Report from OSU Epigraphy Seminar

photoFor the past few days, I’ve been at OSU’s Summer Epigraphy Seminar. As you can imagine, this is an archaeologist’s dream vacation. Let me give you a run-down:

What is epigraphy?: I’ve been getting this a lot. Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions. In Greco-Roman history and archaeology, this entails analyzing Greek and Latin inscriptions on stone, pottery, or metal. It is a specialized skill that not only requires a grasp of the ancient languages but also knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of writing on stone (i.e. weird letter forms, odd syntax, or poorly preserved words).

What is the connection to religion?: So why am I here? Early Christians, as people living in an epigraphical society, relied on inscriptions to broadcast political affiliation, boast about financial benefactions, or exercise religiosity. I have especially focused on magical inscriptions meant to defend space against sickness or demonic invasion. For these people, inscribing a cross, Bible verse, or the words of Jesus himself on your doorway shored up the potentially dangerous threshold. Afterall, ancient demonologies tell us that demons were believed to have corporeal bodies that could squeeze through any unprotected chink in your wall.

This seminar will enable me to approach epigraphical material responsibly and holistically in my research…hopefully informing my later work on my dissertation. Epigraphy also comes in handy when studying curse tablets: the go-to method for resolving social spats in late antiquity.

Coolest Fact from the Seminar: Did you know that the Greeks and Romans painted their inscriptions red? Archaeologists can detect trace amounts of red paint in the letter forms of these inscriptions…makes sense if you want the words to pop out to passersby right? Also makes the white inscriptions we see in Washington DC seem particularly stark…


Andrew Henry is a PhD student in early Christianity at Boston University. His research focuses on the popular and domestic religion of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly the magico-religious rituals deployed to harness and direct ritual power.


  1. […] question: “Christian: What do you believe?” But what does the Nicene Creed mean in an epigraphical context? Particularly when it closely resembles other Greco-Roman magical […]

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