Online Review: Book

Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Vol. 11, Mont Hermon (Liban et Syrie) [and] Choix d'inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie

Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Vol. 11, Mont Hermon (Liban et Syrie), by Julien Aliquot (BAHBeyrouth 183). Pp. 168, figs. 93, table 1, plan 1, maps 4. Institut Français du Proche-Orient, Beirut 2008. €40. ISBN 978-2-35159-079-9 (paper).

Choix d'inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, by Jean-Baptiste Yon and Pierre-Louis Gatier (Guides Archéologiques de l'Institut Français du Proche-Orient 6). Pp. 223, b&w figs. 67, color figs. 58, table 1, maps 6. Institut Français du Proche-Orient, Amman 2009. Price not available. ISBN 978-2-35159-080-5.


Aliquot's corpus of inscriptions from Mt. Hermon (modern Jabal esh-Sheikh), founded in part on a dossier initially compiled by René Mouterde, is not only the 13th volume of the Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie to appear since 1929 but also serves as a documentary appendix to his recently published dissertation, La vie religieuse au Liban sous l'Empire romain (Beirut 2009). Two of the author's predecessors, Rey-Coquais and Sartre, followed a similar sequence of research and publication, producing respective monographs, Arados et sa pérée (Paris 1974) and Bostra: Des origines à l'Islam (Paris 1985), which likewise synthesized data gathered in their contributions to the IGLSyr (J.-P. Rey-Coquais, Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Vol. 7, Arados et régions voisines [Paris 1970]; M. Sartre, Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Vol. 13, fasc. 1, Bostra [Paris 1982]). Aliquot maintains the high editorial standards that have characterized the IGLSyr since Rey-Coquais' treatment of the inscriptions for volume 6 (Baalbek et Beqa' [Paris 1967]) (see G.W. Bowersock's important review of Sartre's Bostra corpus [AJP 106 (1985) 139–42]). The only real break with tradition is the absence of a separate series of plates at the end of the volume in favor of illustrations accompanying each inscription. This is certainly desirable with respect to photographs of the texts themselves, but some of the images of Mt. Hermon and its villages could have benefited from a slightly larger format. The spectacular color photograph of the western aspect of the mountain, which graces the cover and appears again on page 4 in black-and-white, is one such example. The most welcome innovation is the index of personal names with extensive commentary included alongside the expected indices and concordance.

The corpus itself comprises 55 inscriptions—16 of them previously unedited and several reedited—divided into two sections covering modern Lebanon (Hermon occidental) and Syria (Hermon oriental). The area surveyed exceeds 1,200 km2 and encompasses the ancient hinterlands of Damascus, Sidon, and Caesarea Paneas to the east, west, and south, respectively. This overlap creates several possibilities for resolving dates according to various eras, especially in the southern sector, but does not cause any serious interpretive difficulties, and the options are fully explained and mapped site by site (17–25). Both the earliest dated inscription (no. 20 [October 60 C.E.]) and the latest (no. 26 [June 418 C.E.]) come from Rakhla on Hermon's eastern slopes, and all but the last date are between the first and third centuries C.E. The lion's share of the corpus relates to the activities of rural sanctuaries, such as the Sanctuary of Leucothea at Rakhla (nos. 21–30) or the shrine to the anonymous "thrice-great and holy" god at Qasr Antar on the summit, interdicted to all those who have "not sworn the oath" (no. 40, lines 6–8). Mentioned in Jerome's translation of Eusebius' Onomasticon (21.13–14), it serves as a reminder of Hermon's etymology, that is, "separate" and thus "sacred." While keen to trace its reputation as a holy mountain over the centuries (8–11 ["La Montagne Sacrée"]), to his great credit, Aliquot demonstrates a greater concern for the massif's human landscape, emphasizing, for example, the close correlation between cult sites and villages and the implications this has for the obscure settlement history of the region.

Two sites that are today located in Israel, outside the traditional scope of the IGLSyr, are nevertheless included in Mouterde's dossier: the famous sanctuary to Pan at the foot of Hermon's southwestern slope, first mentioned in Polybius' Histories (16.18.12), and Caesarea Paneas (modern Baniyas), the city founded in 2 B.C.E. by Philip the Tetrarch, which derived its name from the Panion. Aliquot appropriately adds 25 previously published texts from the southern region in an appendix ("Hermon méridional") along with a listing of all mentions of Paneas in inscriptions elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. For obvious reasons, all but one text (no. A/11 from the museum of the American University in Beirut) were unavailable for autopsy. Number A/22, honoring the Roman officer Lucius Nonius Candidus, is noteworthy as the only fully published inscription of those uncovered by the excavations at Baniyas directed by Ze'ev Ma‘oz from 1988 to 1994. The remainder have been entrusted to Benjamin Isaac for study and await publication (see 15 n. 58 for details of other unedited inscriptions from Caesarea Paneas).

