Publishing Inscriptions

The presentation of an epigraphical text may vary significantly according to the context of the presentation and the audience it is intended for. What follows is just a summary of some general principles.

The first information that must be provided is about the physical nature of the object: the type of object (stele, frieze, tablet, milestone, military diploma, seal, etc.) and the material from which it is made (stone, marble, bronze, wood, wax, etc.). An account should be provided of the archaeological context of the object: where and when it was found, and whether we can safely assume that the object was at the same site in antiquity. Several measurements must be provided, notably of the object under discussion, of the inscribed area, and of the letters of the inscription (the size of the latter often varies considerably and this is an instructive fact in itself). One should then comment on the preservation state of the object, especially the inscribed portion: does the whole text survive (this will usually be apparent at first glance)? Attention should then be given to the shape of the letters, which can provide valuable insights into the chronology, the destination, and the context of the inscription. The way in which they are inscribed requires some comment too, as well as the general layout of the inscription: these points have great importance in establishing the chronology of a document, for example the engraving technique used in the Republican period was significantly different to that used in the Empire.

After this general information has been provided, the text should follow. It is always advisable to accompany the transcription with a translation, as this is not just an invaluable working tool for the reader, but the first step towards the interpretation of the document. Complex inscriptions are usually accompanied by an apparatus criticus, i.e. a series of notes commenting in detail on all the problematic aspects of the text, notably on the sections of the text that are not easily legible, any peculiar features of the lettering, the abbreviations used, and the readings of previous editors (if possible). A comment on the contents of the document should follow; the most thorough approach is to discuss it line by line, integrating both the linguistic and the historical levels. A general concluding discussion should normally follow this analysis of detail: its main aim should be to explain how the inscription contributes to the understanding of problems of wider importance.

A comprehensive study of any inscription should be accompanied by a photograph or a drawing. It is a convention that any illustration is illuminated from the top left of the artefact, although in the case of a photograph of an inscription, the light source may need to be placed so as to provide an optimum reading.