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The Drawings on the Rock Inscriptions of Archaic Thera (IG XII 3, 536-601; IG XII 3 Suppl. 1410-1493)

Elena Martin Gonzalez

The aim of this paper is to present the results of a recent field study of the archaeological context of the rock inscriptions from ancient Thera. Dating back to the 7th and 6th century B.C., they are amongst the earliest testimonies of alphabetic writing in Greece (Jeffery 1991). Personal names, invocations to the gods and records of erotic achievements were carved in the ancient town -and are still clearly visible to the modern visitor- on the rocks around the temple of Apolo Karneios, the Agora of the Gods and the gymnasium, offering a vivid image of civic life in archaic Thera.

Although the physical features and the nature of these graffiti have been widely explored (Chankowski 2002; Inglese 2008), almost no attention has been paid to the drawings which accompany them. Human heads, ships, footsteps, a phallus, a ladder and possibly a turtle, can be recognized among the rocks, either independently drawn or as part of an inscription. Besides, a relevant number of the texts has been carved within an incised frame, sometimes in a rather artistic way.

As I will demonstrate in my presentation, with the support of first hand photographic material, these drawings are not only an essential element of the inscriptions’ visual context, but can also provide relevant information about the nature and function of the texts themselves. A drawing like the ladder, if identified with the so-called dokanon, i.e. an aniconic representation of the Dioscuri, actually points to the  idea that the Theran rock inscriptions, or at least part of them, belong to a ritual context. Other drawings though, for instance the ships, have no religious meaning and appear constantly in informal writing throughout Antiquity (Langner 2001), thus supporting the interpretation of these inscriptions as mere graffiti, similar to the ones in Pompey (Dover 1978). After individual analysis of each drawing within its physical, cultural and textual context, and comparing it with similar testimonies of the same period, I am in a position to offer an accurate description of this corpus and to propose a new classification of the inscriptions.

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Graffiti and Their Supports: Informal Texts in Context

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