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Reflect upon the nature of inscription and its place in our current electronic everyday life. The reflection should make use of McLuhan, Kittler and Benveniete and quote them (in brief) for support. Consider what critical models these writers offer as a student of media studies. Begin with a quote that gets to the heart of the issue. Sources Marshall McLuahn, The writAn Word: an eye for an ear




The Nature of Inscription and Its Place in our Current Everyday Life

Inscription has an important place in our lives. Various scholars and researchers such as McLuhan, Kittler and Benveniete have put a lot of emphasis on this subject and highlighted inscription to a great lenght in their works. According to Marshal McLuhan "The value of inscriptions as historical material is so great that it can hardly be exaggerated. Apart from modern forgeries, which are rare and in general easily detected, they are contemporary and authoritative documents, whose text if legible cannot be corrupt, and whose cumulative value, in the hands of scholars accustomed to handling them in the mass, is astonishing. They are the most important single source for the history and organisation of the world".


The texts of inscriptions are frequently presented in books as neat lines of typescript. This gives a doubly false impression, firstly of a uniformity in script and lettering, and also of easy legibility, to produce a sanitized version of the text, which deprives it of much that would be interesting. The most important fact to remember about any inscription is that it is inscribed on something. The text may easily not be the only decoration on the stone. The smallest and seemingly most insignificant slab can be set into the handsomest of monuments. The best place to study inscriptions is where they survive in an original location, or failing that, in a museum, preferably a museum with a large and varied collection.


The subject of inscription is a substantial and ever-growing resource for archaeologists and historians of the world. It can be estimated that over 300,000 inscriptions are known; this mass of evidence grows at upwards of 1000 items per year, and the volume of new discoveries shows no sign of diminishing. Inscriptions provide valuable confirmation and amplification of our often meagre and selective literary sources. They can provide details of events not reported at all by the historians, or can attest the careers and activities of officials and officers otherwise completely unknown. Inscriptions of the latter type are a major source of material for the scholarly pursuit of prosopography, which seeks to reconstruct administrative hierarchies and family relationships, and thereby illuminate ancient society. Equally important, inscriptions cover a wide, though by no means complete, socio-economic spectrum of the community, bringing before us a vast number of people who have no place as individuals in the pages of the historians. The evidence of inscriptions is especially useful in reconstructing the story of provinces far from Rome. Above all they provide an enormous reservoir of incidental information on the world and the organization of their empire.


First, a definition. The term ‘inscriptions’ is used in modern times to denote the texts inscribed on a variety of materials which have survived from antiquity. The study of inscriptions has come to be known as epigraphy, from a Greek word, epigraphe, meaning literally an ‘inscription’. Latin terms for an inscribed text are inscriptio and titulus, the latter word encompassing both the text and the panel on which it is inscribed.


In Italy and the western provinces the language used was chiefly Latin. But it should be remembered that the common language of Roman provinces east and south of the Adriatic was Greek, which was the language of law and administration. In the following pages, however, the emphasis will be on inscriptions in Latin. Sometimes the word ‘inscriptions’ is used to refer more casually to the stones or other materials which have been marked, written on, or chiselled with a formal message which the dedicator frequently intended would be seen, admired, and perhaps pondered on. Often the setting up of an inscription was a public act, for public consumption. (R.P. Wright, I.A. Richmond 1955)


Not all inscriptions were, however, on stone. Bronze was an important medium, used often for legal documents. After a fire had destroyed the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome in AD 69, the new emperor Vespasian had a search made for copies as replacements for the three thousand bronze tablets, many relating to the early history of the Roman state, that had been lost. (J.S. and A.E. Gordon, 1957) The poet Horace claims in a well-known line that his poetry constituted a record aere perennius, even longer-lasting than bronze. Nowadays inscriptions on bronze constitute a very small proportion of surviving texts; they were much more susceptible to damage, melting down and re-use in antiquity and after. Where such documents survive, even in fragments, they preserve for us important historical information, such as laws, treaties, edicts, religious texts and dedications.


Wooden panels were employed for public notices. It was presumably on a painted wooden board that Julius Caesar displayed at his Triumph in 47 BC the simple but powerful text, VENI, VIDI, VICI (came, saw, conquered). Such boards are shown, held by attendants, in the triumphal procession depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome. (The Archaeology of Roman Britain 1930)


Latin (or Greek) could also be written on metals, on baked clay tiles or bricks, on pottery, glass, wall plaster or in mosaic tesserae. All these texts come under the general heading of inscriptions, and often form a valuable corrective to more formal, official records on stone. It should be said at once that I here exclude two forms of documentary evidence from antiquity: coins and papyri, which constitute separate branches of study in modern times. Coins normally bear Latin or Greek texts often incorporating the names of an emperor, magistrates or other issuing authorities and other useful information; the texts can be instructively compared with those on stone. Papyri, a sometimes undervalued source, are found predominantly in Egypt. They give invaluable insights into the paperwork which an imperial bureaucracy generated, or report correspondence, business transactions or everyday activities which did not normally find their way on to stone. Papyri, parchment sheets or wooden writing tablets served for day-to-day short-term transactions; they rarely survive in the western Roman provinces, but recent discoveries of wooden writing tablets from Vindolanda and elsewhere are pointers to how much we should know if they did.


The Romans were not the first to inscribe texts. The impulse to do so is as old as writing itself. Clearly therefore the surviving inscribed texts reflect and illuminate the changing vocabulary and grammatical structure of Latin over an extended period. A majority of the Latin inscriptions surviving from ancient times belongs in the first three centuries AD, i.e. from the time when Roman power was at its height.


References
The Archaeology of Roman Britain (Oxford, 1930), 162.
J.S. and A.E. Gordon, Contributions to the Palaeography of Latin Inscriptions (Los Angeles, 1957)
R.P. Wright and I.A. Richmond, The Roman Inscribed and Sculptured Stones in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester (Chester, 1955)

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