Category Archives: Archeology and epigraphy

An ancient Sugar Ray Leonard, a deceased Cynic philosopher, and a colleague of Marcion at Sinope

I’ve been making my way through The Inscriptions of Sinope, the latest in the series on Greek inscriptions of Asia Minor (bibliography below).  Sinope was a Greek city on the northern coast of Turkey.  Its location on the Black Sea made it important for sea trade, and the sailor and “heretic” Marcion was from this city.  A few of the inscriptions stood out to me and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is a very successful boxer of the first or second century who may well match or beat Sugar Ray:

M(arcus) Iutius Marcianus Rufus, outstanding boxer of Sinope, who won victories in the sacred triumphal competitions: at Rome in the Capitoline, 3 times in succession — at Neapolis, twice — at the Actian (games), twice, the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at the Nemean (games), twice – at the Isthmian (games), twice – at the Pythian (games) – at the Olympic (games) – at the Panathenaic (games), the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at Antiocheia (in Syria), 3 times, the first and only ever of the youth and men’s classes in one day, in the men’s class – in the Pythian games at Antiocheia – at Nicomedia, 3 times, the first and only ever in the under-age, youth and men’s classes – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Smyrna, Pergamum, and Ephesus – at the Aspis at Argos, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Sardis, twice, at Philadelphia, twice, at Traelles, twice, at Hierapolis, twice, at Laodiceia, twice, at Thyateira, twice, at Mytilene, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Pontus games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Galatia games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Macedonia games – at the (Provincial) Community of Bithynia games at Nicaea, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Cappadocia games – and at other competitions in the half-talent class, 110 times.  (In all) 150 victories.  By decision of the Senate (ISinope 105; trans. by French with adaptations, see below).

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I guess.

The second is the grave of a Cynic philosopher of the second or third century.  This is the first grave of such a philosopher I have encountered, but there may well be others:

This then is (the) stone of a man whom, moreover, — an expounder of wisdom — this city has produced,  [ - - ] of [ - - ] Perseus.  Why does he have the name “wing”?  Tell us! Because a raised wing too drew (him) through the air of Greece.  This Perseus (was) [inclined] too towards Cynic thought, since he carried a wallet (and) a scimitar (small sword) in the place of a staff . . .  (ISinope 171; trans. French, with adaptations).

The third involves the grave-stone of a shipper from Sinope (first-third century CE), the hometown of another more renowned shipper, named Marcion:

Hail, O passer-by!  (I), Callinicus, having sailed (over) many waves, sailed (on) the last voyage of Lethe, (I) whom the sea in the deeps did not extinguish, but the earth destroyed by a heavy sickness; having lived two and thirty years, eager to come to (the) fate of (my) younger brother Calligonus, long dead, having lived nobly for fourteen years; thus are the plans of (the) fates arranged.  Iulius Callinicus, ship-master (naukleros), lies here (ISinope 169).

This inscription also points to another reality of life in the ancient world, namely, the short life expectancy:  Callinicus lived to the age of only 32 and his brother had died when he was only 14.

I plan to do more posts on interesting inscriptions I encounter.

David H. French, ed.,  The Inscriptions of Sinope (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, vol 64; Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 2004).

Angel-loving association cancelled – A new reading of an often cited inscription from Asia Minor

The availability of the journal Epigraphica Anatolica online is already paying off!  There you will find a new article which has some notable repercussions not only for the study of associations in Asia Minor but also for the study of the opponents of Colossians: Hasan Malay, “ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ in Phrygia and Lydia,” Epigraphica Anatolica 38 (2005) 42–44.

Back in 1980/81, A.R.R. Sheppard published a little inscription (from near Kotiaion) involving Holiness and Justice, two personifications that were commonly honoured in certain areas of Phrygia and Lydia (“Pagan Cults of Angels in Roman Asia Minor,” Talanta 12-13 [1980-81]: 77-101 = SEG 31 1130).  The more exciting element in the inscription was the apparent reference to non-Christians or non-Judeans who devoted themselves in some way to “angels”, which was based on Sheppard’s reading: ΦΙΛΑΝΓΕΛΩΝ (“Friends-of-angels”).  Sheppard’s translation of the inscription was as follows:

Aur(elius) … the Association of Friends of the Angels (made) a vow to Holiness and Justice”.

Sheppard suggested that this involved “pagans” who had some contact with the Jewish notion of angels.  Sheppard’s reading of the inscription was also discussed in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 6, number 31.

This idea that there were “pagans” devoted to divine messengers or “angels” then became background for some New Testament scholars who were sorting out the “philosophy” combated by the author of Colossians (2:8-23), particularly the reference to the “worship of angels” (2:18).  Clinton Arnold’s theory regarding the opponents of Colossians, for instance, drew attention to the importance of angels in Asia Minor not only among diaspora Judeans but also among pagans, such that we could speak of a common folk practice in this region.  He suggested that the opponents were practicing the (magical) invocation of angels for protection and that this reflected both the Judean and pagan devotion to angels in Asia Minor specifically (see Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996]).

However, Malay’s recent study of this particular inscription has shown that Sheppard likely misread a key letter here (what a difference one letter can make).  What Sheppard read as a “gamma”, Malay now says is surely a “pi”, which leaves us with ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ, “Friends-of-the-vine” or “Vine-lovers”, and no angels at all in this inscription.

