addition, several museums extended a very warm welcome to us. Modern San Marco d’Alunzio sits on the site of ancient Haluntium, and has a wonderful civic museum hosting Norman and Byzantine frescoes, but also a fine collection of Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions from the ancient town.


‘Temple of Herakles’ at San Marco: an Italic temple re-used as a later church

Termini Imerese, site of the Hellenistic refoundation of ancient Himera, and later a Roman colonia, has a beautiful civic museum, which includes a particularly rich collection of Hellenistic and especially Roman inscriptions from the ancient town.


The Museo Civico at Termini Imerese

Last, but hardly least, Agrigento, besides the wonderful temples, also has the splendid Museo archeologico regionale P. Griffo, in the middle of the site of the ancient city, and with a recently curated epigraphic gallery.


The ‘Oratory of Phalaris’ (an Italic temple, source of an early Latin inscription), the ekklesiasterion, and a wing of the Museum at Agrigento

In the next few posts we shall report on each of these site visits and their inscriptions. Then, all that remains is to process all the new photographs and autopsy records and get them into I.Sicily…

Voci di pietra: multiculturalism and integration in Ancient and Late Antique Sicily

Following on from the exhibition ‘voci di pietra’ (voices of stone) at the Museo Civico Castel Ursino in Catania, the University of Catania has joined forces with the original collaborators in the exhibition (the Museo Civico, the Comune di Catania, the CNR-ISTC, the Liceo Artistico Statale “M.M. Lazzaro”, and the University of Oxford) to bring together leading scholars on the epigraphy of Catania and ancient Sicily for a 2-day conference. The conference will take place on 16 and 17 March 2018, in the University of Catania (ex Monastero dei Benedettini, Piazza Dante) and in the aula consiliare of the Palazzo degli Elefanti, Piazza Duomo.

Catania_epigraphy convegno

Do join us if you can!

From pre-print to post-print: come study with us!

We are excited to announce the possibility of a funded doctoral scholarship to work with the I.Sicily data/project on the epigraphic culture of Sicily and the impact of digital publication. This forms one part of a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Centre on the theme of Publication beyond Print.


Catania Museo Civico inv.354=ISic000297; cover of Gualtherus 1624; XML for ISic0297

The Leverhulme Doctoral Centre will challenge the dominance of the printed word in the study of human culture and society, by examining other media used before, alongside and after print. It will question the assumptions that self-expression, political community and intellectual progress are best served by printing. To do so, it will range across both historical media (some still in use), such as inscriptions and handwriting, and new digital media. In this way, it will ask how past methods of publication without print help us to understand future ones, and how emerging technology helps us to think about cultural history. It will bring students of communication into dialogue across differences of time, language, discipline and technology, from the humanities to social sciences.

For admission from October 2018, ten topics are offered for study. Of those ten, five will be funded this year, depending on the applications received. One of those topics will exploit the I.Sicily corpus to develop a post-print study and publication of the pre-print epigraphic culture of the island of Sicily (full advert in pdf here). I.Sicily is a digital (EpiDoc) corpus under continuous development, based in the Faculty of Classics, with a track record of combining digital innovation with collaborative research and local dissemination projects (browse around this site for more!); additionally, the PI is editing in parallel the new edition of the Sicily volume of the definitive paper corpus of the Berlin Academy, Inscriptiones Graecae XIV.12. Sicily offers unique opportunities for analysis of a regional epigraphic culture over more than a thousand years – the island is a richly multilingual and multicultural region at the heart of the ancient Mediterranean; I.Sicily offers a rich digital dataset with possibilities for further development – the ideal basis for such an innovative approach. The project will offer extensive opportunities to engage with the Leverhulme Doctoral Centre ‘Publication beyond print’, with reference both to the ancient pre-print publication world and to the challenges and possibilities of the post-print world of the digital humanities.

The deadline for applications is noon on 9 March 2018. For more information on how to apply, see the doctoral centre webpage. Please get in touch with jonathan.prag(at) directly if you have any questions!

Inscriptions in the Castello Ursino, Catania



One of the most exciting projects I.Sicily is currently involved with is a four-way collaboration to catalogue the epigraphic collection of the Museo Civico Castello Ursino di Catania and to display a selection of the material in a new exhibition, ‘Voci di pietra’, ‘Voices of stone’, which opened on Friday, 14 July 2017. This project is partly funded by The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH), and is a collaboration between the CNR-ISTC “EpiCUM” project, the Comune di Catania, and the Liceo artistico statale “M.M. Lazzaro”. Over the next few posts we’ll describe this project.

