Historians have discovered that an ancient Greek inscription on a marble slab in a museum collection is a rare and previously unknown “yearbook of graduate” type list of names.
Experts have examined the stone, which has been stored in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) for over 100 years, as part of a project to publish English translations of inscriptions from ancient Athens held in UK collections.
They discovered that the letters carved into the marble in the NMS collection record the names of young men inducted into the ephebate, a year of military and civic training undertaken around the age of 18, intended to prepare them for life as a soldier. ‘adult.
It lists a group of 31 friends who passed through the Athenian Ephebate together during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) and was intended to commemorate the close relationship they had formed.
When they first read a reference to it, experts thought it might be a copy of a similar list in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, but have realized that was not the case when they saw her.
Dr Peter Liddel, Professor of Greek History and Epigraphy at the University of Manchester, who led the find, said: ‘Due to the lockdown we were unable to visit the museum until July 2021, and upon seeing it, we realized that it was not a copy of an already known inscription but it was a very unique new discovery that had been in the NMS storerooms for a very long time, since the 1880s, and it listed a group of young men who called themselves co-ephebes or co-cadets and friends.
“It turned out to be a list of cadets for a particular year during the period 41-54 AD, the reign of Claudius, and it gives us new names, names we had never encountered before in ancient Greek, and this too gives us one of the earliest evidence of non-nationals participating in ephebate at this time.
“It’s a really interesting listing, partly because it’s new, but also because it gives us new names and insight into the kind of access or accessibility of this institution that is often associated with elite citizens.”
It is not known where the list was posted, but it is thought that it could have been posted somewhere like the gymnasium where the young men were training.
Dr Liddel said: ‘It was designed to create a sense of togetherness and camaraderie among this group of people who had gone through a rigorous training program together and felt like they were part of a cohort.
“It’s the old equivalent of a graduate school yearbook, although this one was created by a number of people who wanted to feel like they had come together as friends.”
Registration is published this week on the website www.atticinscriptions.com
Experts said the find represents an important new source of information about elite Athenian society in the mid-first century AD, a crucial period for Athens as it adjusted to its place under the Roman Empire. .
Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections, sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is a four-year project led by Cardiff University with Durham University and the University of Manchester.
Dr Margaret Maitland, Senior Curator, Ancient Mediterranean, at NMS, said: “Having the team come and visit and confirm that this was something that had never been published before was really exciting.”
Inscriptions from this period are relatively rare, and experts have said this makes it all the more striking that the newly discovered Ephebic List belongs to the same year and cohort as the Ashmolean inscription.