Malay publishes another inscription which confirms the existence of associations devoted to the vine, in other words relating to wine production and/or consumption, in the same region (in this case from nearby Katakekaumene, now in the Manisa Museum, dating 161/2 CE):

“To the Good Fortune! In the year 192, on the fourth day of the month Peritios, New Lovers of Vine (φιλάνπιλοι) set this up as a vow to Mother Leto on account of their own salvation.

The meeting of the association of friend-of-angels is apparently canceled.

A computer in 100 BCE?

I just received an email from Harold Remus who pointed me to an interesting article on a mechanism designed to compute solar eclipses and to arrange the calendar in connection with the cycles of the Olympiad (ancient Olympics).  The New York Times article explains:

The Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the first analog computer, was recovered more than a century ago in the wreckage of a ship that sank off the tiny island of Antikythera, north of Crete. Earlier research showed that the device was probably built between 140 and 100 B.C.

The full article is available here: Discovering How Greeks Computed in 100 B.C.

Visiting Ephesus . . . in Vienna, part 2: Some gods

Monument relating to SalutarisWalking through an ancient city such as Ephesus, one would encounter a plethora of monuments, inscriptions and statues on a scale not familiar to a modern person who is used to sky-scrapers and plain old pavement. Among these were dedications to Roman imperial authorities, such as an emperor or a governor, and monuments erected by or for local notables in the city, such as the monument for C. Vibius Salutaris which you see to your left. There were also many buildings and monuments relating to the gods at Ephesus, some of which I have discussed before.
Hermes statue (missing head)

There are numerous artefacts pertaining to gods and goddesses in the “Ephesus Museum” at Vienna.Hermes Hermes head (without body)One might encounter a god like Hermes at various points in one’s travel through the city. Thus, for instance, archeologists have recovered a now headless statue of Hermes (above). But they have also found a bodiless head of Hermes (left). This messenger god Hermes also appears more than once at Ephesus in his other, less humanoid form as protector of those that travel (right).

Central to honouring any deity in the ancient Mediterranean was sacrifice. And so one would find altars on which to make offerings to certain deities, especially animal sacrifices, in the many temples and shrines in Ephesus. One of the altars that is now at Vienna possesses an interesting relief that depicts the goddess Nike (“Victory”) proceeding forward with an animal for sacrifice. Quite often Greeks (and Romans) would depict their gods engaged in the very activities that devotees engaged in. Thus deities are often pictured holding a libation bowl in their statues. Libation bowls were used by worshippers to honour a god or goddess with a drink offering.

Altar with Nike

Although not from Ephesus specifically, the museum at Vienna also happens to have a statue of a native Anatolian goddess (with many local “incarnations”), the Great Mother or Cybele as she was called by Greeks and Romans. Cybele was, in many cases, a goddess associated with the wild and with mountains in particular. Quite often she is pictured seated on a throne or standing with lions on either side as in this statue. Cybele was also known for her secretive “mysteries“.
Cybele from Pergamum

Visiting Ephesus . . . in Vienna, part 1

One of the more interesting parts of my recent visit to Austria for the SBL was visiting Ephesus. . . that’s right. The Austrian Archaeological Institute (Österreichische Archäologische Institut), whose website is here, has been active in excavations of this site in Turkey solidly since the 1950s (and Austrian work there goes back even further to the 1890s as you can read on that website). They have created the “Ephesos Museum” to display some of the finds that were brought back to Austria from Turkey.

As you may know, you can already read about Ephesus and view photos from the actualModel of Ephesus site on my own website here. I have also created a virtual tour of the “Selçuk (Ephesus) Archeological Museum” in Turkey, along with other museums, on my Archeological Museums webpage. Right now I thought I’d give you a few glimpses into the Ephesian materials that are kept in Vienna, in the Hapsburg palaces, no less. (No assassinations took place while I was there, as far as I know).

The Ephesos Museum has an interesting model in wood which provides a good overview of the site. Pictured here is the view from the south east showing the upper portion of the city with its temple for Domitian and Kuretes Street leading down towards the Celsus library, the theatre and the main marketplace (to the left of the theatre). Further in the distance (to the right of the theatre) are the two main gymnasia or athletic complexes.

Bronze Athlete This is an opportune time to mention some athletic related pieces in the museum.

First of all, there is a very well presented bronze statue of an athlete from Ephesus (reconstructed). This is a Roman copy of a Greek original (ca. 320 BCE) and is often categorized along with other statues that depict an athlete scraping off sweat and dirt after a competition (hence they are sometimes called “the scraper”, apoxyomenos — wiki article here). Here the athlete can be seen reaching down to scrape his thighs, holding his hands in a way that shows that the statue originally included a scraping instrument in his hands.

Similar statues have been found, such as the recent find (of 1996) in Croatia, on which see the online discussion of the Croatian Apoxyomenos. Another in the Vatican Museum (Pio Clementino inv. 1185), which is likely a copy of an original by the famous sculptor Lysippus, has been the subject of sketches that are available on the Perseus website here and here. An excellent photo of the upper portion of the Vatican statue is here.

Pliny the Elder also relates a story regarding a statue of this type by Lysippus. The story goes that this statue, which was dedicated by Marcus Agrippa in front of his baths was so admired by the emperor Tiberius that he had it moved into his own bedroom. There was such an uproar due to the popularity of the statue that Tiberius was compelled to put the statue back in its public setting for all to see (Pliny, Natural history 34.62).Herakles vs Centaur in Vienna

For another bronze athlete, this one found in the Aegean sea off the coast of Cyme in Turkey (now in the Izmir / Smyrna museum), see my photo here.