Cataloguing the collection at Catania


The civic museum at Catania, housed in the norman Castello Ursino, has an eclectic collection which unites objects gathered over the centuries by Catanese collectors. Principal among these was Ignazio Paternò, Principe di Biscari (1719-1786), who was an avid antiquarian scholar of Sicily and his native Catania. The other major part of the collection was formed by the museum of monks of the great Benedictine monastery of Catania, the buildings of which now form the seat of the University of Catania. Two monks, the abbot and antiquarian Vito Maria Amico and the prior Placido Scammacca (uncle of the Prince of Biscari) were instrumental in compiling this museum.

Portrait of Vito Maria Amico

The central part of the collection is formed by a group of some 500 ancient inscriptions, of which about half come from Sicily, and most of these from Catania. The remainder either come from Rome (e.g. the Catacomb of Domitilla), or are a mixture of copies and forgeries created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (these have their own story, for another time – see the interesting new project on epigraphic forgeries at the University of Venice).

The Catania collection was catalogued for the first time in 2004 by Kalle Korhonen of Helsinki University. Korhonen’s study (with a set of basic images online) includes an invaluable account of the history of the collection and the culture of funerary epigraphy in Catania; but it has become clear both that there is a need for a revised and extended digital catalogue and that some material escaped that first study. Dott.ssa Daria Spampinato of the CNR-ISTC, together with the director of the museum, dott.ssa Valentina Noto, initiated a project to create a new and comprehensive digital catalogue of the museum – the EpiCUM project (Epigrafe del Castello Ursino Museo). Since half the collection (c.250 inscriptions) is Sicilian material, and I.Sicily already has draft EpiDoc records for all these stones, it was then agreed to collaborate on the Catania catalogue, and a formal accord to that effect was signed between I.Sicily and the Assessore of the Comune di Catania, Prof. Orazio Licandro in 2016.


Dr Prag and Prof. Licandro

It’s all about collaboration

The most frequently heard response to a description of the I.Sicily project, at least in Sicily, is ‘pazzesco!’ Anyone who sets out to develop full digital records of all the inscriptions of ancient Sicily (more than 4,000 texts on stone) is clearly mad. Assessments of sanity aside, the reality is that the project is only viable as a collaborative undertaking. One of the merits of a digital platform is that it makes it much easier to enable multiple and collaborative authorship (and we are continually exploring the options for ensuring that every contributor gets maximum credit for their contribution).

The vase majority of the island’s inscriptions are stored in museums, and the only way that we can fulfill our ambition of locating and undertaking autopsy on every inscription is by working closely with the museums and archaeological projects on the island who uncover and curate the inscribed objects in the first place. To make this possible, we have created a database of Archaeological Collections in Sicily (primarily the work of Dr Michael Metcalfe). This database enables the development of museum-based searching and cataloguing within the corpus, and in particular means that through I.Sicily it is possible to access a free online catalogue of each individual museum (e.g. that of Adrano). We very much hope that this work can in turn serve a valuable purpose for those who maintain these collections, not only in providing easy access to the information for the museums themselves, but also because it offers the possibility of making the material more visible and accessible to a wider audience of both researchers and the general public.

Lastly, much of this work can only be made possible through further technological developments, and we certainly do not want to reinvent the wheel (or a code library). Consequently we are always on the look out for similar (and different) projects where we have common aims and interests and can potentially share insights and techniques.

In some of the future blogs we will discuss some of these various collaborations in more detail. For now here is a list of all the collaborations we have begun (and occasionally even completed), and the principal collaborators:


  • Museo Archeologico Regionale “Paolo Orsi”, Siracusa. The Paolo Orsi museum, which hosts a huge collection of material from eastern Sicily, was the first major museum to begin collaborating with us (the project began in 2012, and has been warmly supported by the successive directors of the museum, dott.sse Ciurcina, Basile, Lamagna, and Musumeci, and throughout by dott.ssa Angela Maria Manenti) and we have the permission of the Assessorato per i Beni Culturali di Sicilia to place images of the material online. We are currently working to catalogue the epigraphic collection of the museum, which has never been the object of a systematic study in the past. The material will all be included online in Sicily, but we also aim to produce a traditional published catalogue. To date we have recorded 400 texts; the final number is likely to be at least 600. A key part of the work is the separation and detailing of the larger (1000+) collection of material from the nearby catacombs.


