EPIGRAPHY

EPIGRAPHY

Definition and time span

Epigraphy is the study of INSCRIPTIONS, texts that are destined for long-term visual display in public space, more rarely in the private sphere. As a discipline, it sits in between archaeology and philology. is taken here in a broad sense to comprise the study of Christian inscriptions from Egypt and (present-day northern Sudan) in both the Greek and the Coptic languages. For both regions within the , the linguistic divide is largely artificial, merely reflecting modern academic habits.

The Christian of the Nile Valley started to develop in the fourth century with the gradual Christianization of public space in the . Initially, Greek was the language preferred for all public display, to be joined by Coptic from the middle of the sixth century onwards. This bilingual continued to flourish till well after the of Egypt in the mid-seventh century. Its decline set in from about the ninth century, when cultural models inherited from late antiquity began to lose their significance, even for Christians, and the Islamization of public space banished Christian epigraphic display to the inside of churches and other reserved places.

Concomitantly, other languages made their appearance in Christian inscriptions: Arabic, but also Syriac, Armenian, and, in Nubia, . In Nubia, the epigraphic tradition came to an end with the fading out of indigenous Christianity in the fifteenth century.

Genres

Although inscriptions usually include text, they cannot be reduced to their printed edition. The textual contents of an inscription, its spatial setting, and its materiality are interlocking factors that together shape its meaning for the beholder. Inscriptions can be sculpted in stone, as is the case with most monumental inscriptions, or other permanent materials, such as wood and metal, but also painted, scratched, or embroidered. Inscriptions in stone and wood were in vivid colors, usually lost now.

Dedicatory inscriptions often share the material of the object of which they record the donation or foundation. Typical examples include inscribed lintels, conspicuously set over the entrance of buildings, painted panels accompanying wall paintings, and texts engraved in movable objects such as bronze or silver vessels. They usually commemorate the munificence of explicitly named founders or donors.

The plastered wall spaces available in churches and monastic complexes offer room for various types of painted (dipinti) or scratched inscriptions (; note that in Coptic epigraphy brief and informal dipinti are also often called graffiti). Graffiti are left by visitors who, through their name and sometimes a brief prayer, desire to remain present on a sacred spot or near a particular saint. Dipinti may be commemorative or didactic in nature, the latter in particular in monastic contexts.

Funerary inscriptions (), perhaps the most familiar type of inscriptions, usually take the form of a carved (or ), a rectangular stone slab inserted in the superstructure of a tomb or the walls of a mortuary chapel. In addition to text, such a stela may bear sculptured motifs, such as crosses or orantes (praying figures), often in a niche-like setting (aedicula). Common materials are marble, limestone, and sandstone; in Nubia, where sandstone prevails, many terracotta stelae are found, inscribed before firing. Epitaphs may also take the form of dipinti on plastered walls, e.g., at KELLIA. Both the textual form of funerary inscriptions (their formulary) and their sculptured decoration are subject to great regional variation and show distinct local traditions.

Interest

Compared to classical epigraphy, the Christian epigraphy of Egypt and Nubia is relatively poor in monumental inscriptions from urban settings, but shows great social and material diversity, which makes it an extremely rewarding field of study. Although sometimes unattractive at first sight, inscriptions, in addition to their often considerable historical interest, are direct witnesses to the social and religious practices of local Christian communities, including patterns of commemoration, forms of patronage, the cults of saints, and . Beyond the (re-)publication of texts and text corpora, both the social and the textual aspects of inscriptions offer various avenues for future research, e.g., into textual models and strategies, language selection, space-text interaction, patronage, and performance.

The remainder of this lemma is bibliographical in nature and is meant to guide the interested reader toward major handbooks, tools and collections.  Wherever possible, preference is given to recent studies of a synthetic nature.

Handbooks and other tools

A concise introduction to the subject is offered by van der Vliet 2017a; several synthetic and methodological essays by the same author have been reprinted in van der Vliet 2018. For the non-funerary epigraphy of Christian Egypt in Greek, the essay by Jean Bingen (1999, reprinted 2005) remains important.

A critical bulletin reviewing recent publications in the entire domain, “Christian Inscriptions of Egypt and Nubia” (CIEN), edited by A. Delattre, J. Dijkstra, and J. van der Vliet, appears annually in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (from 2014). A research report over the years 2004–2016, delivered by Alain Delattre, is forthcoming in the proceedings of the Eleventh International Congress of Coptic Studies, held at Claremont in 2016. For Greek material predating the mid-eighth century, the entries for Egypt and Nubia in the annual Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (SEG) may be consulted (searchable, for subscribers, via the website of the publisher, Brill). The Packard Humanities Epigraphic Database (https://epigraphy.packhum.org) offers fully searchable texts for free, but in Greek only and practically limited to older collections. Other internet databases, most notably Trismegistos (TM, Leuven: https://www.trismegistos.org/) and the Database of Medieval Nubian Texts (DBMNT, Warsaw: http://www.dbmnt.uw.edu.pl/), are as yet of only limited usefulness.

Dating systems used in Byzantine Egypt and are the subjects of two excellent handbooks, both extensively drawing upon inscriptions (Bagnall and Worp 2004; Ochała 2011). Biblical echoes in inscriptions (Greek only) have been collected in Felle 2006. Inscriptions that attest to the cult of the saints are covered in an important handbook by Arietta Papaconstantinou (2001). Didactic inscriptions from monastic contexts are discussed in van der Vliet 2017b. On Christian graffiti in ancient monuments, valuable methodological remarks are made in an essay by Scott Bucking (2014); non-textual figural graffiti received attention in a book by Jitse Dijkstra (2012). A collective volume has been devoted entirely to inscribed TEXTILES (Fluck and Helmecke 2006).