Another intriguing bronze piece at the Ephesos Museum is a lamp. I’m not sure whether you’d want this as a reading lamp for your living room, though. It depicts Herakles (Hercules), patron deity of athletes, engaged in a struggle with a mythical centaur (half man, half horse). Looking at the piece you get the feeling that Herakles has the upper-hand and that the centaur doesn’t have much time left–he’s going down. In previous posts, I have discussed mythology associated with the centaurs at some length (with photos from the British Museum): Bandits and their wild banquets: Lapiths and Centaurs.

I’ll have more from the museum at Vienna soon. Oooh, the suspense.

New blog on “Current Epigraphy”

Inscriptions have played a key role in my own research and you may remember that a while ago I began a series of posts on Greek epigraphy (I really should do more posts now in that series).

Now there is a brand new blog that focuses on sharing news regarding inscriptions or epigraphy: Current Epigraphy (Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London). As the editors of that blog note, they are seeking to fill the sort of role that the blog What’s New in Papyrology does for that other area.

Associations of Immigrants: Thracians and the goddess Bendis near Athens

As I have mentioned, I am presently writing an article on immigrants and immigrant associations in the Greco-Roman world. My primary focus now is on comparing Judean (Jewish) synagogues in the dispersion with other immigrants from the Levant (east of the Mediterranean) who likewise formed associations, especially Syrians or Phoenicians.

Jews were by no means the only group of immigrants who gathered together regularly in associations and maintained important connections with the culture and religion of their homeland. I will save the Syrians for future posts, but thought I’d mention one of our earliest attested cases of a group of immigrants who formed an association devoted to the deity of their homeland: the Thracians devoted to the goddess Bendis near Athens, Greece, in the Piraeus.

Thracian Goddess Bendis with devoteesVotive relief depicting the Thracian goddess Bendis with a number of torch-race victors approaching their goddess (c. 400-350 BCE, now in the British Museum, photo by Phil)

We know very little about the goddess Bendis herself, who is often (as here) depicted in Thracian hunting gear (and with affinities to Artemis the huntress). At the Piraeus there were at least two associations devoted to her, one of them for immigrants from Thracia (north of Macedonia) specifically and the other for citizens of the city. We first catch a glimpse of a group of Thracians requesting and gaining permission from Athens (which controlled the port city of Piraeus) to set up a temple for their goddess somewhere between 434 and 411 BCE.

David Frankfurter on “fetus magic” in Roman Egypt

The most recent issue of Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies (current issue not yet online) has a fascinating article by David Frankfurter (U. New Hampshire): “Fetus Magic and Sorcery Fears in Roman Egypt,” GRBS 46 (2006), 37-62. Frankfurter explores the case of one Gemellus Horion, a partially blind descendent of a Roman veteran who brought a formal complaint before the Roman strategos over an incident that occured in the village of Karanis in 197 CE. Horion’s not-so-friendly neighbours — the family of Julius — had on more than one occasion robbed Horion’s family of their harvest and had ensured that their thieving action would not be stopped by using magic. Not once, but twice, the neighbours had thrown an aborted or miscarried fetus (brephos) in order to “surround [the Horion family] with malice” and create a binding spell that would ensure that noone would stop them –apparently with success to the point of Horion’s petition for Roman action. The complaint on the papyrus, as translated by Frankfurter, reads in part:

“[Julius] again trespassed with his wife and a certain Zenas, holding a brephos (fetus), intending to surround my cultivator with malice so that he would abandon his labor after having harvested . . . Again, in the same manner, they threw the same brephos toward me, intending to surround me also with malice. . . Julius, after he had gathered in the remaining crops from the fields, took the brephos away to his house (PMich VI 423-424, lines 12-14, 16-18, 20-21, as translated by Frankfurter 2006:41).

Frankfurter goes on to discuss this incident of a binding spell within the context of local traditions of magical practice and shows how the fetus functions primarily as something completely out of place or “weird” and therefore impure (making use of Malinowksi’s principle of the “coefficient of weirdness”) (p. 52). I would highly recommend this and the many other solid studies that David Frankfurter has produced, including his Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) and “Ritual as Accusation and Atrocity: Satanic Ritual Abuse, Gnostic Libertinism, and Primal Murders,” History of Religions 40 (2001), 352-381.

Frankfurter has a knack for picking interesting topics and solving important issues in the process, I would suggest.

Israel Antiquities Authority recommends moving the Megiddo prison to preserve the Christian mosaics (Megiddo mosaics 7)

As Jim Davila points out, there is now an official recommendation by the Israel Antiquities Authority to move the prison and preserve the site of the newly discovered Christian mosaics and possible church. Two other recent articles in the Jerusalem Post and on discuss this same development. If IAA’s recommendation is followed, this is good news for further archeological study and preservation of the site.

Recent articles on the Megiddo find (Megiddo mosaics 6)

There are two recent articles of note on the Megiddo find.