Museo Civico Castel Ursino, Catania

  • Museo Civico Castello Ursino, Catania. The civic museum of Catania (director dott.ssa Valentina Noto), which is housed in the city’s Norman castle, holds a substantial collection of c.500 inscriptions. It is an unusual collection, containing a large number of texts from Rome and also a significant number of 18th century fakes and copies, since a major part of the collection has its origins in the material collection by the Principe di Biscari in the later 18th century. With the additional support of the University of Oxford’s TORCH Knowledge Exchange programme, we are collaborating with a CNR project (Epigrafi di Castello Ursino Museo, directed by dott.ssa Daria Spampinato) to build a digital catalogue of the material in the museum, but also with the Comune di Catania and the Liceo Artistico Statale “M.M. Lazzaro” to involve local school children in the recording of the material and in the development of an exhibition during 2017, as part of the Italian state’s ‘alternanza scuola-lavoro’ scheme. We signed a formal accord with the museum and the Assessorato di Catania (Prof. Orazio Licandro) in May 2016. Preliminary records have already been drawn up for 325 texts and the exhibition is in the planning stage.
  • Museo Regionale di Adrano (CT). During 2015 we collaborated with dott.ssa Merendino at the museum at Adrano (also housed in the town’s Normal castle) to restudy and catalogue the various inscriptions in the museum and from the immediate vicinity. This work will be included in I.Sicily as well as being published within the forthcoming catalogue of the museum in collaboration with dott.ssa G. Lamagna.


The Hellenistic/Roman agora of Halaesa

  • Museo Archeologico “Giacomo Scibona”, Halaesa (Tusa, ME). Since 2014 (but associated work dates back to 2010) we have been collaborating with dott.ssa G. Tigano and dott. R. Burgio of the Messina Soprintendenza to develop a full catalogue of the c.60 inscriptions from this site on the north coast of the island. The work coincides with the redisplay of much of the epigraphic material and will result in an Italian catalogue of the material (in preparation) and the inclusion of the material in Sicily.


Agrigento Museum, seen from across the ekklesiasterion

  • Museo Archeologico Regionale “Pietro Griffo”, Agrigento. During summer 2016 we have reached a formal agreement with the Agrigento museum (under the direction of dott.ssa G. Lamagna, with dott.ssa Guzzone) to work on a project of restudying the epigraphic material in the museum jointly with prof. Giulio Vallarino, of the Politecnico di Bari.
  • Museo di Archeologia dell’Università di Catania. In May 2016 we undertook a rapid  autopsy of the valuable little collection of inscriptions held within the former Collezione Libertini, with the support of the director Prof. E. Tortorici and the assistance of Rodolfo Brancato.
  • Museo Archeologico Antonino Salinas di Palermo. In December 2016, the Museum, under the direction of dott.ssa Francesca Spatafora, granted us formal permission to include its epigraphic collection in I.Sicily and we very much look forward to developing the collaboration in the future.
  • Inscriptiones Christianae Italiae: Siracusa. We are currently discussing a collaboration with the project of prof.ssa M. Sgarlata to catalogue fully the 1000+ inscriptions of the catacomb of San Giovanni in Siracusa within the ICI The role of I.Sicily will be to develop digital records for all these texts.
  • CVAST: we are in discussion with Prof. H. Maschner and Prof. D. Tanasi of the University of South Florida, to collaborate in their major project to laser scan collections in Sicily. We hope to work with this much larger project to explore the potential for the incorporation and exploitation of high resolution image and photogrammetric data in the digital study and publication of epigraphic texts.


The Roman theatre of Catania

  • Soprintendenza per i beni culturali e archeologici di Catania: with the support of the Catania archaeological authorities (dott.ssa Branciforte; dott. Nicoletti) we have begun work to study epigraphic material recovered from the excavations of Roman Catania over the past decades, with a particular emphasis on the material from the Roman theatre.

We look forward to expanding this list steadily in the coming months and years! If you would like to collaborate on either an institutional or individual level, please do get in touch.

Data visualisation

One of the things we hope that I.Sicily will make possible is the active exploration of data on Sicilian epigraphic culture – you will be able to filter the data held in I.Sicily actively on the website, and you will be able to download any dataset you build with the filters as a .csv file (or you can just download the complete datatable). Once you have a csv file, you can start to explore the data for yourself in other ways.

As a first trial, we have been putting some of the data into the powerful free visualisation service offered by Tableau Public:


As an example, this visualisation uses a map-base from OpenStreetMap and plots the number of inscriptions on stone known from the north-east corner of Sicily. This is a work in progress, and we shall add more variables and hopefully interactivity over the next few days, so watch this space.

A progress report

We now have 3238 records in the I.Sicily database, but we’re not yet online (not long now!) – why not? The major challenge throughout this stage of the project has been moving from an old, flat Access table of metadata (i.e. information about the inscriptions: bibliography, provenance, description, classification, etc.)…

Access screen shot

Screenshot of part of the Access table

….to the much richer and more flexible XML EpiDoc format.

