Material Text Cultures

Lettered and Inscribed. Inscriptions in Urban Space in the Greco-Roman Period and Middle Ages


Subprojects of the 3rd Funding Period (2019-2023)

The Presence of Inscriptions in Greek Sanctuaries: Evoking the Polis Through Epigraphic Display
( Anna Sitz, PhD, Banban Wang)
The materiality of building inscriptions of Christian Sacred Architecture in the Western Roman Empire
(Prof. Dr. Christian Witschel, Dr. Sebastian Watta)
Continuity and Change in Epigraphic Habits – Papal Inscriptions between Late Antiquity and the Renaissance (5th – 15th Centuries)
(Prof. Dr. Nikolas Jaspert, Dr. Wolf Zöller)
Epigrams in and on the Byzantine Buildings of Constantinople: Caption and Materiality (4th – 14th Centuries)
(Prof. Dr. Stephan Westphalen, Solvejg Langer)

Subprojects of the 2nd Funding Period (2015-2019)

The presence of text monuments and the representation of civic communities in Hellenistic and early imperial Asia Minor (3rd cent. B.C. – 2nd cent. A.D)
(Dr. Ludwig Meier, Evelien Roels, Anna Sitz, PhD)
Late Antique Culture(s) of Inscriptions in the Imperium Romanum – on the Changes in Communication Structures and Commemorative Media at the End of Antiquity
(Prof. Dr. Christian Witschel, Prof. Dr. Stephan Westphalen, Dr. Stefan Ardeleanu, Jon Cosme Cubas Díaz, Solvejg Langer)
Reception and Communal Refashioning: The Ancient Past in Urban Inscriptions of the Latin Mediterranean World
(Prof. Dr. Nikolas Jaspert, Dr. Wolf Zöller)

Subproject of the 1st Funding Period (2011-2015)

Text Monuments. The Development of the Culture of Inscriptions in Athens, from the Persian Wars to the Roman Conquest
(Prof. Dr. Kai Trampedach, Dr. Irene Berti)
Late Antique Culture(s) of Inscriptions in the Imperium Romanum – on the Changes in Communication Structures and Commemorative Media at the End of Antiquity
(Prof. Dr. Christian Witschel, Prof. Dr. Stephan Westphalen, Katharina Bolle, Fabian Stroth)
The City as ‘Inscribed Space‘. The Example of Pompeii and Herculaneum
(Dr. Jens-Arne Dickmann, Dr. Fanny Opdenhoff)


Public inscriptions in stone and other materials (such as mosaics, murals) marked the classical and medieval cities of the Mediterranean, from shortly after the (re)-invention of writing in eighth-century BCE Greece through the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century, and beyond. A01 gathers together a series of interdisciplinary projects investigating the Greek and Latin epigraphic habits in urban spaces of Mediterranean cities, including in sacred spaces, such as ancient sanctuaries and churches, and in sepulchral spaces. The third phase of A01 brings to a close the long trajectory of the first two funding phases by expanding into new regions and time periods, as well as new classes of texts (epigrams), while also revisiting especially fertile inscribed spaces that still have much to teach us about the praxeology and topology of public writing in the transregional area under consideration. 

The production of inscriptions was a constant across profound cultural shifts in the Mediterranean, even if the quantity, appearance, and aims of these texts changed. With subprojects spanning nearly two millennia, from the ancient Greek world to late antiquity and the period of Christianization, and further into the western Middle Ages and the Byzantine era, the development of epigraphic habits across broad cultural contexts and the striking diversity of inscription cultures (sometimes preserved only in manuscripts) can be charted.  A01 engages with overarching SFB concerns such as the locations of texts, their visibility, and their embedment within wider cultural, ritual, practical, and aesthetic matrices. The methodologies of the third funding phase build on the work of the first and second phases: autopsy, documentation of materials and textual transmission, consideration of archaeological/architectural settings, historical contextualization, digital databases, and theoretically-informed analyses. Work is based on the premise that inscriptions are not simply historical records of the ancient and medieval worlds, but were active agents in shaping those societies.

