The so-called instrumenta inscripta (inscribed objects of daily life) cannot be ignored by anyone wishing to form a comprehensive view of epigraphic evidence from Roman Austria as they constitute the largest group of such evidence. This heterogeneous group of sources includes both inscribed and dipinti evidence on various object classes – particularly domestic items (instrumentum domesticum) – as well as stamped makers’ marks on locally produced (e.g. bricks, assorted pottery), or imported items (e.g., tableware, shipping containers, metal utensils, jewellery
As a legacy of ancient private and economic life, inscribed artefacts are considered to be very important, even if they lack the representative or documentary character that many stone and bronze inscriptions possess. But, in exchange, they often document little known aspects of daily life in antiquity, such as literacy, local population demographics, private religiosity, familial ownership situations, business structures, trade connections or regional market development, to name just a few.
A comprehensive analysis requires a complete and seamless survey of visual and written documentation, and vital for the search of parallels. The majority of the inscribed artefacts are linked to small finds, as they are often processed in the context of archaeological material. Admittedly, no complete collection of private and domestic inscriptions conforming to a uniform criteria exists to date. A database project initiated in Graz in 1987 should help to remedy this situation. For the moment, the instrumenta inscripta from the province of Noricum, which are held in the public collections of the provinces of Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol and Lower Austria, will be recorded.
Steps in the recording process include viewing the artefacts, and a thorough documentation; rounding out this process are data entry, editing (creation of indices), and publishing the texts (either online or in print). The database is conceived, from an epigraphic point of view, as a work instrument whose uncomplicated structure favors rapid data entry.
The supplementary image archive (consisting of photos, rubbings, scale drawings, and sketches) is an indispensable resource for illustrating the inscriptions and checking the readings, even if no exhaustive archaeological documentation of the written material is sought.
In addition to the ongoing recording of collection holdings, a systematic literature search for any lost or untraceable pieces is required for the completion of this database which, to date, contains more that 15,000 inscriptions. Updates involving new finds will be carried out in accordance with the clearly defined project framework.
Another facet of this project is the analysis of various private and domestic inscriptions according to particular perspectives (such as, but not limited to: find spots, material grouping, inscription style etc.) arising in the course of lectures, expert reports and scientific contributions.