Early Byzantine inscriptions from Boeotia, 4th-6th centuries

1. Preliminary remarks

1.1. Current location of the inscriptions - collections

Gathering the material for a study on the inscriptions in Boeotia is not a simple task. First of all, a large number of stones have disappeared, especially after earthquakes — in particular that of 1981; secondly, many blocks, reused in the construction of churches and chapels, are still in situ and are often difficult to access. Furthermore, it is not always possible to resort to the resources offered by the various epigraphical collections preserved in Boeotia. These are mainly four collections: the one at the Museum in Thebes, and the collections of Schimatari (exterior and apothetical collection), Thespiae (small exterior and apothetical collection) and Chaeronaea (small exterior and apothetical collection). Most recently, Giannis Kalliontzis, doctoral student under the direction de M. D. Knoepfler, has produced a catalogue, currently unpublished, of all the inscriptions found in the courtyard of the Museum of Thebes. Thanks to the kindness and dedication of the Ephorate of prehistoric and classical antiquities in Thebes, under the direction of Vassilis Aravantinos until November 2011, we have been able to access each one of these collections, as well as to use the catalogues and inventories of blocks held by the Ephorate of Thebes. These catalogues record the inventory number of each stone at its current location, give a brief description of the block, a transcription of the text of the inscription and sometimes bibliographic references. Aside from lapidary epigraphy, inscriptions on mosaics, mainly tiled mosaics, have been also taken into account.

1.2. Geographical and chronological scope

It is quite difficult to rigourously delimit the field of our research in terms of ancient geography, as the administrative borders of Boeotia varied throughout history. We have chosen to remain focused to the cities which traditionally belong to Boeotia and to exclude the cities of Locris (Opus, Halae and Boumelitae), as well as Megara and Oropos, whose membership in the Confederacy was never steady. In particular, we concentrate on the the cities of Thebes, Tanagra, Coronea, Chaeronea, Levadeia, Thespiae, and Plataea, over a period that expands from the 4th until the 6th C., with our terminus being the end of the reign of Justinian I.

1.3. Research and publications on these inscriptions

Some of these late Antique inscriptions from Boeotia have been the subject of -or included in- publications in many books and articles, such as those of M. Guarducci, D. W. Roller, F. R. Trombley. A number of Early Byzantine inscriptions, dedications or epitaphs of both pagan and Christian context has been compiled in epigraphical corpora linked to Boeotia. In addition to volume VII of Inscriptiones Graecae by W. Dittenberger, there are also the geographical corpora of P. Roesch and A. Plassart for Thespiae, L. Darmezin for the city of Coronea, D. W. Roller for Tanagra. Also useful are the thematic studies, beginning with those of J. M. Fossey who proceeded from a census of the collection of imperial dedications discovered in Boeotia and included geographical and chronological statistics. The majority of these late inscriptions have hardly ever been the subject of new publications since the IG. Lastly, the excavations led by the Ephorate of Thebes have often brought inscriptions to light, which have been recorded in the Archaiologikon Deltion journal. For our part, alongside the work of excavating on the ground and in the diverse epigraphical collections, we have drawn from epigraphical corpora and taken recent Ephorate findings into account. Our work results have been presented in L. Foschia, Corpus des inscriptions protobyzantines de Béotie (mémoire de l'Ecole Française d'Athènes, 2004, to be published).

2. The corpus of the Early Byzantine inscriptions of Boeotia (4th-6th c.)

We have regrouped a total of 64 inscriptions on a thematic basis. A group of 12 inscriptions fall into the category of imperial dedications, that is, composed in honour of Emperors or members of the imperial family. This group includes dedications on statues as well as one milestone marker. A second group is formed by 19 metric inscriptions, which constitute a case of principal interest in late Antique Boeotian epigraphy. Of these two groups we will present here summarily some characteristic exemples. The rest of 34 inscriptions consist of non-epigrammatical funerary inscriptions (23), non-funerary Christian inscriptions (6), and four diverse texts, sometimes unidentifiable. Of the non-epigrammatical funerary inscriptions, many are reduced to their most basic expression, the name of the deceased. For lack of space, we will not further discuss this last group in this entry. Suffice it to note, out of many interesting texts, a yet unpublished inscription for the "Christian Soterichos, martyr of Theos Hypsistos" (Foschia,n° 59), dating to the 4th or 5th century.

