Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections

Project Details


Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections promotes scholarly interpretation and public understanding of, and engagement with, the ancient Athenian inscriptions held in UK Museums and Private Collections.

In the period from the seventeenth century to the early nineteenth centuries AD, wealthy travellers from Britain explored the cultural centres of Europe in an early form of the ‘Gap Year’, the ‘Grand Tour’.

Many of those travellers who reached the eastern Mediterranean turned their attention to collecting artefacts (vases, coins, sculpture, architectural elements, statue bases, marble slabs) that had been produced in the classical era.

Particularly sought after were those objects which bore inscriptions written in Latin, Greek and other ancient languages.

As a consequence of these explorations, over 250 ancient Athenian inscriptions were brought to the UK, and the majority of them are still currently held in collections dotted around the country.

More than half of them are kept at the British Museum, but there are substantial accumulations also at the Fitzwilliam (Cambridge) and Ashmolean (Oxford) and smaller ones in other public museums in Newcastle, Leeds and Edinburgh, at National Trust properties (Mount Stewart, Petworth House, Lyme Park) and private properties (including Broomhall, Chatsworth and Brocklesby). Some collections were dispersed over the course of the twentieth century and have found their way into other public and private collections in the UK, the USA and Australia.

Hosted on the AIO website, the Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections project (2017-2022) is currently engaged in examining these inscriptions, editing them and publishing open-access texts, translations and commentaries on them via our open-access AIUK website.

We are in the process of creating videos about the inscriptions that are published on our Youtube channel.

Our programme of AIUK-related activities over the duration of our project has produced a series of lectures for the Workers’ Educational Association, talks and seminars at the Fitzwilliam (Cambridge) and Ashmolean (Oxford) Museums, training for gallery lecturers and front-house volunteers at the Ashmolean and a British Museum study day and CPD event. We have created a Attic Inscriptions: Education website which provides resources based on Athenian inscriptions for schoolteachers of classical subjects at all Key Stages.

We have produced a set of notes for visitors to the BM and the Ashmolean which will help them identify and interpret Athenian inscriptions on display in those museums.

We have also contributed to the updating of the online catalogues of the National Trust, British Museum and Ashmolean Museum to reflect the findings of our research.

The goal of our project is to promote public understanding not only of these inscriptions but also of the routes by which they came to the UK and in particular the importance of wealth, imperial influence and British diplomatic ties in bringing the material to the UK.

We hope that our research and associated publications will facilitate teachers’ and learners’ engagement with these collections.
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