The sources for names

When modern interest in the collection and study of ancient Greek personal names began in the early nineteenth century, the evidence available came almost exclusively from literature (transmitted by manuscript tradition) which, even when it includes historical works, paints only a partial picture of a society. The fundamental work of W. Pape, Wörterbuch der griechischen Eigennamen, published in 1842, was based almost entirely on literary evidence, for which it remains the authoritative collection. By the time it was revised by G.E. Benseler in the 1860s, however, the picture had already begun to change, to include names derived from documentary evidence.

Documentary evidence - inscriptions, papyri (for Graeco-Roman Egypt), coins and artefacts - broadens the social and geographical range of our knowledge of Greek names, because it records relatively ordinary people, often in relatively ordinary situations, and is found in all parts of the Greek world, and not just the main centres of literary output, above all Athens. It is also constantly extended by new discoveries resulting from archaeological excavations.

From inscriptions we see official documents such as citizen lists, decrees, treaties and judgements, but also the more personal tombstones, religious dedications and curses, and the manumissions of slaves. Papyri, in their nature, record day-to-day activities such as instructions, wills, correspondence of all kinds. Coins record magistrates and kings. Vases bear signatures of the artist, and captions of the scenes depicted; jewellery may be inscribed with the name of the owner. And so on.  Our image collection offers a few illustrations of the various kinds of evidence from which we derive names. We plan to expand the collection in due course.

Images illustrating sources for names



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