A01 includes both large-scale syntheses of epigraphic trends, such as funerary epigraphy in the western late Roman empire, as well as in-depth investigations of select epigraphically-rich spaces, such as the ancient Greek sanctuary at Delphi, medieval Rome, and the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Interactions within A01, within the SFB 933, and with scholars from other universities, including internationally, is essential to gaining a broad perspective on inscriptions in urban spaces of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean. The results of the project will be transmitted in both traditional formats and digital publications, with a focus on the open-access dissemination of knowledge and the sharing of insight gained through long-term study.

SECOND PHASE (2015-2019)

The project is focused on inscriptions and inscribed monuments that were displayed in public (and semi-public) areas of antique and medieval cities of the Mediterranean region. These include mainly texts carved in stone but also inscriptions made of other materials such as bronze, wood and mosaic.

The project is using an interdisciplinary approach and consists of three sub-projects, that are all dealing with central questions of the SFB – such as the materiality of texts and artifacts, their topological position in urban space, and moreover the diverse modes of perception and reception they evoked, ranging from seeing and reading them through to reusing them in secondary contexts.

With regards to chronology and geography, the project spans a wide range from hellenistic Minor Asia to late antique Africa and the Levant to the medieval cities of the northern Mediterranean. This wide research margin was chosen intentionally in order to enable the reconstruction of continuities and changes more easily when dealing with script-bearing monuments. Shifts in the use of media and their contexts are especially interesting, as in the case of the transformation of the antique epigraphic habit from an urban phenomenon to a dominantly funerary custom during Christian Late Antiquity or the revitalization of a public epigraphic culture in the medieval communes located in the area of the northern Mediterranean.

All sub-projects are using new methodology: On the one hand, they are concentrating on the specific material manifestation and the contextual placement of the inscriptions and inscribed monuments. On the other hand, they investigate the intended messages, also taking into account how the ancient and medieval audience might have perceived them. In doing so, the inscriptions are understood as “actants” with a specific “affordance” that influenced their environment and animated the observer and reader to certain activities. It is fundamental research based on detailed material analysis and spatial recontextualization which makes possible this methodological approach and which will result in new forms of databases and (digital) editions.

First Phase (2011-2015)

Gefallenenliste aus Athen, 420-400 v. Ch.Anyone who went about an antique town was constantly and automatically confronted with inscribed and described monuments. The original interaction between the content of these texts and their characteristic materiality has, however, frequently been overlooked in the research into epigraphy in the ancient world and in archaeology. The material appearance of the text-bearing artefact in its spatial setting, its presence in relation to other epigraphic and iconic monuments, or its perception by the beholder has rarely been investigated.

This sub-project aims to eliminate the unjustified distinction between written word and inscribed artefact by researching the presence, semantics and reception of script-bearing monuments or monumentalised inscriptions within their specific contexts. As of now, an inscription is no longer to be grasped as a ‘mere’ text but as a visually significant artefact whose cultural meaning is determined quite decisively by its contemporary perception and assessment.

Christliche Grabinschrift, Lyon (Frankreich)In order to grasp the antique culture of inscription as holistically as possible, i.e. in its roots, its processes of transformation, and in the cultural trajectories of its meaning even beyond the boundaries of the epochs and territories, the sub-project is divided into three separate studies with three different chronological and geographical foci: while the first segment deals with artefactual written matter from classical and Hellenistic Athens, the second study examines the demise of the traditional culture of inscriptions in the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and early Byzantine times. Finally, the third segment has taken a case study to investigate the recontextualisation of the writings found in Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Subprojects of the 3rd Funding Period

A01 A02 A03 A05 A06 A08 A09 A10 A11 A12 B01 B04 B09 B10 B13 B14 B15 C05 C07 C08 C09 C10 INF Ö2 Z



Completed Subprojects

A01 A03 A04 B02 B03 B06 B07 B11 B12 C01 C02 C03 C04 C06 IGK Ö1



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