Tag Archives: Inscriptions

Syria’s cultural heritage online, a case for open access

Logo Open Access WeekFrom October 22 to 28 the yearly Open Access Week will be held. Around the world there are initiatives to create open access in various forms. Institutions can choose for degrees of openness for their digital collections. The debate about open access to major scholarly journals is very important for the future of science and its presence in society. In some cases open access is most helpful in tracing, monitoring and preserving cultural heritage. For Syria this is even absolutely vital. In this post I would like to look at some projects aiming to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage. The war in Syria has taken the lives of too many people. Invaluable objects from its long history have been destroyed, and the same fate threatens today.

Syria’s cultural heritage

The Blues Shield logo

The UNESCO has created the Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage. Its name sounds like The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This UNESCO observatory looks at buildings, movable heritage and intangible heritage, and it launches initiatives for their protection. You can find also information about the actions of UNESCO partners such as ICOM. The ICOM is home to the Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods and the Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project, and ICOM has created other portals as well. ICOM works together with The Blue Shield, an organization which helps the coordination for saving and protecting cultural heritage in emergency situations. The UNESCO lists also other initiatives which aim specifically at Syria, some of the well-known, for example The Aleppo Project and the Damascus History Foundation. I could not help noticing Scanning for Syria, an international project led by Leiden University for scanning archaeological objects at Tell Sabi Abyad in the field and creating virtual reconstructions. You can find publications resulting from the excavations in open access in the Leiden University scholarly repository.

An important resource for finding such initiatives for Syria is the Syriac Reference Portal, but today I could not reach this website. Luckily I bookmarked a number of websites. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project has been created by the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Some of the results can be seen in the iDAi Gazetteer, an interactive map system which is connected with other georeferenced resources. The information for objects in Syria can be approached in several ways, in particular using iDAI objects.

Logo Syri-Ac

The Open Access Week mentions at its website many groups and events, but the very word Syria is sadly missing. It makes me more eager to proceed here to initiatives which offer more substantial contributions for Syria. Syri-Ac is a portal to resources for the Syrian language, literature and culture. There is a generous links section and a scholarly bibliography. Among the valuable sections the overview of digitized Syriac manuscripts stands out. You can use a sortable or a faceted version. The sortable version shows concise descriptions of the contents, and you can perform keyword searches. The faceted version allows you to filter quickly for languages, holding institutions, authors and genres.

The E-ktobe: manuscrits syriaques catalogue created at the IRHT/CNRS (Paris-Orleans) gives currently detailed descriptions of a restricted number of Syriac manuscripts. No doubt this resource will grow in strength. One of the largest online collections with Syriac manuscripts with manuscripts actually held in Syria is presented in the Virtual Hill Monastic Museum and Library, better known under its acronym vHMML. You can view manuscripts after registration. No registration is needed for the palaeographical introduction to Syriac scripts in the online School of the HMML. A perhaps unexpected number of digitized manuscripts and fragments containing items in Syriac can be found at the portal of the International Dunhuang Project, but thanks to Syri-Ac you are alerted to nearly 650 fragments. The Dunhuang project deals mainly with Tibetan texts and manuscripts found in the Chinese town Dunhuang.

Epigraphy is a scholarly field with a tradition for researching a part of Syria’s cultural heritage. Searchable Greek Inscriptions has an overview of online resources for Greater Syria and the East. In particular but not exclusively Palmyra is mentioned among the resources. The Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice has created The Ebla Digital Archives for royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE found in Ebla/Tell Mardikh. The closeness of Syria to ancient and modern empires comes into view at the Hethitologie Portal Mainz which deals with cuneiform inscriptions found in modern Turkey and northern Syria. The Khalili Research Centre of Oxford University is responsible for OCIANA, the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient Northern Arabia, an area which covered at least a part of southern Syria.

One of the general resources for Latin inscriptions is the Photographic Database within the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. You can also search for images of inscriptions at the EAGLE portal. With the EAGLE mobile app you can take photos of inscriptions in situ and compare them with the database.