On the one hand, there is an article over on Sightings, a publication of the Martin Marty Center (University of Chicago). Laurie Brink (Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Catholic Theological Union) provides an overview of the situation regarding dating and reaffirms the sort of cautions on theories of an early date that I have expressed here on my blog before (she speaks of the “archaeological penchant for early dating”). She also notes Megiddo’s “competitor” for the earliest church, namely the house-church (domus ecclesiae) at Dura Europa which is dated to 240-41 CE. The Dura Europa find represents a building that was originally a house that was transformed for use as a church, what we call a house-church (on potential house-synagogues, see my earlier post here). Brink also mentions recent redatings of archeological finds that push dates later, such as Magness’ redating of the Sardis synagogue (on which see my post here). Overall, Brink tends to the view that the Megiddo find is more likely dated to the time after Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 CE. (There are some spelling errors in the article [e.g. Edit], so beware). Brink concludes: “Thus the significance of the Megiddo discovery may lie neither in its date nor its uniqueness, but in its context, where it may prove to be a rare archaeological example of an ordinary center for early Christian worship. As such, it would not compete against the Dura Europos church, but rather find commonality with it.”

The other article is at and gives you somewhat of a prisoner’s perspective on the find: ‘ “First I found corner,” Batir continues. “I go, dig with hoe, saw here a little, 10 centimeters, and I think to myself there is something here. There was plaster, shards, no pictures. After that I saw fish and I know it is Christian.” ‘

“Mysteries at Eleusis: Images of Inscriptions” website (Epigraphy 7)

As noted on Stoa, there is a beautiful new website that provides high-quality photos of inscriptions (about 800 of them) relating to the mysteries of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis: Mysteries at Eleusis: Images of Inscriptions (hosted at Cornell University Library)If you are not familiar with the mysteries and would like some background first, you can read short discussions about the mysteries generally on my site here and about the Eleusianian mysteries here, as well as the mysteries of Dionysos, Mithras, and the Great Gods (of Samothrace).

Fish in Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian mosaics (Megiddo mosaics 5)

In a recent email, one reader asked about the two fish depicted in the Megiddo mosaics, and wondered whether there may be any connection to astrology and pisces. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss some examples of sea-creatures in Greco-Roman art and to post a few photos (or links to photos) to illustrate (when else might I have the opportunity to use photos of fish?).

It is very true that there are other mosaics in which two fish are depicted in a similar manner in reference to pisces, but in the context of other signs of the zodiac. See, for instance, the two fish depicted alongside other signs of the zodiac in a third-century mosaic now in the Bardo Museum in Tunisia (also described here), or the two fish in the mosaic from a synagogue at Hammat Tiberias in the Galilee (another photo here; fourth-fifth century CE). The latter is just one among the examples of the zodiac in Jewish synagogue art (see, for instance, the description of the Sepphoris synagogue mosaic here).

Setting aside astrological symbols specifically, fish and other sea creatures were also common within Greco-Roman (“pagan”) art in other ways. Here I have posted a few photos I took in the British museum. Some are focussed on the fish themselves, as in the early second-century mosaic with a lobster and fish from Papalonia, near Rome (above). Other mosaics depict actual hunting and fishing scenes, as in the third century mosaic from North Africa (right). In still other cases fish are depicted in scenes of abundant food, as in the first or second century mosaic from Carthage, likely from a dining-room (triclinium), which depicts a basket of fish alongside a basket of fruit (see below).

Quite well known, of course, is the fact that early Christians attached special significance to the symbol of the fish, which may directly relate to the Christian mosaics which have been uncovered at Megiddo. There are numerous stories involving fish in the gospels, with the most obvious being Jesus’ multiplication of the fish and loaves to feed thousands. The disciples, some of whom were literally fishermen, are characterized as fishers of people in the gospels as well. Gradually, the fish also became associated with other specifically Christian rituals, including the thanksgiving meal (eucharist) and baptism. Tertullian, for instance, speaks of Christians as fish following the chief fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ) Jesus Christ in connection with baptism: “But we, being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and only while we abide in the water are we safe and sound” (On Baptism 1; trans by Ernest Evans, online here). Tertullian may here be alluding to the fact that the Greek word for “fish”, ΙΧΘΥΣ, was used by some Christians as an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”, with each letter representing part of this name / title (cf. Sibylline Oracles 8:217-250). Fish commonly appear in Christian funerary art of the third and following centuries, sometimes alongside other symbols which were given a Christian meaning, including the anchor. This Christian understanding of the symbol may be primary in the Megiddo case (if no other zodiacal symbols are found). Yet it is worth mentioning the possibility that the (non-Christian?) artist hired to create the mosaic may well have had in his mind the model of pisces as commonly depicted in other mosaics.

For further discussion of fish in Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian art, see Erwin R. Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period and Graydon Snyder’s Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine.

Further information on Christian mosaic find (and possible church) in Megiddo prison (Megiddo mosaics 4)

In earlier posts, I have discussed the new find of Christian mosaic inscriptions in the yard of the Megiddo prison. There is now further information regarding the discovery in an article titled “A latter-day Gog and Magog?” in (thanks to Jim Davila for the tip, who found out on Archeologica News).

The story in Haaretz points to tensions that are developing between the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who quite clearly want to fully excavate and preserve the find, and the Israel Prison Service (IPS), who are concerned to continue building projects to house prisoners. There are several other comments made in the article, some of which correct earlier generalizations and some of which need qualification (which I highlight here):

“The images and writing on the floor, and the pottery and ceramics found adjacent to it, lead us to the conclusion that we uncovered a floor of a public structure that served ritual purposes,” Yotam Tefer [head of the archeological team, also transliterated Tepper in other articles] says. “We are not entirely sure that we can call this a church, because we have never uncovered a church in Israel that was built before the year 325 and we simply do not know how churches built here at that time looked.”