Oxgyen screen shot

Provenance information encoded in TEI-XML

There is a lot that we can add in this process: if you compare the provenance information in the table with that in the Epidoc, the former just has place names, whereas the latter has Pleiades URIs (Unique Reference Identifiers) for the ancient place names, Geonames URIs for the modern places, and specific geodecimal degree coordinates for the precise locations where known. All of this information can be added in during the conversion process (thanks to the marvellous James Cummings), and while this involves manually creating tables of this information, doing it once, e.g. for each placename, outside the main table is far quicker and simpler than adding all of this for each individual record. In deciding to use Pleiades as our primary reference for ancient place names, we have taken the opportunity to edit and improve the Pleiades data for Sicily (and sometimes the data in OpenStreetMap and Geonames as well) – the benefits are cumulative all round (thanks to Valeria Vitale for doing most of this work, and Jeffrey Becker at Pleiades for continuing support!).

The same thing can be done (and we are doing so) for many of the other types of information. The EAGLE project has generated a number of online vocabularies for many of the classifications used in epigraphy (the problem of course being that every epigrapher uses these slightly differently, or with slightly different words – and different languages – so one of the major contributions of these vocabularies has been an attempt to try to align and translate terminology). During the conversion process we are incorporating reference to the URIs for Inscription Type (e.g. honorific), Object Type (e.g. altar), Material (e.g. limestone), and Execution Technique (e.g. engraved).

In all these cases, one benefit of taking the time to do this now, is that ensures that we clean up and normalise our own data. In the long term, the holy grail is that adding in all of these references to the XML opens the door to Linked Open Data, connecting the information which we’re putting online to other related datasets and resources (for an easy example of this in action, have a look at the page for Syracuse in Pleiades, and then look at all the ‘Related content from Pelagios’ in the frame on the right side of the page: in due course, you could expect to see I.Sicily content referenced here too).

A further key part of this process is making sure that all of our records are clearly and uniquely identifiable. Internally we can do this without difficulty, and every record (i.e. every inscription) has its unique I.Sicily number (ISic 0000). We will in turn maintain each of those identities as a URI: But we want to make sure that those identities make sense to others and are recognisable, and crucially that they align to any existing identities for the inscriptions. Indeed, that was one of the original objectives behind the first database, collecting all the traditional bibliographic references and trying to align them to ensure that there was a single record for each inscription. But now there are multiple digital online identities too. For Sicilian epigraphy the key existing resources are the Epigraphic Database Roma (EDR), which has about 2000 Sicilian records (on all materials); and the PHI Greek epigraphy database [this link is to the more accessible version which does not require JAVA], which has entries for c.1800 Greek inscriptions on stone from Sicily. Ideally, we want all of our records to cross-reference all of their records. Unfortunately, at this stage, there is no quick way of achieving this, and so in recent weeks I have been manually adding the EDR and PHI numbers to the I.Sicily records (a slow process, but much quicker within the simple framework of the flat Access table). One potential solution to this particular problem is the Trismegistos project, which began life working on ancient Egypt, but now aims to generate unique identifiers for all ancient papyrological and epigraphic texts. If every project references via a TM number, then they can all be aligned much more easily. We have recently exchanged data with Trismegistos and we now have TM numbers (many of them new) for about 90% of our records (huge thanks here to Mark Depauw). In the future we hope to collaborate with Trismegistos for the recording of names and people also.

Finally, we are doing our best to improve the information on the current location of the inscriptions, which curiously seems to be something that epigraphers have not always been very diligent about recording. We are working closely with several of the Sicilian museums already (in particular the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum at Siracusa, and the Museo Civico of Catania) to improve the cataloguing of their collections, and so to be able to provide inventory numbers. As part of that process we are providing a URI  for every archaeological collection (and in due course every public archaeological site/park), which will enable the proper linking of inscription and museum records, and the conversion will embed that information in the XML also.

This whole process of data enrichment and conversion is very nearly complete. When it is, we hope to put a ‘beta’ version of I.Sicily online, to enable people to start using and testing the site and to help us develop it as a resource. You may have noticed that the thing that we haven’t really talked about much so far is the texts themselves (and there will be images too). At this stage the project has deliberately concentrated on the metadata, since that is where our resources are much richer than those of the existing online datasets. In the first instance, therefore, most of the records will lack a proper marked-up EpiDoc text; but, having aligned our records with those of other online databases, users will still be able to get to a text for any inscription they are interested in at a couple of clicks. And we expect to convert and incorporate the majority of texts rapidly in the coming months. Our longer term goal is to build in a version of the Perseids platform to enable anyone to contribute texts or edits (subject to peer review and with due authorial credit) and so to build I.Sicily into a complete and very rich collaborative online corpus of Sicilian epigraphy.

