British History Online has been publishing the inventory volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) series. We currently have 30 volumes online, with another dozen or so to come, and it’s a pleasure to be able to make this painstakingly researched series freely available to everyone. Among the volumes online are two that specifically cover remains from the Roman period: Roman London and Eburacum: Roman York. I wrote about the challenges of digitising the many Roman inscriptions detailed in the volumes on the BHO blog, and gave this example of an inscription found in York:

The RCHME editors both transcribe and translate the inscriptions:


‘To the holy god Serapis, Claudius Hieronymianus, legate of the Sixth Legion Victorious, built this temple from the ground.’

This made me think more generally about the treatment of Roman inscriptions online. The standard print work for Latin inscriptions is the substantial Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL); a project has begun to digitise this series but it’s early days. The benefits of digitisation are multiple: the CIL volumes are organised by varying criteria: geography, chronology, subject matter, but it would be ideal for researchers to be able to order the material in a way that suits their interests, so that, for example, someone researching the Sixth Legion Victorius, mentioned above, could call up inscriptions relating to it from any time or place. A final complication is that the RCHME volumes have a few Greek inscriptions, which would not be included in CIL but might be found in Inscriptiones Graecae; clearly it would be preferable to be able to query multiple digital sources at once.

I also think the complexity of inscriptions make them suitable for web presentation. For print, epigraphers have had to develop conventions for representing different states of an inscription: in the above example the word CLAVDIVS does not appear in the inscription, only CL does, the rest is an expansion by the epigrapher; in other cases letters that have worn off are conjecturally restored; in some cases grammatical or spelling errors are noted and the standard forms also given; in a process called damnatio memoriae, people’s names were sometimes erased from inscriptions, and occasionally restored later or replaced with a different name. All of this would would suit markup very well, so that the user can toggle between versions as they wish, and to search along those dimensions too.

Looking around for digital sites with classical inscriptions, I can’t say I’ve found any shining examples of what could be done, even on a small scale. Have I missed some good ones? Please let me know in the comments.