Finding more

Starts screen Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns

This post could be much longer, but maybe it is important to realize projects can easily be overlooked. Initiatives do not come from just one country. Some countries have institutes in the Middle East which watch developments in Syria carefully, others follow the Middle East since decades both on location and from the outside. The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Alexandria, Virginia, has created the platform ASOR-Syrian Heritage with reports on damage inflicted to cultural heritage. The ASOR has a digital archive for its rich history in archaeological excavations. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has an extensive digital collection with photographs from the library of the American Geographical Society and also the Wisconsin Palmyrean Aramaic Inscription Project. Damage to archaeological sites in Syria is discussed in particular by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology. Monuments of Syria preserves literally images of the situation in 2011 and gives links to a number of resources. These are just a few of the websites you, too, can find using the ever-active Ancient World Online blog maintained by Charles Jones. Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources is an online journal which helps you to find just what it promises

Just as we cannot take open access as granted, we cannot afford to think every project concerning Syria can be traced easily. Online maps such as the one concerning the civil war in Syria or a similar map at Edmaps are ready at hand, but you need to search for other resources. It is a lucky situation the results of research in the filed of Classical Antiquity can almost always be found in open access. In Europe many people can benefit from an autumn holiday week. For those who like to sit behind a computer screen or surf with a tablet there is every chance to discover next week lots of resources in open access about a country which goes through a dark period in its long history. For me it would suffice if this post invites you to find out more yourself.

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Messages on stones and histories in fragments

Banner Epigrafia 3-D

How can you make the memory of past actions last for later generations? In the Ancient World important matters were often committed in writing on stones. Studying inscriptions is one of the way historians dealing with Classical Antiquity approach their subject. Since the sixteenth century scholars versed in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, help to gain insights into a vast subject which deals with three continents and roughly two millennia. Only a fraction of possible sources have survived, and thus it is understandable and necessary historians want to make the most out of them. Access to new resources and wider access to existing sources are most helpful in refining and re-adjusting our insights about this period.

Lately a number of online projects has come to my attention which bring ancient inscriptions closer to our century. You can do this in particular by just following the notices about epigraphy at the indispensable blog Ancient World Online of Charles Jones. Old editions have been digitized, new inscriptions are increasingly edited immediately in the digital domain, and some projects literally give us a wider view of these sources. A few years ago I already noted here a project sponsored by a Californian firm to present clay tablets from Mesopotamia in three-dimensional view. A Spanish project, Epigraphia 3D, dealing with Roman inscriptions in 3D-view prompted me to write here again about inscriptions. In some cases I will also look at other ancient sources, in particular papyri, but Roman inscriptions will be the main focus point.

Preserved in stone

Logo Hispania Epigraphica

The project Epigraphia 3D is the result of the combined efforts of the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid) and the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida. Even if your Spanish is rather weak navigating the website is easy. Two galleries with three-dimensional images of inscriptions form the heart of the project. The first gallery (Galería 3D MAN) for the archeological museum at Madrid contains 37 images, the second gallery (Galería 3D MNAR) shows nearly 60 images from the collections at Mérida. It is simply great to look at stones with inscriptions and to view them as if you were walking around them. Inscriptions mentioning slaves should remind you about an element of Roman society and law calling for particular attention. The variety of formats is in itself already a lesson widening your horizons. For every object the relevant epigraphical databases referring to them are mentioned. It would be a great service to have for each object direct links to these databases. However, you can at least use the link to its original location at the well-known Pleiades interactive map of the ancient world. For Roman inscriptions in Spain the main online resource is Hispanica Epigraphica (Universidad de Alcalá) with an interface in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Epigraphy as a historical auxiliary discipline has long been dominated by scholars writing in German, French and English, and therefore a Spanish point of reference is actually very welcome. In fact there is even an impressive and extensive online guide (labeled Recursos) introducing you to epigraphy. The section with enlaces (links) will bring you to many of the more traditional online resources. Some of these projects try to cover not just Roman of Greek inscriptions. Trismegistos, a platform created at Cologne and Louvain dealing with papyri and materials restricted to ancient Egypt and the Nile valley, recently started covering also inscriptions from other regions. By the way, the list of the Trismegistos partners and contributors is another fine overview of the main projects for papyri and ancient inscriptions. The mighty Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby (EDCS) features now also a searchable map for Roman inscriptions all over Europe.