The year 325 is when Christianity was declared the official religion in the Roman Empire. Until then, the Christians in Palestine, as in the rest of the empire, were compelled to carry out the rituals of their religion in secret.

Further on in the article a similar statement regarding “secrecy” is made:

IAA officials explain that the fact that the inscription mentions a “table” and not an “altar” indicates that it was written when Christianity operated “underground” and conducted its rituals around simple tables rather than altars, as was customary thereafter.

These latter statements regarding secretive or underground activities are somewhat misleading if applied generally to Christians in the Roman empire. It was only in specific periods of persecution by the Roman state in 250 CE (under emperor Decius) and then from 303-305 CE (under emperor Diocletian) that Christians were actively sought by the Roman authorities. In general, there was no need for Christians to engage in their activities “in secret”, though they were not fully “public” either. Though they were disliked (and locally persecuted from time to time by fellow-inhabitants) for their failure to honour the gods of the Greeks and Romans, Christian groups, like many pagan groups or associations, lived their lives largely unbothered by Roman authorities unless they were involved in larger civic unrest or riots.

The article also expands on the description of the find:

There are four pictures and three Greek inscriptions on the floor discovered at Megiddo. Based on these findings, IAA archaeologists assume that these are the remains of a church that dates back before the year 325. Prof. Leah Di Segni, an expert on ancient inscriptions from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who deciphered and translated the texts found at Megiddo, supports their assumption, but also stated that a more precise dating could only be done after additional remains are uncovered.

Additional artifacts are apparently buried under the stratum where the floor was found. Di Segni has determined that the formulation of the inscriptions and the form of their letters testify to the fact that they were written prior to the declaration of Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, the IAA has decided to transfer the mosaic to its laboratories to conduct vital maintenance and preservation work, but they made a point of emphasizing that this was only a temporary move and that the floor would be returned to its original spot after this work is completed. . . The decision concerning whether to turn the Megiddo area into an international tourist site or to keep the prison there will ultimately be made by the government.

Updates regarding the Christian mosaic inscriptions and possible church at Megiddo (Megiddo mosaics 2)

There are now other more detailed stories emerging (along with some nice photos) in connection with the new find of Christian mosaic inscriptions in the Megiddo prison yard. Go to post no. 1 in this series and scroll down to the updates.

UPDATE: Also see the comments section of this post, where I address a reader’s questions regarding the so called nomina sacra (“sacred names”) abbreviations which do appear in one of the Megiddo inscriptions and which may have an impact on the question of dating.

Nov 16.: Jean Véronis now has a discussion (in French) on “sacred names”: Ecriture: La Nomina Sacra sous la prison.

Christian mosaics discovered at Megiddo prison (Megiddo mosaics 1)

As pointed out by both Jim Davila and David Meadows, there is a news release reporting that a building that may be an early Christian church has been discovered in excavations within the grounds of the modern Megiddo prison (see the brief articles at and The clearest claims of the story in are that three mosaic inscriptions have been found (one small photo appears in the article), which are described as follows:

The northern inscription mentions a Roman army officer who donated the money to build the floor. The eastern inscription commemorates four women, and the western inscription mentions a woman by the name of Ekeptos (sic), who ‘donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration.’ The mosaic also contains geometric patterns and a medallion with a fish design.” [We now know that the name is Akeptous, not Ekeptos, as in the photos and in the Washington Post article discussed below].

The story bills this as potentially the earliest church building ever found, but supplies little support for this suggestion. I will try to keep an eye on this story to see if more substantial and reliable information comes forth.

UPDATE (Nov. 7): One can never beat Jim Davila to the draw. See his discussion of another, far more restrained article in the Washington Post (which makes me glad about my natural hesitancy in the discussion above). The Post‘s description of the inscriptions, which is based on comments of the archaeologist in charge of the excavation (Yotam Tepper), is as follows:

Tepper said the most important evidence comes from three inscriptions found in the mosaics. Along the edge of the largest mosaic, featuring at its center the early Christian symbol of two fish, an ancient Greek inscription, roughly translated, reads: ‘Gaianos, also called Porphyrio, centurion, our brother, having sought honor with his own money, has made this mosaic. Brouti has carried out the work.’ Tepper said the inscription refers to a Roman officer — many officers were early converts to Christianity — who financed the structure’s construction.

An inscription on a second mosaic, closer to the base of a pedestal whose use archaeologists have not determined, recalls by name four women from the community. Tepper said the third inscription is the most archaeologically valuable. It reads: ‘The God-loving Aketous (sic) has offered this table to the God Jesus Christ, as a memorial.’” [The name on the inscription is Akeptous, with a "p"].

FURTHER UPDATE (Nov. 8): National Geographic online now has three excellent pictures of the mosaics, available here.

Also go to the comments section of post no. 2 in this series for my answer to a reader’s question regarding the abbreviations for God and Jesus Christ (so called nomina sacra, or “sacred names”), which are used in at least one of the inscriptions mentioned above. The use of the abbreviated “sacred names” (with the horizontal line over the abbreviation) here suggests that the inscription likely dates to the fourth century or later (but the third century is not impossible).

FURTHER UPDATE (Nov. 10): Over at, Brandon Wason has taken the time to transcribe the Greek of the Akeptous inscription, providing his own translation and some initial commentary.

Packard Humanities Institute Greek inscriptions online (Epigraphy 6)

As noted on Stoa, there are clear signs that the PHI Greek inscriptions (that were previously only available to researchers on CD-ROM) are going to be fully available online soon. They are still arranged by region. This will be great (if you like inscriptions, that is, which you should).

