You are here

Les graffiti sur céramique d’Augusta Raurica

Les graffiti sur céramique d’Augusta Raurica

By Gaele Féret and Richard Sylvestre (Forschungen in Augst 40). Pp. 323, b&w figs. 61, b&w pls. 100, color pls. 5. Augusta Raurica, Augst 2008. €62. ISBN 978-3-7151-0040-1 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This is a detailed catalogue of the 1,816 graffiti found in the Roman colony Augusta Emerita Raurica (modern Augst in Switzerland). The authors present an in-depth study of all the graffiti on pottery from the Roman period (with the exception of graffiti on amphoras). It is a systematic undertaking: besides drawings of all graffiti, the authors present detailed paleographic and linguistic analyses. The graffiti are also considered in context, such as geographic location within the colony. Overall, this corpus provides a wealth of information on culture, religion, society, economy, literacy, and various aspects of so-called Romanization.

In this corpus, 1,585 graffiti were incised on pottery after firing, and most contain verbal messages, notably the names of owners. These graffiti can be found predominantly on fine tableware for serving and dining, especially Gaulish Samian Ware. Among the 585 property markers, there are many Celtic names, including some unique names, such as Arourix and Cracomos. Almost one-third of all names—at least of those names for which gender can be clearly identified—belong to women, many of Celtic origin. Having identified just 16 female names among the property markers (51), however, it appears far-fetched to postulate a “société egalitaire entre hommes et femmes” (93). Names appear to become increasingly Roman over time, but Celtic components remain present throughout the entire period. For the authors, the presence of Celtic names in the second–third centuries C.E. indicates “a persistence of Celtic traditions in a perfectly Romanized urban context” (53). We need not only criticize the general use of the term “Romanization” in this book but also the repeated aim to analyze the “degree of Romanization,” as if this was some measurable quantity. Such a method presumes a progressive process by which so-called indigenous traits increasingly die out, which seems unlikely. Moreover, we need to consider that the number of Celtic names that can be dated and clearly identified at Augusta Raurica is too low to make such conclusions: of the 585 property markers, only 202 names can be identified (many are too fragmented). Eighty-six names can be used to analyze their Latin/Celtic origins, while the gender of a name can be identified in only 85 cases. Only 27 of 86 names can be identified as Latin, but these Latin names can be assumed to be those of the indigenous population; many local people might adopt particular Latin names, for example, as a “nom d’assonance” or “Deckname”—a concept that could have profited from more detailed discussion here (see, e.g., B. Rémy, “Un example de romanisation: La dénomination des habitants des Alpes cottiennes au Haut-Empire d’après les inscriptions,” in R. Häussler, ed., Romanisation et épigraphie: Études interdisciplinaires sur l’acculturation et l’identité dans l’Empire romain [Montagnac 2008] 53–94). For the authors, the persistence and development of names of Gallic origin until the third century C.E. is considered to be one of the characteristics of the corpus of Augusta Raurica (92), but we should take into account other epigraphic corpora: for the Alpes Cottiae, for example, Rémy ([2008] 85–6) has shown the continuing importance of local names, and on curse tablets from Britain, we find countless indigenous names throughout the Roman period.

There are just 13 religious texts on the graffiti. In many Romano-Celtic sanctuaries, graffiti play an important role, but at Augusta Raurica, these graffiti have been found mainly in domestic contexts, suggesting domestic cults. They attest a number of so-called indigenous deities, such as Sirona (“Serona” [sic]) and Epona. The attractiveness of indigenous deities in this Roman colony can also be supported by stone inscriptions from Augusta Raurica, such as the dedications to Apollo and Sirona (H. Nesselhauf and H. Lieb, “Dritter Nachtrag zu CIL XIII,” BerRGK 40 [1959] 97) and Sucellos (AÉpigr [1926] 40). Also behind Jupiter and Regina, the authors quite rightly suggest indigenous (i.e., local) deities. More doubtful, however, is the reconstruction of MASV as (Mars) Masu(ciaco)—a deity otherwise only attested in Gallia Narbonensis; a personal name such as Masueta/Masuetus or Masurius seems more probable. Similarly, the suggestion to expand MARTI E[...] as Mars Exalbiouix (62) seems rather unlikely (e[...] could stand for e[x voto]). Interestingly, the authors consider the graffiti MAR and MARTI to be personal names, rather than dedications to Mars (43–4).

The authors produce detailed paleographic studies on all graffiti, which is vital for understanding issues of chronology and literacy. Most graffiti were written not in the cursive script but in capital letters (85), which, for the authors, indicate the influence of public inscriptions on “vernacular” writing (87). Their comparison with graffiti from Britain (allegedly only 1.8% are in cursive [85]) appears, however, to be outdated; for example, 75% of all graffiti from Aquae Sulis (Bath) and virtually all Vindolanda writing tablets were in the Roman cursive script and not in capitals. The alleged use of “lettres gréco-latines” in Augustan Augst is seen as an indicator for the persistence of Celtic traditions (93), though the alleged relation of two graffiti (nos. 201, 202) with the Gallo-Greek epigraphy of southern Gaul remains uncertain (50–1). There are also a small number of numeral graffiti from Augusta Raurica, indicating prices, weights (e.g., pound, modius, sextarius), and content (e.g., flour). Among the 61 anepigraphic graffiti, some show figurative drawings depicting, for example, a gladiator or a bird.

In addition, the authors analyze the 231 graffiti incised before firing. These are primarily names of potters; five of the eight names are Celtic. Interestingly, we do not find these graffiti on fine tableware but on hand-thrown coarse ware and light-colored jugs largely produced by local pottery workshops (99), which were used for storage and preparation of food (112). For the authors, this represents “un aspect social à caractère ‘indigène’ très marqué” (114). And if Belissa really was a female potter’s name, as the authors suggest, it would be interesting to have a woman in charge of a pottery workshop.

Altogether, this is an important publication, as it shows how graffiti can improve our understanding of local society and culture. Graffiti provide different insights than stone inscriptions, such as different naming practices and evidence for a vernacular language. It would have been interesting to compare the profiles of these graffiti with the approximately 70 stone inscriptions from Augusta Raurica. Following Feugère (“Plaidoyer pour la ‘petite épigraphie’: L’exemple de la cité de Béziers,” in Häussler [2008] 119–34), it is to be hoped that there will be many more publications of such caliber on graffiti, not just on pottery but also on other materials—such as lead, bronze, and wood—as these will provide new and sometimes contradictory information on sociocultural developments in the Roman provinces.

Ralph Häussler
Department of History and Archaeology
University of Osnabrück
49069 Osnabrück

Book Review of Les graffiti sur céramique dAugusta Raurica, by Gaele Féret and Richard Sylvestre

Reviewed by Ralph Häussler

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1144.Haussler

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.