Dr Peter Liddel, University of Manchester
Hundreds of thousands of inscriptions on stone survive from the ancient Greek world and some 20,000 from Athens alone. They include simple labels and name-tags, public and private monuments to the dead, dedications, and official documents of varying length and detail.
The real value of these inscriptions is that they have been untouched by later editors in transmission from the ancient to the modern world. Reading an inscription gives direct insight into the activities and mindset of past societies written in their own words. Dissemination of these inscriptions among modern learners of classics and ancient history, however, has been difficult because translations have not readily been available. Our Attic Inscriptions Online website aims to translate and offer discussions on all surviving inscriptions from ancient Athens. It makes them accessible to everyone with internet access. As of April 2021, it contains English translations and commentaries on about 2000 of these inscriptions.
We currently focus upon those Attic inscriptions which are currently held in collections in the United Kingdom: the Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections project (2017-2022) is creating new editions of the 220 (or so) ancient Athenian inscriptions known to be held in 12 collections across the UK. More than half of these inscriptions are kept at the British Museum, but there are collections dotted across the UK.
Since 2017, we have undertaken a review of most of the UK-based inscriptions and are in the process of publishing them, sometimes for the first time. We have, for instance, published the first edition of a fourth-century Athenian funerary monument in the collection of the Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne (cover image). This monument offers tantalising insights into the life and most likely premature death of Pantakles, the man named in the inscription. Above the inscription a sunken panel contains the figure of a siren (a mythical creature with wings and bird’s legs). In ancient Greece, sirens were closely associated with mourning. They were commonly depicted on Athenian funerary monuments when the deceased, particularly unmarried women and youths, had suffered an unnatural or untimely death. Our Pantakles may have been a young man. A further aspect of this inscription verifies the youthful nature of the deceased: beneath the inscription there is a representation in relief of a loutrophoros (water-jar), the upper part of which is preserved. In life, this type of vessel was used in wedding ritual and on a funerary monument it signified that the deceased had died unmarried.
In the same project we publish what may be the only ancient Athenian inscription in a collection in Northern Ireland, the Mount Stewart stele, a unique monument depicting five members of a family which may have been associated with the orator Demosthenes.
We hope that the Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections project will make these inscriptions ever more accessible to wider audiences, and will facilitate wide understanding of these inscriptions and the history of how they came to be distributed across the UK.
Our project is now moving into its outreach and impact phase. Later this year we will launch the Attic Inscriptions: Education part of our website, which will offer free resources for teachers of ancient history and classical civilisation in primary and secondary schools and colleges.
On June 5th we will hold a CPD event introducing teachers of classical subjects at pre-18 level to the use of translated Greek inscriptions in the classroom. It will be led by Dr Peter Liddel (University of Manchester) with guests including Professor Stephen Lambert (Cardiff University), Charlie Andrew (Classics for All), Dr Sharon Marshall (University of Exeter), Dr April Pudsey (Manchester Metropolitan University), Rob Hancock-Jones (Townley Grammar School), Liam Holian (Weaverham High School), Sophie Evans (Pimlico Academy), Andronike Makres (Greek Epigraphic Society), Athina Mitropoulos (Queen’s Gate School), Karen Stears (Devonport High School) and Anne Wright (Woodbridge School).
All are welcome. You can sign up for the event here (a £5 registration charge applies).
We hope you will join us!!!
Fig. 1: Funerary stele of Pantakles. AIUK 12 (Great North Museum: Hancock) no. 1. Photograph: Polly Low.
Fig. 2: Timodemides’ Pinakion, Manchester Museum. Photograph: Bryan Sitch.
Fig. 3: The Mount Stewart Stele. AIUK 13 (Mount Stewart) no. 1. Photograph: Frederick Lauritzen.