UPDATE (July 27, 2008):  The PHI website is fully functional and working well these days, but at a new address:

Thank goodness for the availability of all of these Greek inscriptions online.  It has made my life (in writing a book right now) much easier.  Thanks to Fritz Graf for noticing that I had an old dead link here.

New study on imperial cults / worship of the emperors: “Temple-wardens” (neokoroi)

Worship of the emperors is a fascinating aspect of religious life in the Roman empire. Over on BMCR, there is a review (by Kieran Hendrick) of a recent book that deals with the title “temple-warden” (neokoros) in connection with provincial imperial cults (temples devoted to worship of the emperors): Barbara Burrell, Neokoroi: Greek cities and Roman Emperors. Cincinnati Classical Studies, New Series Volume IX. Leiden: Brill, 2004.

Cities throughout Asia Minor and other eastern areas of the empire proudly took on the title “temple-warden” when they came to host a provincial temple in honour of the “revered ones” (Sebastoi), the emperors or imperial family as gods. Burrell’s book gathers together and provides an overview of the evidence for this practice.

If you would like to know more about worship of the emperors in the eastern part of the empire, you can read a brief overview here on my site. Or, if you would like to read more about imperial cults at the local level within associations, read my journal article here (or this one). On the significance of these cults for John’s Apocalypse (Revelation), which speaks of “worshipping the beast”, read this. The classic study which set the stage for much recent research in this area, including my own, is Simon Price’s Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1984). That is still the place to start if you want to read a book on the subject.

Photo (above right): Head of the colossal statue of emperor Domitian (or Titus) associated with the provincial imperial cult temple at Ephesus (which made the city “twice temple warden” in the Flavian era, the late first century). Now in the Ephesus Museum (mini-photo-tour of museum here). Photo by Phil.

New study on Roman imperial statue bases and Troels on inscription erasures (Epigraphy 5)

Over on “Towards an Archaeology of Iconoclasm“, Troels mentions a new study by Jakob Munk Højte on Roman imperial statue bases. Troels then goes on to the question of the mutilation of inscriptions, and mentions a case in the Prytaneion (presidency building) at Ephesus which involves the obliteration of the goddess Artemis’ name (probably by Christians). Troels also promises some more entries on the topic, to which I will look forward.
Troels also mentions the relative commonality of the erasure of an emperor’s name in cases where an emperor was so disliked by other senators that his memory was “condemned” (damnatio memoriae) after his death. I happen to have on hand a photo of an inscription, now in the museum at Ephesus, that involves a dedication to the emperor Domitian in 88-89 CE (by the city of Klazomenae) (IEph 235). After the condemnation of Domitian’s memory, Domitian’s name was erased and the monument was rededicated to the emperor Vespasian. The erasure and re-inscription took place on lines two and four, with Domitian being replaced with “god” (theos) in line two and Germanicus being replaced with “Vespasian” in line four).

You can also check out some other monuments and statues in the Ephesus museum, as well as other Turkish museums, here.

UPDATE: Welcome to readers of Respectful Insolence (aka Orac Knows), a blog by an “academic surgeon and scientist” that covers just about everything you could imagine, including science and history (especially WW II and the Holocaust). If you are interested in Roman history and the history of religions in the Roman empire (including Judaism and Christianity, of course), you may (are sure to) find other entries of interest here.

Redating the Sardis Synagogue?: Jodi Magness argues for the 6th century

As Jim Davila points out, there is an article in the new issue of the American Journal of Archaeology which argues on numismatic (coin) evidence that the Sardis synagogue dates to the sixth century, about two centuries later than commonly suggested (Jodi Magness, “The Date of the Sardis Synagogue in Light of the Numismatic Evidence,” AJA 109 [2005] 443-47). The mosaic floors in the Sardis synagogue, which is located within the larger Greco-Roman bath-gymnasium complex, had previously been dated to the mid-fourth century based on coins found beneath the intact mosaics of the synagogue floor (primarily during the excavations of the 1960s).

(The main hall of the Sardis synagogue, showing the mosaic floors [ by Phil]).

However, Magness carefully re-evaluates all published reports and descriptions and throws into doubt this evaluation of the numismatic (coin) evidence. She points out how there are indeed coins found under the mosaic floors that date considerably later, including coins from the fifth and sixth centuries under both the forecourt and main hall floors (some of which were perhaps too easily dismissed as “contamination” or explained away in other ways once the fourth century dating was the working hypothesis). If this is indeed a correct revision, then many books and articles on the Sardis synagogue will become obsolete, so to speak. Certainly my discussion of the synagogue on my website (here) will need to be substantially revised if this newer view is true. I am somewhat convinced by Magness’ argument, but will need time to digest this further before deciding whether the suggested sixth century date for the mosaic floors is more likely.
(Right: Photo of the synagogue forecourt at Sardis).

At this point it is worth saying that even if the mosaic floors are sixth century, this does not rule out the possibility that the Jews were making use of the structure before that final, major overhaul. In fact, this is precisely what has been argued by the excavators, including Andrew R. Seager, who suggested that the Jews acquired and used this section of the bath-gymnasium (in so called stage 3) before making the final renovation with the mosaic floors (in stage 4). It is the mid-fourth century date for stage 4 that Magness is challenging.

