1. The Stele of Jason, dedicated to the god of healing, Asklepios, shows a doctor and patient.

Lives written in stone

All the stone inscriptions from ancient Athens in UK collections are to be made public in English translations for the first time, in a new project led by Cardiff University. Created both by Athenians and others from the surrounding region of Attica, inscriptions make up the largest number of surviving written documents from a city that has made a lasting impact on Western civilisation.

Providing evidence of the first major democracy and often decorated with relief sculpture, some inscriptions reveal in detail decisions made over 2000 years ago by the Athenian Assembly and other public bodies. Others are a rich source of information about the lives of ancient Athenians, from their financial accounts and leases, to their dedications to the gods and funerary monuments.

Among the inscriptions is the Stele of Jason, which is in the British Museum. This 2nd-century AD monument is a dedication to the healing god Asklepios by the doctor, Jason, and his family, and depicts a doctor examining an anxious patient (1).

Another, from Petworth House, is a fascinating 2nd-century BC decree of the Athenian Assembly, which honours a long list of Athenian girls who helped weave a peplos, a garment ritually draped over the wooden statue of Athena on the acropolis.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections will publish all 250 inscriptions from ancient Athens and Attica, from the 6th century BC to 3rd century AD, which are held in museums across the UK. They will be available on Attic Inscriptions Online, an open access website created by Dr Stephen Lambert of Cardiff University's School of History, Archaeology and Religion, who is leading the project.

'The last major edition of the Attic inscriptions in the British Museum appeared in 1874,' says Dr Lambert.
'It is high time for a new, modern and accessible publication of these and the other Attic inscriptions in UK collections. We plan to publish them online in a series of 17 papers, each covering an individual collection or, for the British Museum, category of inscriptions. Based on the most up-to-date scholarly bibliography, supplemented by fresh autopsy of the stones, and supported by photographs, the papers will include ancient Greek texts, translations and commentaries on each inscription. The scholarly papers will be linked to translations on Attic Inscriptions Online, with notes aimed at school and university students and museum visitors.'

Dr Polly Low and Dr Peter Liddel of Manchester University, collaborators on the project, added: 'We are excited that the project will not only benefit scholars worldwide, but will make these fascinating insights into the Classical world more accessible and engaging for students and the wider public.'

(For more information visit www.atticinscriptions.com)
Lindsay Fulcher