From nothing to more than something: expanding epigraphic horizons – the case of Mineo



Modern Mineo, ancient Menai (Menae / Menainon / Menaenum) is a small town on the edge of the Catania plain, not far from the ancient sanctuary site of Palike where the Sikel leader Ducetius briefly established a settlement in the fifth century BC. The ancient city never made it into either Inscriptiones Graecae or the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, which is to say that by the later 19th century there was effectively no known epigraphic record for the ancient settlement.

The reality proves to be rather different. I.Sicily is steadily working through a combination of older publications and current museum collections in order to try to unify the complex epigraphic record for ancient Sicily. In the case of Mineo, a settlement for which there is apparently no record, the results are fairly startling.

The indefatigable Paolo Orsi already noted in 1900 (Rivista di Storia Antica, vol. 5, p.56) that an anonymous author writing in 1841 in the Giornale di Scienze, lettere e arti per la Sicilia (vol. 73, no.221: Google Books has the whole volume online) had recorded the existence of several inscriptions. It’s unclear why Orsi thought this anonymous, since the piece (pdf available for download) is one of a long series by the local antiquarian Can. Corrado Tamburino Merlini, after whom the local museum in Mineo is now named.

Orsi transcribed several inscriptions from Merlini’s original account, which appear to include a monumental text (names on a cornice, possibly to be linked to a Hellenistic period building excavated in the late 1950s by Gentili), at least a couple of funerary inscirptions, and a fragmentary public dedication, dated by eponymous priest. None of these appear to have survived down to the present day.

Tamburino's transcription of a now lost public inscription from Greek Menae

Tamburino’s transcription of a now lost public inscription from Greek Menae

Within a couple of years, new funerary inscriptions were being unearthed at Mineo, reported to Orsi, and in turn reported by him in the Notizie degli Scavi di Antichita. Several of these found their way to the museum at Siracusa, where they have now been catalogued in the first round of work by the I.Sicily project.

ISicily 3374 from Mineo, a funerary inscription on limestone, first published by P.Orsi, NSA (1920) 337, now Siracusa Museo arch. reg. inv. no.38271

ISicily 003374 from Mineo, a funerary inscription on limestone, first published by P.Orsi, NSA (1920) 337, now Siracusa Museo arch. reg. inv. no.38271

However, there is now a fine local museum at Mineo, with a catalogue edited by Laura Maniscalco in 2005, including an epigraphic section by the eminent Italian epigrapher Federica Cordano. This includes at least 12 funerary inscriptions, dating from the Hellenistic and Roman period, and mostly now on display in the museum.

ISicily 3440, a late Hellenistic or early Imperial period funerary inscription from the S.Ippolito necropolis near Mineo. Mineo museo civico inv. no. 5201.

ISicily 003440, a late Hellenistic or early Imperial period funerary inscription from the S.Ippolito necropolis near Mineo. Mineo museo civico inv. no. 5201

But the story doesn’t stop there either, since a number of late Roman / early Christian texts have also been uncovered in recent years, and several of these were recently published by V.G. Rizzone (in Epigraphica 2009). Several of the texts published by Cordano, and those published by Rizzone can be found in SEG, but SEG only captures 11 of the Mineo inscriptions in total.

The material from Mineo now includes at least 23 inscriptions (24 depending upon whether one of uncertain provenance should be attributed to Mineo). Several of these were lost in the 19th century; the rest are principally divided between the local museum and the Paolo Orsi museum in Siracusa. The material ranges from perhaps the third century BC to as late as the sixth or seventh century AD. It is almost all funerary and all but one of the texts is Greek (there is a single brief funerary inscription in Latin, on the reverse of one of the Greek ones). In the grand scheme of things, this may not feel like an enormous haul, but it is a step change from the picture presented by the great nineteenth century corpora, and one that we were not aware of until we started putting all the pieces together. It presents a notable picture of continued epigraphic and funerary practice in a smaller and more rural urban location of central eastern Sicily – and a notable continuity in the use of Greek in such contexts. Moreover, if this picture is replicated across Sicily, we shall have to start revising upwards the original estimate of 2,500-3,000 stone inscriptions considerably…

Epigraphy and public convenience(s)…


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View east towards the 'Pentapylon' of the fortress

View east towards the ‘Pentapylon’ of the fortress

Going to the loo on an ancient site can be an interesting experience – for all sorts of reasons. At the monumental Hellenistic fortress of Euryalus on the limestone heights of Epipolai above Syracuse (handy page on the site), the short path from the ticket office to the toilets takes you past something rather special  – and, inevitably, unlabelled and so probably unnoticed by almost all that pass. (Location is marked here on a map)


Inscribed block at the Euryalus fortress, Siracusa, Sicily

Inscribed block at the Euryalus fortress, Siracusa, Sicily

A large block of limestone (local, of the type used for most of the construction of the fortress), 1.43m by 0.44m by 0.63m; the left end of the face is slightly damaged, the right end intact, but the block is essentially complete. Across the face, in letters 17.5-20cm high (except omicron at 10.5cm) is the following text:

