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T is recorded by Suetonius that, when the Emperor Vespasian
rebuilt the edifices on the Capitol which had been destroyed by fire, he collected 3,000 tablets of bronze, on which were inscribed all the public acts and documents of the Roman State then extant. Those precious archives, which Suetonius justly calls instrumentum imperii pulcherrimum, have all vanished, having been for the most part melted down by the barbaric conquerors of Rome, whose mints were perpetually being fed with the spoils of the ancient world. Had a tenth part of these documents been preserved to us, had Livy condescended to study what was extant in his time, and to insert occasionally their texts in his history, as Polybius has given the text of the treaty which the Romans concluded with the Carthaginians in the first year of the Republic, there is no doubt that many of the problems of early Roman history would not have presented so many stumblingblocks which have baffled the ingenuity even of such acute students as Niebuhr and Mommsen.
When we turn from the obscure and enigmatical annals of the Roman Republic to the contemporary history of the Hellenic States, how different is the method of inquiry! The sources which now lie open to the student of Greek history are not merely the texts of the extant Greek and Latin authors, but a vast heterogeneous mass of documents which the patience and acumen of Böckh first reduced to method in his “ Corpus Inscriptionum
Græcarum,” and to which, since that work was published in 1839-50, such vast additions have been made that the Academy of Berlin has undertaken the colossal enterprise of publishing a new Corpus.
The number of inscriptions published by Böckh and the editors who succeeded him in the Corpus, amounts to upwards of 9,000; the number published and unpublished now extant cannot be stated with certainty, but may be reckoned at from 20,000 to 30,000. This great accession is due partly to the increased facilities for visiting the Levant which modern travellers have enjoyed since 1840, and still more to the excavations which have been so systematically and persistently carried on at Athens by the Greeks and Germans, and by a succession of English and French expeditions on the west coast of Asia Minor.
So great has been the harvest which these recent excavations have yielded, that all that was gathered in by the old travellers, from Cyriac of Ancona in the fifteenth century, to Leake and Gell in our own time, are but as gleanings in comparison : the reapers came with the generation which saw the kingdom of Greece established and the barriers broken down which made travelling in Turkey so difficult for Europeans.
Fresh fields of discovery were opened up, as the publication of the new texts was carried on with ceaseless energy, by Böckh, Ross, and Kirchhoff in Germany; by Pittakys, Rangabė, Kumanudes, and other Greek archæologists at Athens, and by Lebas, Waddington, Foucart, and Wescher in France; and the study of these texts developed a school of commentators distinguished for the sagacity and soundness of their conclusions, and for range and variety of learning. The great store of new historical and philological materials thus rendered accessible to the general student has been already worked up into a number of separate treatises. Thus the evidence which inscriptions afford with reference to Athenian finance is embodied in Böckh's great work on the public economy of Athens, in Köhler's “ Urkunden des Delisch-Attischen Bundes," and in Kirchhoff's “Urkunden der Schatzmeister." From the combined evidence of coins and inscriptions Mr. Waddington has constructed his admirable “Fastes des Provinces Asiatiques;” and the memoirs of M. Egger on ancient treaties, and of MM. Foucart and Lüders on the religious and dramatic societies in antiquity, are among the most recent and valuable contributions to this branch of archæology.
Reference to these works will give the general reader some idea of the method by which Greek inscriptions may be applied to the illustration of ancient history; but, if we would appreciate this documentary evidence as it deserves, and measure its range and compass, we must study the texts themselves, as we have
been taught to study the classical authors, “ nocturna versanda manu, versanda diurna."
But up to the present date too little has been done to make these texts accessible to the general student, who seldom has the time, if he has the patience, to wade through the dry and unpalatable details which form so large a part of the commentaries on inscriptions. What is now wanted is a popular work, giving a classification of Greek inscriptions according to their age, country, and subject, and a selection of texts by way of samples, under each class. In the absence of such a work, I have attempted here to sketch out a rough classification of this vast chaotic mass of ancient documents; and, first, it may be well to define the limit of our subject matter. If we use the word inscription in its widest sense, it would comprehend every extant Greek sentence, word, or character, whether graven, written, or stamped, on whatever material this writing may have been preserved. Such a sweeping definition would include MSS., coins, gems, vases, and other classes of objects which have been for the most part studied as independent branches of archæology, and which can only claim to be admitted into a Corpus of Greek inscriptions as an appendix. Passing over all notice of such varia supellex here, I shall confine my observations to inscriptions on durable materials, such as stone and metal—to inscriptions, in short, of a monumental character, which were for the most part public documents designed to be read by successive generations of men through all time.