It is worth briefly placing this discussion within other recent re-evaluations of the dates of other diaspora synagogue buildings and Jewish monuments. On pushing dates back, I have previously discussed Monika Trümper’s recent article which suggests an even earlier date for the synagogue on Delos. On pushing dates forward, Angelos Chaniotis convincingly argues that the donation inscription from Aphrodisias, which includes references to god-fearers, should now be dated to the fourth or fifth centuries, not the second or third (see Angelos Chaniotis, “The Jews of Aphrodisias: New Evidence and Old Problems.” Scripta Classica Israelica 21 [2002] 209-42). It will be intriguing to watch the reaction to Magness’ article and its impact on the study of diaspora Judaism, since the Sardis synagogue is often cited in broader discussions of the relations of diaspora Jews to Greco-Roman culture in the imperial (not later Byzantine) period.

Check out my squeeze: Inscriptional squeezes online (Epigraphy 3)

Epigraphists and ancient historians use the term “squeeze” not for a current girlfriend or boyfriend (as in 1950s movies), but for the result of wetting and placing a special thin piece of paper (filter paper) over the face of an inscription which is then rubbed with a squeeze brush. The result is an excellent impression of the texture of the stone, of other markings, and of the letters of the inscription itself. This, then, is an easier way of bringing inscriptions back with you to the office to carefully study the lettering and gaps in the lettering. It is an essential tool in publishing an edition of the inscription in question.There are several online sites which are presently placing photographs of squeezes on the web. A recent email from David Downs, a doctoral student at Princeton Theological Seminary, reminded me that the Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies at Ohio State University has a good (and expanding) collection of squeezes, particularly for inscriptions from Athens and from Macedonia.

Even more extensive are the collections made available by Oxford’s Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents. These imaging projects so far include inscriptions from the following regions:

Inscriptions from Aphrodisias online (Epigraphy 2)

After writing my previous post on Pergamon (Pergamum), I’ve been thinking that I should make comments regarding online resources for epigraphy and inscriptions (especially from Asia Minor) an ongoing segment of this blog. Although the likes of G.H.R. Horsley’s New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity have thankfully increased the interest in, and use of, inscriptional evidence by scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity, more of this needs to be done. And I believe some scholars of Christian origins remain somewhat hestitant (or even intimidated) by the whole sub-specialty of epigraphy when they don’t need to be.I hope my ongoing comments on epigraphy will help both other scholars (of early Christianity and Judaism) and the interested Joe and Jane to make better sense of inscriptions and the resources (especially online) to study them. Inscriptions provide important glimpses, albeit momentary glimpses, into social and religious realities of life for those living in the world of early Christians and Jews. Inscriptions and the monuments on which they were inscribed often provide an alternative picture of life in the ancient world to that offered by literary evidence produced by the elites.

The supplement to Pergamon inscriptions which I commented on in the previous post required that you know Greek to use it, but there is another resource that will appeal to a broader audience. Some of you may be familiar with the important “God-fearers” inscription (now often dated to the fourth or fifth century) which was discovered at Aphrodisias and revolutionized study of gentiles who were attracted to Judaism in antiquity. But there are many other interesting and important inscriptions which have been discovered in this same city in Asia Minor (Turkey).

Photo of sarcophagi (graves) in the yard of the Aphrodisias Museum (photo by Phil).

The website of the “Inscriptions of Aphrodisias Project” is very promising in providing excellent resources for studying inscriptions. At present, it provides free access to the second (2004) edition of Charlotte Roueché’s Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity: The Late Roman and Byzantine Inscriptions, which includes 250 Greek inscriptions with English translations and extensive commentary. There are plans to continue electronically publishing new finds from Aphrodisias as well. The extensive bibliography section includes links to online articles, including the recent (free access) article by Angelos Chaniotis, “New inscriptions from Aphrodisias (1995-2001),” American Journal of Archaeology 108 (2004), 377-416 (with English translations of the new finds). Also quite interesting are the photographs of notebooks (with documented Greek inscriptions) by early explorers of Aphrodisias, including the notebook of John Gandy Deering (written c. 1811-1813).

If you would like to do a quick photographic tour of the museum at Aphrodisias, including some of its monuments with inscriptions, go to my website here and click on the picture of Apollo at the top-right.

Update: Juan Garcés who is at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College, London, makes several further comments about this entry (see comments), including the fact that the plan is ultimately to have all of the inscriptions from Aphrodisias online. I just realized that this is the same person who reviewed my book for BMCR (he was very generous).

(My apologies for mispelling Angelos Chaniotis’ name, which is now corrected).

Inscriptions from Pergamum (Inschriften von Pergamon) online (Epigraphy 1)

For those of you who can work with Greek inscriptions, I have just discovered that the German Archeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut = DAI) now has (free!) online what they are calling the Supplement zum Corpus der Inschriften von Pergamon (prepared by Helmut Müller). Essentially, the “Commission for Ancient History and Epigraphy” is republishing and updating all inscriptions published by the DAI between 1896-1913, including those published in MDAI(A) (aka, AM) and Max Fränkel’s Inschriften von Pergamon (Altertümer von Pergamon VIII 1/2). So far they have sections for honourary inscriptions, dedication inscriptions, and gymnastic ephebe (“youth”) lists. They have arranged these by the original publication and inscription number (not supplying new numbers, e.g. AM 24, 1899, Nr. 31). You can view each individually (though not all together) in pdf.Thus, for example, you could take a look at a detailed description, an updated bibliography, and the Greek text for the honourary inscription set up by the association of Dionysiac “dancing cowherds” for A. Julius Quadratus, the Roman governor (proconsul) of Asia in 109/110 CE.