In the second volume under review, Yon and Gatier, along with five other contributors (Aliquot, Decourt, Feissel, Rey-Coquais, and Sartre), offer to the nonspecialist a collection of 64 Greek and Latin inscriptions from Syria (nos. 4, 5, and 37 are bilingual with Aramaic translations, all from Palmyra). The result is neither an introduction to epigraphy nor a sourcebook of translated documents for historians, but a compilation that conforms to the standards of epigraphic publication, albeit with abbreviated lemmata and commentary directed at a general audience. A brief preface introduces the reader to the study of inscriptions and its value to the historian and recounts the development of epigraphy in Syria, focusing especially on the progress of the IGLSyr. A detailed timeline of events and dated texts provides historical context and is preceded by an account of the various chronological systems in use. A list of epigraphic sigla and a table relating the Greek and Latin alphabets and numeration is appended to the introduction. The selections are then categorized according to theme and content into eight chapters (public life and administration, military affairs, fortifications and public buildings, rural life and the countryside, roads and milestones, pagan cults, Christian structures, tombs and epitaphs). Each chapter is then ordered chronologically, the texts ranging in date from the Hellenistic period to the 11th century C.E.

The aim of the work is twofold: on the one hand, it is intended to present to a wider public the epigraphic research of the IGLSyr, as supported by the Institut Fernand-Courby and the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO), and on the other hand to acknowledge the longstanding and fruitful collaboration between the IGLSyr team and the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria. But an inattentive reader (like this reviewer), who at first glance does not notice that the first three words of the title are differently emphasized, might be forgiven for parsing it as "a selection from the IGLSyr" as opposed to "a selection of Greek and Latin inscriptions from Syria." Somewhat confusingly, the Syria of the title is the Syrian Arab Republic and is not construed au sens antique according to the usage of the IGLSyr even as the authors themselves describe it (15). All the included texts were discovered in modern Syria, and those not subsequently lost are still preserved there, save for the Palmyrene tax law of 137 C.E. (no. 4), now in the Hermitage collection in St. Petersburg. But even this is not entirely an exception: a small fragment of the title is still preserved in the local museum at Palmyra. These geographical limits are not immediately clear from the map of findspots (8), which does not indicate ancient or modern political borders. Nor are the findspots explicitly stated in the principles of selection (15–16), which implies somewhat disingenuously that a selection has been made from all volumes of the IGLSyr.

This leads to inevitable distortions by omission but yields some creative solutions as well. Thus, Bostra (modern Busra eski-Sham), the capital of Roman Arabia, is present (no. 46), but the Seleucid capital Antioch-on-the-Orontes (modern Antakya, Turkey) appears only by proxy through the testimony of a rural shrine on its territory east of the Orontes (no. 39). Heliopolis (Baalbek) is not to be found, but Zeus Heliopolites receives dedications in the Abilene, that is, the chora of Abila Lysaniou (no. 36), and also at Emesa (Homs) from one Crispus, himself perhaps a Heliopolitan (no. 42). Phoenician Arados (Arwad) is included (no. 7), but not the Roman colony at Berytus (Beirut), and Canatha (Qanawat) is the sole representative of the Decapolis (no. 60). Palmyra is the origin of no fewer than six texts (nos. 4, 5, 6, 12, 37, 55), the most of any site, and seems overrepresented considering that an earlier volume of the IFPO guidebook series was specifically dedicated to its inscriptions (K. As'ad and J.-B. Yon, Inscriptions de Palmyre: Promenades épigraphiques dans la ville antique de Palmyre. Guides Archéologiques de l'Institut Français du Proche-Orient 3 [Beirut 2001]). Otherwise, the editors have struck the proper balance between the need to take account of the most significant and celebrated examples (nos. 2, 3 [the benefactions of L. Iulius Agrippa], no. 4 [the tax-law of Palmyra], no. 34 [the letter of Antiochus I or II granting privileges to Baetocaece], no. 56 [an inscription from the pyramidal tomb of Samsigeramus]), and the desire to feature others no less evocative (e.g., no. 5 [an inscription awarding four statues to the caravan leader Shoadû at Palmyra], no. 26 [part of a mosaic chronicle from a village near Apamea]). One or two seem intended to appeal to a specifically French demographic (no. 61 [the epitaph of a fourth-century émigré from Rotomagus (modern Rouen)], certainly, and perhaps no. 25 [a Latin epigram in praise of wine]). Although of limited interest for Anglophone readers, reflecting on the principles and assumptions underlying such a collection might be valuable for an introductory epigraphy seminar, especially given present economic realities and the need for the engaging outreach exemplified by this volume.

Paul Kimball
Program in Cultures, Civilizations, and Ideas
Bilkent University
06800 Bilkent/Ankara

Book Review of Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Vol. 11, Mont Hermon (Liban et Syrie), by Julien Aliquot and Choix d'inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, by Jean-Baptiste Yon and Pierre-Louis Gatier

Reviewed by Paul Kimball

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 4 (October 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1144.Kimball

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <fa> <span> <i>
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.