Tag Archives: Malcolm McGregor

Finding the Answers in the Squeezes: When We Discovered that Graduate Students Haven’t Changed in 80 years

B1TwJrNCEAAUlhh.jpg-largeWe have a very extensive squeeze collection here at From Stone to Screen.  1051 squeezes, to be exact – although about 200-300 of them are duplicates.  The point of this entire project has been to digitize the squeezes, which we have diligently been doing, and to put them up on an online database.  This hits a snag sometimes when we can’t identify where exactly the squeeze is from.  Such as last Friday when Lisa came across this gorgeous squeeze while she was working at the Digital Initiatives lab.

Normally, we identify our squeezes by an index that was written up by Professor Nigel Kennell in the ’70s or by the handwritten notes by Professor McGregor that has the IG (Inscriptiones Graecae) number or the EM (Epigraphic Museum) number somewhere on the squeeze.  With the delicate state of some of our squeezes, we are very grateful for these references.  When Lisa couldn’t identify this stunning squeeze, though, she decided to try and take it to social media.  She sent out a tweet on Friday afternoon calling all Greek epigraphists to help identify the squeeze which was quickly retweeted around the small but active epigraphic community.

Monday morning we tweeted out the image again hoping to catch some more scholars who hadn’t seen it before the weekend (because, in all honesty, it was late Friday afternoon).  Within a couple of hours we had a very helpful reply that identified the squeeze as a stelae from Aixone.

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left)

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left).

Lisa compared the two images and agreed- they’re a match!  We’re thrilled to have an answer to our mystery so quickly, through the wonders of the internet.  This is one of the first times that we have gone to the public like this for help and it was fun to see how many people were thinking about the squeeze, proof that what we’re working towards will be used by other scholars in our field.

We are also deeply amused by how much simpler this process was than the debates that took place in the 1930s.  One of our favourite parts of our squeeze collection is actually a letter between ‘Mac’ (Malcolm McGregor) and ‘Gene’ (Eugene Schweigert) from 1935 arguing over certain transliterations from a fragment of the Athenian Tribute Lists.  Considering Mac was at the University of Cincinnati and Gene was at Johns Hopkins, the debates must have taken quite a while to come to a resolution.  With how difficult squeezes are to read, it’s understandable that there was a lot to discuss.  Plus, if you’ve read our previous posts about the process of digitizing squeezes, you know that one advantage to our new images of them is that epigraphists no longer needs to be able to read Greek backwards.  Don’t forget, too, that epigraphic Greek was written in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, it’s no surprise that sometimes the arguments came down to a single letter.  Which was backwards.  Today’s accessibility to images enables us to quickly compare images instead of relying on other peoples’ squeezes and readings of the inscriptions.

Beyond that, this letter also gives us an amazing insight into a man who is a legend in our department and a key player in the research on the Tribute Lists.  When this letter was written he would have been finishing up his doctorate at the University of Cincinnati and only 25, around the same age as most of us who are working on this project.  The two men are obviously friends and Gene begins the letter with “Short but violent spell of nostalgia now over.  Its reoccurrence after some… puzzled famous Johns Hopkins physicians.  Nature finally performed her cure.”  Then he goes on to refute some of Mac’s theories and cheekily writes in the middle “Don’t worry about ἐξ ἀπογραφῆς or ἐδήμευΓαν etc. Your guess is just as likely.”   Whether or not Mac was reassured that his guess was just as likely we’ll never know, but this conversation is reminiscent of ones heard around our department all the time.

This letter was written four years before the first volume on the Athenian Tribute List was published by McGregor, Merritt and Wade-Gery.  Both men are mentioned in the letter and at the end Gene says that he wishes he could spend more time with Mac and West.  Allen Brown West, though, died in a car accident in 1936 and the first volume was dedicated to his memory.  The forward in the volume makes it quite clear that his work was invaluable to their research and that his friends missed him very much.  Reading the letter, it’s not hard to see the similarities between these men who were at the beginning of their academic career 80 years ago and those of use who are working on this project today.  It’s comforting, and entertaining, to see that they had to adapt to having long distance friends (which anyone in academia can tell you is a occupational hazard).  In our department, working on a project at this magnitude is only possible because we rely on each as friends as well as colleagues, and it was nowhere near the scale as the ATLs.  Who knows?  It could always keep growing.

The question is, are our letters to each other just as entertaining at the one below?  I think you’ll have to wait 80 years and accidentally find a copy of our e-mails in a drawer to find out.  Until then, here is the sign-off from Gene’s letter.

I often think if I possessed Aladdin’s lamp I would wear it out wishing that I could transport you and West here.  Merritt would like that, too.  He said he would like a month’s session of pow-wow with West… Merritt is a jolly fellow.  You should have been here this afternoon when he brought me – well, I haven’t enough room. Another time.

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2


If you would like to read more about the adventures of Mac, Gene, West, Merritt and Wade-Gery, the forward of the first volume of the Athenian Tribute List has some more details on their journey to publish the ATLS.