2.1. Imperial dedications

Imperial dedications from Thebes, Thespiae, or from the monastery of Hosios Loukas, all date from the very end of the 3rd or 4th century. They comprise, among other things, inscriptions dedicated to Licinius, Constantine I, Constantius Chlorus, Galeria Valeria (daughter of Diocletian, who married Galerius in 292), Valentinian, Arcadius; another is in honour of Constantine, his sons, and Valens and Valentinian altogether; lastly, a milestone carries two dedications in honour of "Constantine and Maximianus and the Caesars of the years 323-326" (dates of the inscriptions: 305-306 et 317-323, IG VII, 2451).

2.2. Metric inscriptions

Epigrams make up the group which is by far the most interesting. Some are dedications for governors and should be attached to a late imperial tradition thoroughly analysed by Louis Robert in his Epigrammes du Bas-Empire (Hellenica IV, 1948). Others belong to a Christian epigraphic tradition which began at the end of the 3rd century, and which is characterized by the use of a style and a vocabulary borrowed either from epic literature, or from ancient models. After the Sybilline Oracles of the 3rd century and the corpus of Gregory of Nazianzus in the 4th century, it is in the 5th century that this genre began to expand, with Nonnos of Panopolis, who rendered the Gospel of John in hexametres, but also with the bishop Patricios, author of a Life of Christ composed with the use of Homeric quotations; the unfinished work was completed by Empress Eudocia. Quotations taken from the Iliad or the Odyssey are likewise frequent in Christian inscriptions and texts starting at the late 4th century. Among the epigrammatic texts which we have identified, we have chosen to highlight a few in particular.

2.2.1. The inscription of Philomenes

The first one which we will discuss comes from Tanagra (Schimatari) and is one of the longest Early Christian inscriptions excavated in Greece. Discovered by N. Platon, it was then published by W. H. Calder et M. Guarducci. The first part of the inscription consists only of l. 1 : [Φ]ιλ[ο]μένης μερόπεσσι κ(αὶ) ἐσσομένοις τάδε τεύχειν ("Philoménès (?) (orders) the men (of today) and those of the future to do this"). The second part (l. 2-24) enumerates in succession the prescriptions concerning the divinity — to which hymns must be offered —, the dead, the poor, and finally the preservation of the sanctuary and buildings which are found there. The third section (l. 25-27) describes the advantages which these rules will grant for those who observe them, and lastly the final part of the inscription (l. 28-40) consists of a series of threats against transgressors.

2.2.2. Four groups of epigrams

Four groups, of three epigrams each, showing traces of Homeric influence, have been identified in Thebes as well as Tanagra. The first group is that of the Mosaic of the Months: the three epigrams incorporated in this mosaic specifically record the creation of the mosaic by the artisans who are named in it (Foschia,n° 23-25). They date to the early 6th century. The second group, dating to the same period, is made up of three funerary epigrams for a woman called Skeptiane (IG VII, 1686-1688). They were engraved on two blocks: only the one which bears the first two epigrams survives. The third collection is funerary and is engraved on a large slab of black marble from Tanagra (IG VII, 582-584). These three inscriptions also have an epic style, and do not mention the name of the deceased, but curse those who would laugh at the dead; above all, they playfully mix epic expressions and Christian or biblical vocabulary. The fourth and last group of epigrams is engraved on the two sides of a sarcophagus currently located in the apse of the small church of Haghios Loukas in Thebes (IG VII, 2543-2545).