[- – -]ΥΣΔΙΟΣΚΑΙ[- – -] which suggests [- – -]υς Διὸς καὶ[- – -]

The letters ΥΣ pose something of a challenge. The rest of the text says ‘…of Zeus and…’. A second divinity’s name in the genitive is therefore likely to follow, but it’s not clear what could precede – the main options with the –υς ending are: (1) another genitive singular (many third declension words ending in –ης have a genitive in –ους), in which case a name or an object are possible, but epithets of Zeus usually follow the name, and one would expect another connective between proper names; (2) a nominative singular in -υς, or (3) an accusative plural in –ους (in the latter two cases, this would then refer to something of Zeus and …). Epigraphically, the combination only occurs (based on a search of the PHI database) as … ἱερεὺς Διὸς καὶ … (…priest of Zeus and…), but that is normally in a funerary or honorific context, describing an individual’s career, and that seems less readily applicable in such a monumental text. But we cannot go much further.

The letters are very similar to those of the inscriptions around the diazoma of the theatre built by Hieron II in Syracuse and which were inscribed after 238 BC, and consist of the names of members of the royal house and divinities (including Διὸς Ὀλυμπίου – Zeus Olympios)

Inscription from the diazoma of the theatre of Hieron at Syracuse, with the name 'Philistidos', i.e. of Philistis, wife of Hieron.

Inscription from the diazoma of the theatre of Hieron at Syracuse, with the name ‘Philistidos’, i.e. of Philistis, wife of Hieron.

Copy of the entry for the theatre inscriptions by Kaibel, IG XIV.3

Copy of the entry for the theatre inscriptions by Kaibel, IG XIV.3

Gentili, who published the text, reckoned our inscription belonged to the reign of Agathocles, but such precision is impossible. However, we could confidently say that the letter forms belong to the third century, and so might reflect work on the fortress by either Agathocles (tyrant / king 317-289 BC) or Hieron II (king c.270-215 BC). The phases of the fortress itself, which was originally constructed by Dionysios I (tyrant 405 BC – 367 BC) are very hard to determine, although a number are usually attributed to both Agathocles and Hieron II (see e.g. Winter, F. E. “The Chronology of the Euryalos Fortress at Syracuse,” American Journal of Archaeology 67 (1963) pp.363–87); sadly the inscription isn’t really going to help. What is more, although it is now located by the entrance to the fortress, this doesn’t seem to be where it originally came from, which is rather less clear (from the area of the city gate according to Gentili).

This is the only inscription visible on the site of the fortress, although it is not in fact the only inscription from the fortress: there are fragments from several monumental Greek inscriptions in the stores of the Museum in Syracuse, found at various points in the last 120 years (not all of them published, but all of them too fragmentary to tell us very much). This text is in fact published, in an article by G. Gentili in 1961 (Gentili, G. V. 1961. Nuovi elementi di epigrafia siracusana. Archivio Storico Siracusano 7: 5-25), but as far as I can tell, no-one has ever noticed, as it has gone wholly unreported since.


The text is important as a rare example of a monumental inscription from Syracuse in this period, as well as because of its provenance from the area of fortress itself. It is important for I.Sicily, because it offers another example of a significant Sicilian inscription for which it is currently very hard to find any information. And, once I.Sicily is online, we hope that you might even be able to find it on your smartphone when you’re staring at it on the site. Our friends at EAGLE are currently developing a very clever tool for image recognition, which might make this really easy; but a search for ‘ΔΙΟΣ’ in I.Sicily would find this pretty fast, especially with a simple filter or two like ‘Syracuse’; and we expect to include map-based searching so locating material from the fortress, or material at this location should also be very easy. We’re now properly in development (hurray!), with Open Sky Solutions so some of this should be a reality (at least a beta reality) by the end of this year!

Identifying inscriptions


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How do you know if it’s already been published? (and why I.Sicily will help).

One of the biggest challenges for the I.Sicily project is making sure that inscriptions are not recorded more than once and, even more fundamentally, working out if an inscription has already been published. This might sound obvious, but it’s not simple: you’ve found an inscription in the museum – and, if you’re really lucky it has an inventory number too. But how do you ‘find’ it in the world of scholarship? This is of course a problem for anyone coming across any inscription, and the normal answer is to check it against the indices of the big corpora – Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum or Inscriptiones Graecae – and of the journals which publish summaries of new and revised epigraphic material every year – L’Année Epigraphique (Latin) and Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (Greek). Even that used to be heavy going, and often relied on the inscription having some reasonably distinctive elements (e.g. personal names) within the text; and many publications do not record the inventory number. In general, things have got much, much easier in recent years with the rise of online databases of texts such as EDH, Clauss-Slaby, or PHI; and the EAGLE project (with which we’re collaborating) is now working to make that even easier by unifying many such projects.

But, as we try to build a corpus for Sicily, there’s a catch-22 – because we haven’t yet built I.Sicily, there is no unified corpus for the Sicilian material, and what is recorded in the existing resources just mentioned is unfortunately very limited for Sicily.

