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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…

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