Material Text Cultures

Inscriptions in Ancient Greek Historiography and in Ancient Greek Novel


current staff members

Teilprojektleiter Prof. Dr. Jonas Grethlein
akademischer Mitarbeiter Benjamin Allgaier
akademische Mitarbeiterin Christina Schulz




Above all, ancient historians have paid a lot of attention to the relationship between Greek historiography and inscriptions. Narrative descriptions of the Greek historians have been compared with epigraphic witnesses, historical works inscribed in stone have been examined, and above all the extent of Herodotus and his successors’ use of inscriptions as sources has been questioned. The CRC’s focus on the materiality of written sources and especially its interest in metatexts – meaning texts that mention script-bearing artefacts – opens up new perspectives. The outlined project aims at examining the meta-historical significance of inscriptions in Greek Historiography.

The Epigraphic Dimension of Classical Greek Historiography

Project C08 is primarily concerned with the historiographical works of Herodotus and Thucydides, i.e. the earliest meta-inscriptional prose texts of Greek literature which have come down to us in their entirety.

The conventional designation of these two texts as ‘historiographical works’ may give rise to the expectation that Herodotus and Thucydides cite inscriptions as historical sources. Especially in Herodotean scholarship, the issue of the reliability of statements about inscriptions has received considerable attention. One of the rare cases in which we have direct access to an inscribed artefact mentioned by Herodotus is the so-called Serpent Column. This inscribed bronze column, dedicated by the Greeks to Apollo at Delphi, can still be seen today (though in another place: the Hippodrome in Istanbul).

Schlangensäule im Hippodrom von Konstantinopel (5. Jh. v. Chr.)

A comparison of the information given in the Histories and the actual inscription reveals a curious mixture of correspondences and discrepancies which have been assessed rather differently in scholarship. Examples such as the Serpent Column suggest a connection between epigraphic practice and historiographic presentation; however, this connection is not to be conceived of as a straightforward recording of epigraphic data.

The epigraphic dimension of classical Greek historiography comprises various aspects. On the one hand, pieces of information which are arguably derived from epigraphic sources are sometimes not marked up as such; on the other, some Herodotean statements about specific inscriptions cannot (or only in very complicated ways) be related to the epigraphic reality. Another aspect which merits consideration is the possibility that programmatic passages such as the proem of Herodotus’ work evoke the image of inscriptions even though they do not contain explicit references to specific inscriptions.

Although this project takes all the aspects just mentioned into account, it focuses on the thorough analysis of explicit mentions of inscriptions in the narrative context of Herodotus’ Histories and Thucydides’ History. Of particular interest is the question of whether these embedded inscriptions serve as a mirror for the respective narrative project and thus have a meta-historical function. In this context, it is remarkable that Herodotus, who introduces his work in the proem as a means of preserving the memory of the past, narrates how a pair of inscriptions set up by the Persian king Darius ends up being fragmented. In Thucydides’ History, we may observe the following interesting constellation: a certain inscription is first mentioned by the narrator in the context of an excursus and then adduced by a speaker in an embedded speech in order to bolster an argument.



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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