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Filed under Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, Epigraphy, Greek Inscriptions, Squeeze, Squeeze Collection

Guest Post by Bram ten Berge: New Research on the Athenian Tribute Lists

From Stone to Screen’s latest blog post features a guest author, Bram ten Berge, writing on the ATL’s from Athens, Greece. Enjoy!

 

Hello all,

My name is Bram ten Berge. I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, and am currently living in Athens as a regular member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In this short blog I would like to share with you some of the new developments in the scholarship on the Athenian Tribute Lists about which I learned in a recent tour in the Epigraphical Museum; this new research shows that the digitization project at UBC coincides with an exciting time for Greek epigraphy.

Reading inscription

Bram investigating an inscription at the Epigraphy Museum, Athens

 

First some background information. The ‘Athenian Tribute Lists’ (ATLs) are inscriptions that record tribute payments made annually by Athens’ allies – the members of the Delian League – after 454 BC, when the League Treasury was moved to Athens from the island of Delos. What these inscriptions record are not the actual tribute lists (of which not a single fragment survives today), but rather a 1/60th part of each ally’s total assessed tribute, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena as ‘first-fruits’ (aparchai). These amounts are commonly referred to as the ‘tribute quota’ and the inscriptions that record them as the ‘tribute quota lists’. These amounts were annually inscribed on stone slabs (stelai), some of which have survived from antiquity. For the first fifteen years, from 454/3 to 440/39 BC, the tribute quota lists were inscribed on the four sides of a massive stele of Pentelic marble, the so-called Lapis Primus (‘First Stone’). For the following eight years, from 439/38 – 432/31 BC, the lists were inscribed on a smaller stele of Pentelic marble, the so-called Lapis Secundus (‘Second Stone’). In all subsequent years, down to 415/14 BC, each list was inscribed on its own marble stele and on one side only. The tribute quota lists were recorded annually after representatives of the allied cities delivered their tribute during the City Dionysia, a large festival in honor of the god Dionysus. The stones on which they were inscribed stood on the Acropolis, where visitors and allied representatives could witness them, a physical representation, if you will, of Athenian power. Some of these stones eventually made their way down to the Athenian Agora. Most of the fragments of these stones are now in the Epigraphical Museum in Athens, where they have been stored since their discovery. Many of the squeezes in the McGregor collection come from the above stones and allowed him to continue studying the evidence while away from Athens.

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The Lapis Primus (Photo courtesy of M. Miles)

The tribute quota lists form crucial evidence for our conception of fifth century Athenian financial, political, and military history. They are commonly used by modern scholars, together with other major inscriptions and the principal historical events, to reconstruct the nature and development of Athenian power in the Aegean throughout the fifth century. There are many other concerns, especially economic in nature, that are connected with the lists as well, such as the financial details of the building program on the Acropolis, for which we know part of the tribute surplus was used, the financial upkeep of the Athenian democratic institutions and judiciary system, supplied in part by the incoming tribute, the economic vitality of allied cities, and the location and identification of lesser-known cities based on the lists.

The major edition of the lists consists of four monumental volumes edited by Malcolm McGregor and his colleagues Benjamin Meritt and Henry Wade-Gery, titled The Athenian Tribute Lists and published over 14 years from 1939-1953. The volumes were a truly massive accomplishment on the part of the authors and still constitute the authoritative edition. Their reconstructions of the lists as well as their historical conclusions soon became orthodoxy and they remain the starting-point for any examination of the finances, history, and geography of the Athenian empire. All this is not to say, however, that the last word on these topics has been spoken, much less that our evidence is final or fixed. On the contrary, recent developments have left the field wide open to new interpretation.

 

As part of the ASCSA regular program, I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Epigraphical Museum several times this year, and the last time under the guidance of well-known epigrapher Angelos P. Matthaiou. Judging from what our group discussed with him that morning I can tell you this is a great time for Greek epigraphy. First off, new discoveries of fragments constantly encourage us to reconsider the current configuration of the tribute lists as reconstructed by McGregor, Wade-Gery, and Meritt. Professor Matthaiou showed us a number of recently discovered (and still unpublished) fragments of the lists as well as a new fragment of the so-called “Thoudippos Decree” on tribute reassessment (425/4 BC) that proved that some of the seemingly secure restorations of the editors are in fact incorrect. Such new evidence reminds us of the risks inherent in restoring words (especially large chunks of text) that are not in fact present on the stone. Since the tribute lists and texts like the Thoudippos decree are crucial sources for any reconstruction of 5th century Athenian history, any changes in the lists’ configuration can have far-reaching implications for the historical conclusions that depend on them.

