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: http://www.sicily.classics.ox.ac.uk/isicily/inscriptions/0000. 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 1391

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.

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 3374 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 3440, 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!