O, and none of this would be possible without the tireless efforts of James Chartrand, at Open Sky Solutions (Canada), who is actually building all of this!


Epigraphic picnics

Some 1600-1800 years ago, six men decided to commemorate the fact that they had just enjoyed the pleasures of a local spring. They did so by engraving their names on the rock face above the spring. Having tracked the inscription down on a hot July day in Sicily, and stood in the spring in order to read it, I can share their feelings!

Reading IG 14.572 (with wet feet!)

Reading IG 14.572 (with wet feet!)

View over the River Simeto valley, from the Favare spring

View over the River Simeto valley, from the Favare spring

Finding texts of this sort tends to rely on local knowledge, and it’s only thanks to Angela Merendino and her colleagues at the Adrano Museum that I found the text, at the Le Favare spring in Contrada Polichello (Google map of location), above the River Simeto and below the modern town of Adrano (ancient Hadranum).

Precisely because of the difficulties both of finding the text and in turn of actually getting close to it and reading it (the water’s very cold, the shaded spot is beloved of mosquitos, and the lighting is very hard to modify), this inscription provides a very good example of textual traditions and transmission, and the sort of chinese whispers they can involve. The earliest report is in the 1624 edition by George Walther:

Gualtherus 333Walther (Gualtherus in his Latinised form) reports it as being 12 stades from Hadarnum, incised on rock at a spring. Note that while he accurately reports the variety of lunate and four-barred sigmas, several of the ligatured letters cause him problems, meaning that the various names are rather uncertain.

Gabriele Lancillotto Castello, prince of Torremuzza (1727-1794), in his edition of 1769 reported a text based on the edition of Walther:

Torremuzza 1769 VII 21It’s worth noting already that Torremuzza has omitted reference to the spring, changed one of the sigmas, and has replaced Wlater’s attempts to render what he could see on the stone with the various ligatured letters with his own assumptions. Unlike Walther, he has offered a translation of the last word.

There are a number of other reports in the subsequent century and a half, but things improve considerably with the visit of the indefatigable Paolo Orsi on 2 April 1898 (recorded in Taccuino (notebook) no. 38), who made his own transcription, recorded in the Notizie degli Scavi di Antichita of 1900:

Orsi NSA 1900 44Orsi is faithful to what he can see, almost to a fault, so the second (ΛΑΛΟC = Lalos) and third names have become Allios Bophos (instead of Lalos and Rouphos, see below); but he is the first to get ΕΥCΕΒΗC (Eusebes) right on line 2, and the first to read the Θ in the last word and so to translate the verb correctly (‘they enjoyed themselves’).

As with so many Sicilian inscriptions, Giacomo Manganaro offered the first modern and accurate edition (Parola del Passato 16 (1961), 132), but he didn’t make explicit what the text looked like on the stone, simply offering a fully edited text (he republished more fully in 1992; while Antonio Ferrua republished it in 1989, but simply repeated an earlier, inaccurate text).

JP transcriptionThe inscription is not easy to reach or photograph, and my own transcription, done at speed, turns out to be deficient in its reading of ΕΥCΕΒΗC (Eusebes)when checked against the photographs (Orsi’s version above is the right one).

Trying not to fall in...

Trying not to fall in…

ISicily 1391, 3 July 2015

The text of ISicily 001391

Detail of the left side of the text

Detail of the left side of the text

The text reads:

Κελαδιαˬνὸς, Λάλος, Ῥοˬῦφος,
Φησεῖνος, Εὐσέβˬης
Παυλˬε<ῖ>νος εὐφράνθησαν (palma)

The ˬ symbol indicates that the two letters have been joined together in a ligature, such as Æ. The text can be translated as:

“Keladianos, Lalos, Rouphos (Rufus), Pheseinos, Eusebes and Pauleinos enjoyed themselves”

Three of these have Greek names (Lalos, Pheseinos and Eusebes), while the others have Roman names. Their status is uncertain, given the use of single names (which means they could be slaves, or just non-citizens), but the choice is complicated by the difficulty of dating such a text. There has been a tendency to suggest it is of the ‘Christian’ period, or ‘epoca tarda’, all of which suggest somewhere from the third to fifth century AD. More recently, Manganaro has suggested it might be of the second century AD, and certainly there is nothing about the letters and the text that requires it to be later.

Sadly not every inscription is in such a good spot for a picnic.  But with modern mapping and imaging, such remote ‘rupestral’ texts can increasingly be more easily located and recorded.