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Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East

Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East

Roger S. Bagnall
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East
    Book Description:

    Most of the everyday writing from the ancient world—that is, informal writing not intended for a long life or wide public distribution—has perished. Reinterpreting the silences and blanks of the historical record, leading papyrologist Roger S. Bagnall convincingly argues that ordinary people—from Britain to Egypt to Afghanistan—used writing in their daily lives far more extensively than has been recognized. Marshalling new and little-known evidence, including remarkable graffiti recently discovered in Smyrna, Bagnall presents a fascinating analysis of writing in different segments of society. His book offers a new picture of literacy in the ancient world in which Aramaic rivals Greek and Latin as a great international language, and in which many other local languages develop means of written expression alongside these metropolitan tongues.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94852-5
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Roger S. Bagnall
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    The study of the ancient Greek and Roman world has, like every other discipline in the humanities, been transformed over the course of a generation by a host of new approaches and theoretical perspectives. Although these vary greatly in origins and nature, many share an important characteristic: they seek to denaturalize antiquity for us. That is, they try to dispel the comfortable assumption that the ancient world and its inhabitants were more or less like the modern world and like us. They aim instead to push us toward recognizing fundamental chasms between our outlook and practices and those of the...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Informal Writing in a Public Place: The Graffiti of Smyrna
    (pp. 7-26)

    A remarkable discovery made in the winter of 2003 gives us a most unusual opportunity to look at a body of writing that stood in a public place and, in a sense, was written on stone, but has little in common with most monumental epigraphy. This find is the graffiti of the basement level of the basilica in the agora of Smyrna, modern Izmir (fig. 1).¹ The ground level of the basilica and the east and west ends of the basement level were excavated before the Second World War by Selâhattin Kantar, then director of the Izmir Museum, and Fritz...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Ubiquity of Documents in the Hellenistic East
    (pp. 27-53)

    In chapter 1, we looked at a unique instance of the survival on a large scale of a type of everyday writing usually lost in its entirety or at best preserved only in isolated patches, the informal inscription, or graffito. I now look more broadly at the implications of archacology for our understanding of the patterns of usage of a broader category of writing, documents of everyday life in the Hellenistic world on papyrus and parchment.

    Any thoughtful archaeologist can and will tell us that what comes out of the ground, even in a well-run excavation, is nothing like a...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Documenting Slavery in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt
    (pp. 54-74)

    In the previous chapter, we looked at the very lumpy character of the papyrological documentation of the Ptolemaic period. The distribution of Greek papyri and ostraca is, we have seen, radically skewed, not only in space and time but also in the means by which they survive to the present. Those means, in turn, have caused the various types of documents originally created not to survive in each period or sub-period in proportion to any reasonable estimate of their original numbers. Letters are much better represented in the middle part of the third century, mainly because of the Zenon archive,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Greek and Coptic in Late Antique Egypt
    (pp. 75-94)

    One of the most striking phenomena of the late antique Near Eastern world is the emergence of languages other than the dominant metropolitan tongues, Greek and Latin, as vehicles for both literary and everyday written expression. The three best-known and most important examples, often cited, are Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic, but they are by no means alone, as we shall see in chapter 5. In all of these cases we are dealing with new and deliberately created scripts as instruments intended to express spoken languages indigenous to their regions but which had found limited or no written expression during some...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Greek and Syriac in the Roman Near East
    (pp. 95-116)

    In the previous chapter, we started looking at one of the most striking phenomena of the late antique Near Eastern world, the emergence of languages other than the dominant metropolitan tongues, Greek and Latin, as vehicles for both literary and everyday written expression, after a significant period in which everyday writing in this region was dominated by Greek.¹ Coptic, the example on which that chapter focused, seems to have come into being as a developed writing system in the course of the third century after earlier experiments. Apart from a single letter in a not yet fully developed form of...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Writing on Ostraca: A Culture of Potsherds?
    (pp. 117-138)

    Five years ago, Hélène Cuvigny and a team of collaborators published in two large volumes the results of their investigation of the road and forts between the Nile valley at Coptos and the Red Sea at Quseir, the ancient Myos Hormos.¹ Although the many hundreds of texts found in these excavations are reserved for later volumes of their own, the second volume ofLa route de Myos Hormosbegins with a long discussion of the written documents from the route. To that analysis, Cuvigny prefixed a brief section (pp. 265–67) called “une culture de l’ostracon?” In it she asked...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 139-144)

    This book has been devoted to the remains of everyday writing in the eastern Mediterranean world during the period from Alexander the Great to the coming of Islam, with more limited attention to what preceded and followed this millennium. Those remains were inscribed on various media: papyrus, parchment, leather, pottery, stone, wood, clay, and plaster, mostly (but not always) with pen and ink. It is in a sense astonishing that any of this writing has survived. Even in a relatively dry ecosystem like that of the Mediterranean and Near East, the enemies of the survival of every form of everyday...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 145-160)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-174)
  15. Index
    (pp. 175-179)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 180-180)