Logo Digital Epigraphy and Archaeology

The Digital Epigraphy and Archeology Project led by the University of Florida has as one of its aims creating a toolbox for making three-dimensional inscriptions from squeezes, paper casts of inscriptions. with a nice showcase of 3D images of various ancient and medieval objects. The other projects on this website are a virtual museum of world heritage with 3D-images, seemingly now filled with just one object, and a section on interactive classical theatre. My first impression is that of a pilot project, and in fact it made me search again for projects showing more results. I could fairly quickly find a very relevant example which uses the freeware Sketchfab technology, a 3D-image of the famous Law of Gortyn, a legal text cut into the stones of a city wall on the island of Crete. You can find the Greek text online in the Searching Greek Inscriptions database, and an English translation in Paul Halsall’s Ancient History Sourcebook (Fordham University).

A bird-eye’s view

Logo Europeana Eagle

Reading about maps helping you to trace quickly inscriptions all over Europe – in fact I spotted a number of them found within my own neighbourhood – wets the appetite for more. You would like to be like an eagle finding inscriptions everywhere! The Epigraphia project shows in its bottom banner a number of logo’s, unfortunately not directly clickable, and one of them is to the Europeana Eagle project, a new branch of the Europeana network with magnificent online portals for several major subjects and themes in European history. It is infuriating that Europeana fails to give a quick list to them at its galaxy of sites. I have looked here in two posts especially at Europeana Regia with manuscripts from the libraries of three medieval kings. Currently the Eagle project covers nine online collections, including Hispania Epigraphica, the EDCS and the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg (EDH). The EDH has an interactive map of Europe bringing you to specific regions. Eagle contains now some 300,000 items.

Somehow I must be a bit old-fashioned when I worry about not seeing immediately at Eagle any reference to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, but surely this has been connected to the main databases for searching Roman inscriptions. For those worrying about a too exclusive view at and use of inscriptions it is reassuring to see among the nine collections harvested at Eagle the Arachne database (Universität Köln) for archaeological objects. In my view Eagle scores with one particular feature, a mobile app for the two main platforms which enables you to view inscriptions in situ and check for their presence within Eagle. The app can even tell you whether Eagle contains similar inscriptions.

For scholars and everybody

Banner Ancient Lives

Greek and Latin can be formidable barriers to understand the classical world, yet the attraction of Classical Antiquity remains strong as ever. Precisely the inventive use of digital technologies has opened the world of classical studies to a much wider public. Interestingly the inverse connection, too, has started. Recently I encountered the crowdsourcing project Ancient Lives, a partnership between the Classics Faculty of the University of Oxford and the Zooniverse initiative. It is most remarkable that the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection (P. Oxy), almost the Holy Grail of papyri from ancient Egypt, should figure in a collaboration of classicists and the general public. Asking people to get involved in transcribing papyri is audacious indeed, even if you can see the appeal of this treasure to scholars worldwide. The Oxyrhynchus papyri is also one of the largest papyri collections. Nearly 80 volumes have been published for their critical edition. In view of the many aspects of creating this edition it becomes understandable to call upon people outside Oxford to help with one phase of the editorial process, creating reliable transcriptions which of course have to be checked and fortified by a critical apparatus. Imaging Papyri is the main project dealing with the Oxyrhynchus papyri.

On purpose I mention this project for papyri at Oxford, even if it seems to be a turn away from inscriptions. Exactly this effect can be viewed, too, at Oxford. There are at least two other epigraphical projects at Oxford I would like to include here. A focus on Egyptian papyri might almost blend out another project for sources from Egypt, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions for the study of some 550 inscriptions and monuments with inscriptions. It is important to notice here the use of EpiDoc, an international initiative to develop a tailor-made version of TEI XML for publishing inscriptions online. With the Vindolanda Tablets from Northern England in the first and second centuries CE we encounter a resource particular close to daily life in a Roman province. The Vindolanda fort was situated south of Hadrian’s Wall. A concise virtual exhibition accompanies the online edition. The tablets contain not only complete documents and letters, but also drafts and school exercises. The presentation with at the left an image of a tablet, in the middle a transcription and at the right a translation is readily usable, and the search functions are most helpful. These tablets help you to look at Roman law in the context of daily life. They show encounters between the Latin culture and the peoples newly brought into the Roman empire or living at its borders.