In addition to the discovery of new fragments, the resolution of the so-called “three-barred sigma controversy” is leading to the re-dating of many important 5th century inscriptions that are highly relevant to the tribute lists. Some of these will have their date shifted from the 440s to the 420s BC and vice versa, with significant implications for our reconstruction of the nature and development of Athenian power throughout the fifth century. Until about 15-20 years ago, there existed among epigraphers an orthodoxy (challenged early on by Harold Mattingly: see esp. The Athenian Empire Restored, 1996) whereby inscriptions containing a so-called “three-barred sigma” had to pre-date 448/7 BC, the year in which, according to this ‘rule’, sigmas with three bars went out of use and were replaced by sigmas with four bars. It has now, with the help of laser-beam technology, been sufficiently proven that three-barred sigmas did in fact continue to be used after 448/7, vindicating Mattingly, questioning letterforms as a secure dating-criterion, and opening up many 5th century inscriptions to re-dating and re-interpretation. A great place to see some of the new directions taken in the scholarship as a result of these developments is the recent volume edited by John Ma, Nikolaos Papazarkadas, and Robert Parker (Interpreting the Athenian Empire, 2009).

But perhaps the most exciting development, and certainly the one that will have the biggest impact on future scholarship on the ATLs, is the proposed dismantling and reassembling of the Lapis Primus, with its 180 fragments of ancient white marble. The interior rods of this massive stone (at c. 3.5 meters high it easily rises above all other inscriptions in the museum) have slowly deteriorated over time and, as Professor Matthaiou and the current director of the Museum told us, will soon (pending financial support) be replaced by titanium rods. When this happens (and we all hope it will be soon), it will give scholars the opportunity, for the first time since 1927, to reexamine the inscribed fragments from every side, to re-measure them, and, ultimately, to reassemble them again. Matthaiou and the director further told us there are plans for similar projects for the Lapis Secundus and the stele of the Thoudippos Decree, although I believe these plans are much less formalized for the time being. In addition to the above developments, careful searches through the storerooms of the Agora and Acropolis museums may yield further fragments of the lists that as of yet have remained undiscovered (Matthaiou recently found one such fragment in the storeroom of the Acropolis Museum). All of the above developments make for an amazing time in Greek epigraphy and the study of ancient Greece more generally. Given the projected dismantling and reassembling of the Lapis Primus it is all the more significant that the McGregor squeeze collection as well as McGregor’s personal charts be preserved online. It will preserve for posterity copies of the stone’s fragments as McGregor and his colleagues studied and configured them.

Lapis Primus2

The Lapis Primus (Photo courtesy of M. Miles)

 

I would like to congratulate the graduate students at UBC for initiating this wonderful project of digitizing the McGregor squeeze collection, including squeezes of the Athenian Tribute Lists and McGregor’s personal charts. These are truly remarkable resources that I’m confident many around the world cannot wait to be able to consult online. Congratulations also on the recent acquisition of additional funds from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund at UBC. The project could not be happening in a more exciting context for Greek epigraphy!

 

All the best,

 

Bram ten Berge (bltenber@umich.edu)

 

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History of the McGregor Squeeze Collection

Earlier this summer, Lisa Tweten and I met with Professor Philip Harding, a former University of British Columbia faculty member, to learn more about the history of our unique squeeze collection.  He confirmed that all of UBC’s squeezes are from the private collection of Professor Malcolm McGregor, who was the head of our department for many years. Prof. McGregor donated the squeezes around the time of his retirement, and ordered the seven-foot-tall  cabinet which currently houses the collection.

Prof. Harding described Prof. McGregor as “a very colourful character … big in all ways,” and explained that the squeezes were taken during his scholarly travels through Greece.  He was mainly concerned with fifth century Athens, and particularly those documents related to the Athenian Tribute Lists, as they were the basis of one of his great works.  Prof. McGregor co-wrote the definitive volumes on the Athenian Tribute Lists, together with H. T. Wade-Gery and B. D. Merritt, which includes texts and translations of the lists.

Malcolm McGregor, 1954

Malcolm McGregor, 1954

Prof. Harding had some colourful asides for us about epigraphy in general: “The days of the hostility between epigraphists is sort of past and people have moved on, but squeeze taking is now highly monitored.  If you went to the epigraphic museum, you’d have to go through hoops to take a squeeze.  In Malcolm’s day, they were just doing it and walking off with it, and people would come along and say, ‘Well, there was a letter there when I looked at it and you knocked it off,’ and they would tear each other apart in print!”

McGregor, 1966

McGregor, 1966

We also had the chance to discuss the advantages of epigraphic squeezes: they provide ready access to the inscription after a scholar has returned to his or her home university for the school year, and they preserve physical details that a drawing cannot capture.  Sometimes a squeeze will even reveal a detail invisible in the stone fragment because of dirt or discolouration.  Prof. Harding was interested to hear that our images are digitally reversed to read forwards; because of the convenience of squeezes, epigraphists like Prof. McGregor simply learned to read Greek backwards (in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, I might add).  Overall, it was an enlightening way to spend an afternoon!

McGregor receiving Order of Phoenix from John Vavvas, 1979

McGregor receiving Order of Phoenix from John Vavvas, 1979

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