Inscriptions from houses in the Greek East are the focus of the project. The contextual investigation not only offers new possibilities for epigraphic research, but also promises fundamental insights into ancient domestic culture, especially regarding religious and cultic activities in the house.
The FWF-Project P 33550 “Archaeological contexts of inscriptions in the private sphere” was approved by the decision board of the FWF on June 30th, 2020. The 3-year project will be carried out by the project-head Elisabeth Rathmayr and her colleague Veronika Scheibelreiter-Gail. It started on the 1st of January, 2021 and will end on the 31st of December 2023.
The project focuses on archaeological contexts of inscriptions and inscription bearers in dwellings. The research area is Turkey and Cyprus, the research period ranges from Hellenistic times to Late Antiquity.
The aim is to examine where, when, how and why inscriptions occurred in everyday life. Among other aspects, the spatial distribution and concrete placement of the inscriptions (keyword: readability and targeted audience of the texts) will be examined as well as the meaning of inscriptions on movable objects.
As in the previous project on inscriptions from dwellings in Greece and the Balkans (https://www.oeaw.ac.at/oeai/forschung/altertumswissenschaften/projekte-in-publikationsvorbereitung/archaeologische-kontexte-von-inschriften), the majority of the inscriptions in the follow-up project also belong to the religious-cultic field; they are expressions of pagan, Jewish and Christian religion. Dedicatory and votive inscriptions not only express general worship of divine powers or illustrate membership in religious groups, but can also refer to specific religious practices or cults in the domestic sphere. It ranges from dedications to Greek and Roman deities, Hellenistic rulers and Roman emperors to Christian prayers and invocations addressed to God, Christ, and saints.
For example, a base from Dwelling Unit 7 of Terrace House 2 in Ephesus with a dedication to Emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina refers to a veneration of this emperor practiced by the inhabitants (fig. 1).
An inscription of Christian content inscribed on the rim of a well in a house in the late antique city quarter south of the Church of Mary in Ephesus (fig. 2) reflects the faith of the inhabitants. Probably, like other inscriptions in houses inhabited by Christians, and sometimes placed right next to water installations, it was intended to ensure the purity of the water. Whether such protected water also played a role in religious activities in the houses is one of the questions that will be investigated in the project.
A further central point of the project is the study of the social structures – the role of women, freedmen, slaves and strangers – in the house. With regard to women, it will be further investigated whether they, like the inscriptions already studied in the previous project, became more prominent in Late Antiquity and whether this can also be linked to the spread of Christianity in the house.
A comparison with the previously studied inscriptions from residential buildings in Greece and the Balkans as well as with the contemporary ›epigraphic habit‹ in public spaces, will serve to specify the practice of using the inscriptions. Differences that may have been culture-related will be determined through comparisons with contexts from other areas of the ancient world.
1. Jänner 2021 – 31. Dezember 2023