Replacing the Squeeze? Teaching Classical Epigraphy With 3D Models

This semester, I am incorporating more epigraphy into my undergraduate and graduate level courses. The University of Iowa has a top-flight classics program (if I do say so myself), but we do not have a proper squeeze collection to work with (something I took for granted while at UNC-Chapel Hill). As such, in addition to using my list of open-access epigraphy manuals, I have begun to integrate 3D models of inscriptions into my courses. Here are a few of the models on Sketchfab that I have found most useful for teaching ancient history and explaining epigraphic conventions.

1. Teaching Time with the Fasti: Teaching students about how elite Romans created, modified, and then presented calendars to the public is an important part of accessing texts like Ovid’s Fasti, no doubt, but can also allow students to understand the links between civic and religious life in antiquity. Thus I love using the 1st c. CE Fasti Praenestini in order to teach with [Attalus Translation] 

2. Imperialism and the Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Anyone who teaches a course on Roman Civilization or the Augustan period is sure to teach Augustus’ epic autobiographical inscription, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Although this is of course the reconstruction of the inscription now near the Ara Pacis in Rome (rather than the original, copies of which were sent around the empire and translated into Latin and Greek), it still allows students to understand the monumental epigraphic landscape within the city and elsewhere in the empire from the reign of Augustus on. Much like a fine wine, it pairs well with Suetonius and Tacitus.

3. Legal Display and a Classical Athenian Decree: Thanks to the hard work of Daniel Pett over at the DH branch of the British Museum, there are a number of 3D models for classical antiquities within Sketchfab. The one below is a fragment of an Athenian decree concerning the collection of the tribute (IG I², 66) from the members of the Delian League, probably passed in the spring of 448/7 BCE. It is perfect for teaching the Athenian stoichedon style (στοιχηδόν: “in a row”) to students and showing them how law was visible to the populace in Athens.

4. Hospitality and Friendship in Antiquity: The 3D models of Roman inscriptions from the National Archaeological Museum collection (Madrid, Spain) is exceptional. You can explore it at . The one below is a very rare tessera hospitalis which reveals how friendships and even travel arrangements with friends could be solidified through an inscription. Almost all of the metadata to fill a traditional epigraphic lemma is there for students to explore, along with links to the epigraphic corpora online.

El Castillo , Cedrillas (Teruel)
National Archaeological Museum
Inventory number: 71212
Transcript: Tessera hospitalis / cum P (ublio) Turullio P (ubli) f (ilio) / Mai (cia) 
References: CIL I / 2 , 3465; AE 1956, 153; ERTe 28; AE 2004, 761
Resources: Hispania Epigraphica Online ; Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg


5. Inscribed Religion in Situ at Caesarea Philippi: One of great capabilities of 3D modeling is allowing viewers to access inscriptions situated within the landscape in which they were displayed. This is particularly true of the model of the Court of Pan and the Nymphs in Banias, Israel. The description on the model reads: “During the first century CE another shrine, dedicated to Pan and the Nymphs, was constructed east of the Temple of Augustus. This building consisted of three especially thick walls with cement foundations; it abutted the cliff on its north, creating a rectangular enclosure measuring 15 x 10 m. which apparently served as an open-air shrine. A small grotto was cut into the rock cliff behind it and, in a later period, niches for statues were added. A Greek inscription indicates that these niches date to the year 148: “The priest Victor, son of Lysimachos, dedicated this goddess to the god Pan, lover of Echo.”

I want to note that there are many other inscriptions in various other ancient languages–Syriac, Hebrew, Cuneiform, Coptic, et cetera–that you should explore. I only teach Greek and Latin and thus have only focused on those epigraphic examples within this post. Regardless of the inscribed language, 3D models and digital humanities approaches to material culture provide ample opportunity for transporting students and the general public to “visit” and then translate inscriptions in situ. While nothing will ever replace doing squeezes and rubbings on-site, these are a close second when used in a browser, on a mobile device, or loaded into a VR viewer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: