The Erechtheion Inscriptions

The Erechtheion building accounts  were inscribed on marble slabs with text in  2 or 3 columns, most  with writing on both sides. We are lucky that they found large fragments of text intact. In this inscription, IG I3 474, you can see the break between columns of text, and also the placement of fragments before they made the squeeze.  Most have been dated to between 409/8 and 405/4 BCE.

IG I3 474: Rationes Curatorum Erechthei

IG I3 474: Rationes Curatorum Erechthei

The 409 account covers the inventory of material on hand and work remaining to be done. The Porch of the Maidens was complete at that time, columns of North and East porches were in place and  walls laid up to the epistyle except at the southwest corner.

At the time of the inscriptions the building still needed a roof,  the columns had to be fluted, and the frieze decoration is mentioned in some detail.

We also have 3 squeezes associated with IG I3 #476, and  here, many smaller fragments brought together on a single squeeze; this one describes the payment for sculptors who worked on the frieze. They were paid per figure, so we have descriptions of the individual figures that were part of the frieze – a man with a spear, youth beside the breastplate, and the woman with a girl leaning against her.

The extant pieces of the frieze are unfortunately of little help in determining the subject. We have fragments of figures in a variety of poses (seated, standing, embracing, and running) but the lack of preserved attributes prevents specific identification.

The frieze figures were carved individually out of Pentelic marble and attached to the limestone background with dowels, which is a distinct technique that helps identify certain fragments of the frieze figures when they are found elsewhere on the Acropolis.

IG I3 476: Rationes Erechthei

IG I3 476: Rationes Erechthei

These inscriptions also contain information about the people who worked on them; we know from the names inscribed on the building accounts that citizens, metics and slaves all worked on Erechtheion.

Citizens were designated by deme “ Demetrios of Skambonidai” , metics as “Agis, living in Skambonidai” and slaves were denoted by the genitive of the owners name “Lysias, of Alkippos”.

Only 24 of the 107 workers can be identified as citizens -they are the architects, the  undersecretary, masons, carpenters and sculptors -in general, citizens were the skilled labour.

Metics make up 39% of workers, and tend to work in the minor trades as masons, carpenters, sculptors, carving & gilding the rosettes, painting the epistyle, making wax models, or as day labourers.

Slaves made up the other 19% of workforce, nearly as many as citizens and they generally followed the trades of their owners.

There’s also some information about wages to be gleaned from these inscriptions. A drachma is basically a day’s pay. But consider that after you take out 60 days for holidays and festivals, a worker could make about 300 drachmae a year, and that’s before rainy days, illness and unemployment are considered. Realistically, a tradesman might just make ends meet if he suffers no bad luck in the year. Or a carpenter might be hired for just a few days to make specific pieces for the roof, and then have to find another job –  not that different from contractors today. Unfortunately the inscriptions do not list the number of days each worker spent,  but nevertheless there’s a ton of information here that could never be excavated or reconstructed without inscription evidence.

Further Reading:

Glowacki, Kevin, A New Fragment of the Erechtheion Frieze Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1995)

Henry, Alan, The Sigma Enigma, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 120 (1998) 45 – 48.

Lambert, Stephen D., The Erechtheum Workers of “IG” ii² 1654, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 132 (2000), pp. 157-160

Pakkanen, Jari, The Erechtheion Construction Work Inventory (IG 1³ 474) and the Dörpfeld Temple American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 110, No. 2 (Apr., 2006)

Randall, Jr.,Richard H., The Erechtheum Workmen, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Jul., 1953), pp. 199-210

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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