Chance and the Archaeologist’s Trowel

“It is sometimes argued that, whereas classical studies retain in the modern world their value as an educational discipline in schools and universities, they have no real future at the level of research; all, it is said, that remains to be done is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of the great Latinists and Hellenists who have gone before, or to resay in more modern terms what they have already said in a definitive form. Among the many possible arguments to the contrary , that provided by the study of Greek inscriptions is one of the most powerful. Chance and the trowel of the archaeologist have made and will continue to make available material for the study of antiquity hitherto unknown, in the light of which previous ideas must continually be restudied and reassessed.”

A. G. Woodhead

The Study of Greek Inscriptions, 1959

The above quote comes from the introduction to Woodhead’s book and is arguably the best response to anyone wondering why we’ve undertaken this project. Fragmentary bits of inscription might not make headlines the way the newly discovered tomb in Amphipolis did, but they provide us with so much insight into the past. Our last two posts highlighted a couple of inscriptions and the wealth of information they provide, from workers demographics to the appointment of a priestess.

I’m going to quote Woodhead again because he says it best:

“One of the principal features about the study of Greek inscriptions is the closeness of contact which they give us with the ancient world. That in some weather-beaten fragment we have, before our eyes, the very words of an important and perhaps, in the event, world-shaking decision as inscribed soon after the decision was taken, that we are so to speak reaching across more than two thousand years and grasping the stone-cutter’s hand after he had finished writing words perhaps vital to the future of civilization as we know it, remains perpetually and profoundly moving…”

With that in mind, here’s our image of IG I3 104, De Dracontis Legibus, the decree to republish Draco’s law on homicide. The translation can be found at Attic Inscriptions Online. The text records the decision to republish Draco’s homicide laws on a stone stele to be set up in the Stoa of the Archon Basileus in 409/8 BCE. What survives is the section on unintentional homicide.

De Dracontis Legibus

De Dracontis Legibus


Further reading:

Andrew B. Gallia, The Republication of Draco’s Law on Homicide, The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Dec., 2004), pp. 451-460

About Lisa Tweten

As one of the project mangers, Lisa is the heart of the project. She works with Digital Humanities to photograph the MacGregor squeeze collection.

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