Elizabeth Meyer, A New Interpretive Study of the Evolution of Slavery in Hellenistic and Roman Greece.


The overall long-term goal of this project is to create an electronic archive of all Greek manumission inscriptions that can be of use to epigraphists (scholars specializing in the study of ancient inscriptions) and historians (of antiquity, but also of slavery in other historical periods) alike. The project was initially conceived as a way of organizing one type of data on which my own study of slavery, manumission, freedman status, and inscribing habits in Greece during the Hellenstic and Roman periods would be based, but has rapidly become more technically oriented and more precise, since all work which uses inscriptions needs to reflect a high degree of care and accuracy. The project thus aims to satisfy the needs of Greek epigraphists, to the extent that they can be satisfied when they cannot work from the stones themselves, by providing high-quality color images (and details) of every inscription, complete physical descriptions, comprehensive references to previous readings of the texts, reliable information about where the stone can now be found, and Greek texts of my reading of the stones. But I would also like to make this material accessible to non-epigraphists, and indeed to non-classicists (e.g. students of slavery in other historical periods), and have therefore included English translations of all inscriptions in this archive, information about location and context when possible, and forms of tagging (e.g. to price) that will help non-specialists to gather information from this archive.


Although searchable electronic archives are becoming more common in the field of Classics, where the TLG (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae) and TLL (Thesaurus Linguae Latinae) electronic archives of the texts of Greek and Latin authors led the way, there is a particular value to this kind of epigraphical archive. Publication of Greek and Latin inscriptions has traditionally proceeded inscription by inscription, or site by site, with large collections (organized by region or type of inscription) compiled by industrious individuals at thirty- or fifty-year intervals. These corpora, which aim at completeness, rapidly become out-of-date and incomplete as new studies of existing inscriptions, and new inscriptions themselves, are published; as a result, no published corpus can ever be truly up-to-date or complete. Because the high cost of publishing photographs limits the number of pictures that can be included in any given volume, the texts published of such corpora must (in general) be taken as authoritative. An electronic archive with good photographs, such as this one, aims to solve both problems by regularly updating its bibliography and, with its pictures, permitting the reader more freedom to disagree with my readings and to suggest new ones. This archive also offers flexible ways of studying inscriptions. Not only will the archive be searchable, but it will be searchable through a tremendous range of search formats: users will be able to investigate issues of chronology, authorship, and content in ways that are impossible with standard indices and corpora. Finally, as every working epigraphist knows, inscriptions disappear or, if subject to the elements, fade every year. The more of them that can be preserved, whether in the form of pictures or accurate information about where they were last seen, the better for the study of inscriptions over all, and for ancient history as well.

1995-1996: What Has Been Done

The 1995-1996 fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities permitted me to begin the construction of this electronic archive. The focus of this past year at IATH has been on data acquisition and the establishment of technical standards--on the accuracy rather than the accessibility side of the archive. I have created an image archive of some manumission inscriptions, drawing on slides and photographs which I took in 1994 and 1995 with the permission of the Greek Archaeological Service. This material will become available in sections, and will appear alongside the textual data-base as it appears geographical section by geographical section. The area of Boeotia has been selected as a test case through which to develop the document structure and organizational methods that will govern later setions. The Boeotia segment has also permitted us to resolve problems associated with the complex bibliographical reference system already developed by scholars in print publications, problems with the transformation of special epigraphical notation (following the Leiden system, an agreed-upon standard system of notation now followed by epigraphists) into SGML mark-up language, problems with linkages between inscriptions, problems with multiple entries on one stone, problems with searching over brackets, and problems with the varying spellings of place names.

At the heart of each entry in the Boeotia section is an elaborate heading. This heading provides the bibliographical notation for each inscription, followed by the text and, when possible, an image. We have decided to base the header on individual texts rather than stones, since each physical object may contain a number of inscriptions. For each entry we give, when we can:

Since numerous inscriptions can appear on an individual stone or fragment, each text is linked to other related inscriptions. In addition to completing this process for Boeotia, we have begun to gather material for Attica and the Peloponnese. As we assemble the texts for each sections, they will be linked to the image archive.

1995-1996: What Remains

Currently, a number of challenges remain. Paramount is the problem of displaying non-Western characters on the Web. Although we could display Greek characters as images, they would take a long time to load, would create massive storage requirements, and this material would not be searchable. We are attempting to develop a mechanism that will display individual Greek characters on the screen and will enable people to enter Greek characters as part of a search string. Other planned features which we have not yet incorporated are image-searching, reconstructions, and mapping. By the first, I mean that we hope to offer epigraphists the option of searching for matches or close matches of certain letter-shapes, since letter forms are an important element in the dating of all inscriptions. Image-searching software is not yet sophisticated enough to do this accurately, but we hope to work up some of our own. By the second, I mean restoring some of the original context to these inscriptions by including (where appropriate) architectural drawings of where they were inscribed on buildings, and how this changed over time. By the third, I mean a way of displaying a result of a search against the background of a map, so that one could see visually, for example, how many inscriptions recording the manumission of female slaves were recorded on the walls of temples in second-century Boetia, compared to the same for first-century Boeotia. I hope that the first of these features will be added in 1996-1997, and the others at some time thereafter.

Elizabeth A. Meyer, Associate Professor of History, Corcoran Department of History, Randall Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA USA 22903

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Copyright 1997 by Elizabeth Meyer, all rights reserved
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