This idea of the perpetuity of monumental inscriptions ever present to the mind of the ancient world has been curiously cast into the shade in modern times by the belief that in the printing press we possess an instrument by which the publication of all worth publishing can be multiplied to an incalculable extent, and renewed in successive editions as long as it is worthy to be remembered. The ancients had no such self-renewing instrument of publication and record. When any treaty, law, or other public document had to be promulgated, this was done by exhibiting in certain places of public resort authenticated copies inscribed first on perishable and ultimately on durable materials; and with a view to the perpetual preservation of these inscriptions, they were very generally among the Greeks set up in temples or in public buildings, which afforded every possible guarantee for their safe custody. It is probable that this custom of engraving written characters on stone or metal began among the Greeks soon after they had become familiar with the alphabet which they borrowed from the Phænicians. What may have been the date of those very early Greek inscriptions which Herodotus and Pausanias describe as written in Cadmean characters, and which they believed to have
been antecedent to the first Olympiad, is a matter concerning which we have no sure information. Kirchhoff, in his excellent work on the Greek alphabet, assigns what he assumes to be the earliest extant inscriptions to the second half of the seventh century. B.C., but it is very possible that we may possess inscriptions of a much earlier date, for, if we compare the Phoenician letters on the celebrated stelè of Mesa discovered in Moab a few years ago with the earliest Greek characters, the variation of type is but slight. The date of the Moabite stone is about B.C. 890, and if, as some authorities maintain, the earliest extant Greek inscriptions cannot be assigned to an earlier epoch than B.C. 600, it is certainly singular that an interval of three centuries should not have produced more marked differences in the forms of the letters than can be discerned, when we compare the most archaic type of the Greek alphabet with its Phoenician prototype in the ninth century.
Probably the first application of the newly adapted art was in dedicatory inscriptions or epigrams, to use this word in its original sense, and next in the solemn record of treaties such as the inscription on the disk of Iphitos. The necessity of written laws must have been felt at the very dawn of Greek liberty, after the Típarvou and aristocratic rulers had been superseded by more popular government. Shortly before the Persian War sepulchral inscriptions came into general use, and it was in this class of metrical epigram that Simonides was so celebrated. The tradition that he invented the two long vowels, H and 2, probably arose from the fact that these two vowels, which we know to have been in use on the west coast of Asia Minor long before the time of the poet, were gradually introduced into European Greece through the popularity of the epigrams which he composed.
The number of extant inscriptions which we can assign to a date earlier than the end of the Persian War is, as might be expected, very small, but among these are several of considerable interest.
In front of the great temple of Abousymbul, in Nubia, is a colossal Egyptian statue, on the leg of which is an inscription in archaic Greek characters, which records the names of certain Greeks and others who, during the expedition of King Psammetichos to Elephantina, explored the Upper Nile “ as far as they found the river navigable"—in other words, as far as the second cataract. It may be admitted that the King Psammetichos here mentioned must be either the first or the second Egyptian monarch of that name, and if, with Kirchhoff and most authorities, we assume that the inscription refers to Psammetichos I., then the Greeks whose names are inscribed on the colossus were some of the mercenaries whom his pay attracted from Ionia, Caria, and the adjacent islands, and the
date of this inscription cannot be later than Olymp. 40. 4 (B.C. 617), when Necho succeeded Psammetichos; and even, if we suppose that the king referred to is the second Psammetichos, it cannot be later than Olymp. 47 (B.C. 592—589), the date of his death. We have, thus, in this inscription at Abousymbul a cardinal example of Greek writing as it was used by the Ionian and Dorian settlers in Asia Minor and the islands, about the beginning of the sixth century B.C.; and independently of its historical interest as a record of the early explorers of the Upper Nile, it is a document which, for the student of Greek palæography, is of inestimable value, one of the chief corner-stones on which we may construct the history of that ancient alphabet which, with some modifications, we still use.
At Branchidæ, on the west coast of Asia Minor, a little south of the mouth of the Mæander, still remain the majestic ruins of that celebrated temple of Apollo, of which the oracle was consulted by Croesus, and which was destroyed by the Persians in revenge for the Ionian revolt. Along the sacred way leading up to this temple was once an avenue of statues, of which a few headless survivors may be seen in the Lycian Room of the British Museum. Some of these bear dedicatory inscriptions, the date of which, by comparison with the Abousymbul inscription and on other grounds, ranges probably from B.C. 580 to B.C. 520. The famous Sigean inscription brought from the Troad to England in the last century, is now admitted to be, not a pseudo-archaic imitation, as Böckh maintained, but a genuine specimen of Greek writing in Asia Minor, contemporary, or nearly so with the Branchidæ inscriptions. Kirchhoff considers it not later than Olymp. 69 (B.C. 504—500). Very deep under the foundations of the temple of Diana at Ephesus, Mr. Wood found some fragments of inscribed bases of columns which we may refer with confidence to the same period, and which are consequently a relic of that earlier temple to which Croesus contributed so liberally. The bronze hare brought from Samos by Mr. Cockerell many years ago, on the body of which a dedication to Apollo is inscribed in irregular lines, is another interesting example of archaic Ionian writing which Böckh has, by a singular misconception, attributed to much too late a period; and the same Ionian characters prevailed in Rhodes, as we know, not only from the Abousymbul inscription, but also from the dedication on a little dolphin in Egyptian porcelain found at Camirus, in a tomb of the Græco-Phoenician period.
If, leaving the Asiatic coast, we proceed westward across the Archipelago, we come to some rery interesting specimens of Greek writing in the islands of Thera, Jelos, Krete, Paros, and Naxos. The earliest of these are to be found in Thera, better