For the funerary inscriptions of Christian Egypt, their regional variety and setting, the handbook by Bianca Tudor (2011) is a primary reference. An interpretive essay by van der Vliet (2011, reprinted 2018) is based upon Coptic funerary inscriptions from northern Nubia but has wider implications for the study of epitaphs as text. For the unique group of the

predominantly Coptic funerary laments (‘dirges’), which seems to have had its epicenter in urban ANTINOOPOLIS, Maria Cramer’s monograph of 1941 remains indispensable. The commemorative ‘litanies’ from monastic contexts, mainly in Middle Egypt, are discussed in an important essay by Malcolm Choat (2015). The iconography of late-antique funerary monuments is studied in a monograph by Thelma Thomas (2000).

Corpora

For the Greek part of the corpus, 1907, often quoted as I. Lefebvre or I. Recueil, is still invaluable, but it offers texts only, without translations. The collection of Greek epitaphs from Nubia by Maria Grazia Tibiletti Bruno (1964, with an accompanying linguistic study, Tibiletti Bruno 1963), also without translations, is now largely outdated. For Coptic, the Koptisches Sammelbuch (SBKopt. I–IV), published by Monika Hasitzka in four volumes (1993–2012), is a major tool, but the inscriptions, interspersed between documentary texts, are in Coptic only and again no translations or photos are offered.

Major museum collections

This is not a comprehensive review of the many museums holding Christian inscriptions from Egypt. With some exceptions, only those collections for which relatively recent and adequate publications are available are listed here. The patchy record shows that much remains to be done in this domain. Digital databases are as yet of little avail.

  • Alexandria, Greco-Roman Museum: the important collections are practically inaccessible; Brunsch 1994 is entirely inadequate.
  • , Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst: Cramer 1949 (Coptic); state-of-the-art catalogues are only available for the artisanal parts of the collections: Witt 2000 (Menas ampullas); Fluck, Linscheid, and Merz 2000 (textiles).
  • Cairo, COPTIC MUSEUM: neither Crum (1902) nor Kamel and Girgis (1987) meet modern standards and the major part of the collections is simply inaccessible. For METALWORK, sometimes inscribed: Bénazeth 2001 (reprinted 2008).
  • Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum: Martin 2005.
  • Khartoum, Sudan National Museum: Łajtar 2003 (Greek); van der Vliet 2003 (Coptic). Leipzig, Ägyptisches Museum der Universität Leipzig: Hodak, Richter, and Steinmann 2013. London, British Museum: Hall 1905 is long obsolete, but has never been replaced.
  • Lyons, Musée des Beaux-Arts: Galliano 2001.
  • New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts: Cramer 1957 (Coptic).
  • Paris, LOUVRE MUSEUM: Bernand 1992 (Greek); Coquin and Rutschowscaya 1994 (Coptic).
  • Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum: Till 1955 (Coptic).
  • Warsaw, National Museum: Łajtar and Twardecki 2003 (Greek).

Major local dossiers

The list below, arranged by regions and sites, roughly from north to south, is highly selective and privileges recent titles wherever possible. For funerary ensembles, the information in Tudor 2011 is not repeated. Several local dossiers are discussed in the volumes of the series Christianity and Monasticism in …, sponsored by the Saint Mark Foundation and published by the American University in Cairo Press (from 2005 onward), and in van der Vliet 2018; these studies are not listed separately.

  • Kellia: the many and important epigraphic finds are dispersed over the publications of the French and Swiss archaeological missions (see Kellia); see also Kasser 1998, Luisier 2007, Davis 2013; a comprehensive publication is being prepared by Nathalie Bosson (Geneva).
  • Wadi al-Natrun (SCETIS): Evelyn White 1933 remains the classic reference, but recent work has brought to light many more inscriptions in Syriac and Bohairic Coptic, published piecemeal.
  • Western Desert: Wagner 1987 (Greek); for Coptic, see preliminarily Ghica 2012. Eastern Desert, DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS: Bolman 2002.
  • Saqqara, DAYR APA : Wietheger 1992.
  • BAWIT, Monastery of Apa Apollo: Krause 1988; Clédat 1999 (with reference to the older publications); a collection of more recent finds is in preparation by Florence Calament (Musée du Louvre).
  • Antinoopolis: publications of the rich epigraphic material are much dispersed; comprehensive editions are announced, for the Greek inscriptions by L. Del Corso and R. Pintaudi (Florence), for the Coptic by A. Delattre (Brussels).
  • Sohag, DAYR ANBA BISHOI: Bolman 2016.
  • , Seti I temple: Delattre 2003; Westerfeld 2017.
  • Western Thebes: Godlewski 1986 (Dayr al-Bahari); Crum and Evelyn White 1926 (Monastery of ); Heurtel 2004 (Dayr al-Medina); Edgerton 1937 (Djeme); Rémondon et al. 1965 (Monastery of Phoebammon).
  • Esna: Sauneron 1972, vols. 1 and 4; Sauneron and Coquin 1980; Krause 1990.
  • ASWAN,  DAYR  ANBA HADRA:  a mission  directed by T.S.  Richter (Berlin) is preparing the (re-)edition of the important inscriptions.
  • PHILAE: Bernand 1969 (I. Philae vol. 2; Greek only). Sakinya (Toshka-West): Mina 1942.
  • QASR IBRIM: Łajtar and van der Vliet 2010.
  • TAMIT: Donadoni 1967.
  • FARAS: Jakobielski 1972 (Coptic); Kubińska 1974 (Greek)
  • SAI ISLAND: Tsakos 2011.
  • DONGOLA, funerary complex of Archbishop Georgios: Łajtar and van der Vliet 2017.
  • Banganarti, church of the Archangel Raphael: for the numerous inscriptions at this important site, see preliminarily Łajtar 2014.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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