Sicilian inscriptions have been published since at least 1558, when Tommaso Fazello (Fazellus) recorded inscriptions within his de rebus Siculis decades duæ (the Bodleian Library has helpfully put online a pdf copy of the 1830 reprint of the 1574 Italian translation by Nannini). The first real corpus was produced as early as 1624 by the Austrian scholar Georg Walter (Georgius Gualterus), Siciliæ obiacentium insular(um) et Bruttiorum antiquæ tabulæ,cum animaduersionib(us) (Messina 1624 [1625] and Palermo (undated)); and the important Sicilian antiquarian, Gabriele Lancillotto Castelli, principe di Torremuzza, published a corpus in Siciliæ et objacentium insularum veterum inscriptionum nova collectio in 1769 (Palermo). (For an overview of early publication of Sicilian inscriptions, see ‘Corpora epigrafici siciliani da Gualtherus a Kaibel’, by Stefania De Vido, in M. I. Gulletta (ed.), Sicilia Epigraphica (2 vols.), Pisa 1999.)

However, Sicily was both blessed and cursed by this early interest. The volumes for Sicily in both Inscriptiones Graecae, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum are amongst the earliest volumes in those two series, which partly preceded the corpora: G. Kaibel’s Inscriptiones Graecae Siciliae et Italiae (Berlin 1890) became IG XIV, and T. Mommsen’s Inscriptiones Bruttiorum, Lucaniae, Campaniae, Sicilae, Sardiniae Latinae (Berlin 1883) forms CIL X (online at Arachne). The result is that while some 500 texts are recorded for Sicily in each of those volumes, the number of texts in each language that has been discovered since their publication has more than doubled. This would be less of a problem if most of these had been found and recorded in the last 40 years or so, and been picked up consistently by SEG and AE, but the real challenge lies in the fact that a great many of the inscriptions found since c.1890 have been published in relatively obscure places (the only meaningful supplement to CIL X for Sicily, Ephemeris Epigraphica VIII pp. 166-171, was published in 1899).

A huge amount of material was recovered in the 20-30 years following the publication of the main corpora, when archaeological work on the island exploded, especially at the hands of Paolo Orsi, and this is often briefly noted in the Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità. However, the Notizie have not (to my knowledge) been systematically reviewed for such material since, other than by individuals for their own research (this is one of the tasks recently begun by I.Sicily). But even material published, for instance, in the principal Sicilian journal Kokalos in the 1960s does not always make it into wider circulation: a statue base in the stoa of the agora at Soluntum, for instance, published by Vincenzo Tusa in 1963 (V. Tusa, ‘ L’anfipolia a Solunto’, Kokalos 9 (1963), 185-194), falls in a gap in the publication of SEG (although cf. SEG 46.1242c1-2), and so is frequently missed.

Soluntum: Hellenistic statue base in the stoa of the agora. (Photo: J. Prag 2002)

Soluntum: Hellenistic statue base in the stoa of the agora. (Photo: J. Prag 2002)

solunto_agora amphipolos base_left detail

Soluntum agora: detail of left half of statue base in the stoa (Photo: J. Prag, 2002)

solunto_agora amphipolos base_right detail

Soluntum, agora: detail of right half of statue base in the stoa (Photo: J. Prag, 2002)

The situation is compounded by the fact that many editions before the later 20th century, for practical and financial reasons, did not include images or drawings of the inscriptions. This is less of a problem (for identification) when the text is substantial, or intact, or contains significant or unique words; but, when we come to fragmentary inscriptions, sometimes of only a few letters, things are much worse. It is almost impossible to tell whether the fragment with the letter E mentioned in a publication in 1885 is the same as the fragment with the letter E which you have just found in a box in the museum stores. Even an inventory number is unlikely to help, unless the original publication also records that; but the original publication often precedes museum registration; and fragments are often poorly recorded, without detailed description of dimensions or material. Do fragments matter? Well, that’s for another time, but the basic point is yes: firstly, they might join up with another fragment; and secondly, each fragment is evidence for another inscription – and, on an island which is notoriously thought to lack an epigraphic habit, in part at least because the existing publication record is itself so fragmented, recording such fragments helps to change the historical picture. The museum in Syracuse, for example, holds literally hundreds.

So, it’s going to be a slow business. We have, for instance, located and registered some 140 inscriptions so far in the work of cataloguing the collection of the Museo archeologico regionale P. Orsi in Syracuse – but we have only ‘identified’ about 60% of those. That doesn’t mean the other 40% are unpublished (although some certainly are), but only that we haven’t yet worked out where they are published. One of the chief goals of I.Sicily, therefore, is to unify the Sicilian epigraphic record and make it fully searchable, so that others don’t have this problem in future. Among other things, that is why we have teamed up with the Trismegistos project at Leuven, which is generating and maintaining unique identifiers for ancient inscriptions across the Greco-Roman world, in order to ensure that every Sicilian inscription has its unique identifier – and only one of them!