I really could have used this a few years back when I was hunting down each of the inscriptions individually and trying to find any more recent discussions of them through mental telepathy. But I’m happy it’s there now nonetheless! Perhaps other archeological institutes will follow the German Archeological Institute’s good example in providing ready and free access to hard-to-find inscriptions.

Early Jewish synagogue buildings in the diaspora: Not formerly houses

Two recent studies challenge L. Michael White’s suggestion that many synagogue buildings developed from earlier domestic buildings (that is, houses). In the case of the Greek island of Delos, Monika Trümper argues that the building variously identified as either a Samaritan or a Judean synagogue (known as GD80) shows no signs of having been a domestic dwelling. Furthermore, she also challenges those (such as Donald Binder, who also has a very good website) who suggest that the building was previously used by a “pagan” association and only later acquired by the Samaritans. Instead, her interpretation of the remains suggests that the building was used by the Judeans/Jews (or Samaritans) from as early as the second century B.C.E. If this is true, then this would represent the earliest known synagogue building in the dispersion. See the extensive article by Monika Trümper, “The Oldest Original Synagogue Building in the Diaspora: The Delos Synagogue Reconsidered,” Hesperia 73 (2004) 513-598. UPDATE: Article available free online (without original page numbers and without photos and figures) at find articles.

In the case of the port city of Rome, Ostia, Anders Runesson convincingly shows that the archeological evidence previously used to support the notion that the building was originally a house is incorrect. Instead, he argues that “the original edifice was public and monumental, containing a triclinium for common meals, and dated to the late Julio-Claudian period” (first century CE) (p. 171). See Anders Runesson, “A Monumental Synagogue from the First Century: The Case of Ostia,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 33 (2002) 171-220.

The photo to the right shows a menorah (seven-branched candle-holder) on the capital of a column of the Ostia synagogue. For a photographic tour of the various guild-buildings at Ostia, as well as more photos of the synagogue, go to another section of my website here.

It will be interesting to watch the debate develop now as these common notions (at least since the 1990s) concerning the origins of the synagogue are challenged.

Runesson’s excellent survey of research on the The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study (2001) is among the recent works that convincingly argues that, both socially and architecturally, synagogues have much in common with associations or collegia in the Greco-Roman world. There is an interesting online article by Runesson, which summarizes some of his work, here.

Banqueting under the protection of your gods

Down in a dusty basement of the British Museum, where few will ever see it, is a very interesting monument involving an association devoted to Zeus Hypsistos (“Most High”; GIBM IV.2 1007; from Panormos, near Kyzikos in Asia Minor).

The “three-storey” relief on this monument depicts the gods to whom the association was devoted, with Zeus (left) alongside Artemis (middle) and Apollo (right). All three deities hold out a libation bowl in their right hands, symbolic of the libations (drink-offerings) which humans offer in honour of these figures.

Even more interesting is the rare picture of an association’s banquet which is depicted under the benevolent protection of the gods. Here we see a number of members of the association reclining for the meal in a customary manner as they watch a female dance, perhaps performing in honour of the gods. She is accompanied by a seated man playing a Phrygian flute and a percussionist (using reeds) while, off to the right, a man takes care of the wine bowl for the symposium (drinking party).

A monument like this illustrates well the interconnected social and religious purposes of the associations. Partying and honouring the gods went together quite well in antiquity.

The inscription in the triangular shape at the top reads as follows:
To Zeus Hypsistos and the place. Thallos, eponymous official, dedicated this relief.

There will be more to come from my recent visit to the British Museum, and perhaps more on Zeus Most High, whose connections with Judaism are somewhat controversial.

(I would like to thank Dr. Peter Higgs, curator of Greek and Roman Antiquities, for arranging access to the monument).

An invitation from the god Sarapis: Banqueting with the gods

When the members of associations or guilds in the Roman empire gathered together for a meal, much more than simply satisfying the appetite or merely socializing was going on. Things that we moderns might separate into the categories of “social” and “religious” were intimately intertwined in antiquity, and the sacrificial meal is a case in point. The main way to honour the gods or goddesses was to make offerings of food or animal sacrifices, and in the majority of cases this, by default, included the accompanying meal of the worshipers.

In fact, in some cases it was even imagined that the god threw the banquet and was present with devotees as they shared in a communal meal. One banquet invitation on papyrus (ancient paper made from plants in Egypt) shows that the (Greco-Egyptian) god Sarapis sometimes sent out personal invitations for dinner: “The god calls you to a banquet being held. . . tomorrow from the 9th hour” (trans. by G.H.R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. I no. 1). And this is one of those rare cases when an upper-class author (in this case Aelius Aristides of Smyrna) happens to clarify how the members of an association devoted to Sarapis might think about their god’s presence, whether in Egypt or in Asia Minor:

“And mankind exceptionally makes this god [Sarapis] alone a full partner in their sacrifices, summoning him to the feast and making him both their chief guest and host, so that while different gods contribute to different banquets, he is the universal contributor to all banquets and has the rank of mess president for those who assemble at times for his sake . . . he is a participant in the libations and is the one who receives the libations, and he goes as a guest to the revel and issues the invitations to the revelers, who under his guidance perform a dance.” Orations 45.27-28; trans. by Charles A. Behr, P. Aelius Aristides: The Complete Works. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981 (second century