A number of the websites highlighted here contain lists of links to other epigraphical projects, and thus you can easily expand my post to look beyond my personal interests. To round off my tour of projects I would like to look briefly at two other British projects dealing with inscriptions in regions where their very survival has become a matter of grave concern. King’s College London has created websites for the Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT) and for the Inscriptions of Roman Cyrenaica (IRCyr), regions in modern Libya, a nation with currently almost no functioning state, where ancient monuments become a prey for rivalling armed groups.

Histories in fragments

Lately I looked at the project portal Fragmentary Texts which aims at bringing together research concerning lost texts from Classical Antiquity and their afterlife in fragments. The links section of this portal gives you a nice overview of various projects dealing with the fragments of ancient authors. One of the reasons this project resonates for me is the fact that the study of legal history in ancient times also very often deals with fragments. Complete texts are actually exceptional. We might forget that for example the Twelve Tables, the praetorian edict and the texts of classical lawyers are mainly known from reconstructions. The textual transmission of Justinian’s Digest is nearly complete, but in its turn it contains enough elements of elder texts to allow scholars to reconstruct such texts which no longer exist independently. Only since two centuries we have a complete text of Gaius’ Institutiones when a palimpsest manuscript was finally discovered in Verona.

Inscriptions can help completing ancient texts or show a different textual transmission. Graffiti in Pompei sometimes help scholars to find the right wordings of famous quotes from literary texts. When you study Justinian’s Digest and Code you will note the inscriptiones, the preliminary references giving the names of consuls or the reference to the work of a classical lawyer. The very word inscriptio might remind you to look beyond manuscript sources, and to study law also in relation to its role in society. Reading for instance about the special inheritance rights of Roman legionnaires who had served many years with the Roman army, something linked with the concept of the peculium castrense, comes much more into life when you can look at military diplomas and inscriptions bearing witness to their lives and activities. Instead of only admiring such objects in a museum or knowing about editions of the texts engraved on them it is now possible to connect your own research and interests with them on many levels.

Let’s end here with pointing to three blogs. Two blogs of the Hypotheses network deal with ancient epigraphy, the French blog Épigraphie en réseau of the EpiDoc project, worth reading even if not updated seriously since 2012, and the Spanish blog e-pigraphia: Epigrafia en Internet, very much kicking and alive. Current Epigraphy is another blog that you might want to consult to keep up with developments in an old but vital part of Classical Studies. Studying inscriptions from other periods is of course also a most interesting theme, but here I prefer to remain close to Classical Antiquity.

A postscript

Both for those who think my post was too short and those who think it was (again!) too long follow here for your benefit and quick reference some of the newest additions about epigraphy at Ancient World Online: the Claros database (Madrid) with a concordance for Greek inscriptions, Axon; Silloge di Iscrizioni Storiche Greche (Università Ca’Foscari, Venice) the projects at Berlin for the Inscriptiones Graecae (IG) and Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae (ICG) with Christian inscriptions in Greece and Asia Minor, the Inscriptions of Israel / Palestine (Brown University) and even some of the latest issues of the Année Epigraphique in open access. All of them would perfectly suit another post on epigraphy. I should have pointed also to the digital library of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), New York, home to the AWOL blog, and at the very least I can give here a link to the digitized publications about ancient law and inscriptions.

On March 10, 2016, Sarah E. Bond published Epigraphy Enchiridion, a post on her blog about online handbooks and guides for Greek and Latin Epigraphy. Somehow I completely overlooked the app accompanying Epigraphia 3D with 60 inscriptions held at Mérida, well worth exploring!

At the scene of crime with the Romans

Flyer For a number of very sensible reasons the history of Roman law has a prominent place within the study of legal history. However, in most cases we tend to focus on Roman private law, sometimes we take public law into account, and criminal law holds at its best a marginal place. This blog tries to avoid undue attention to Roman law, but there is no need here to exclude it completely. The current exhibition about Roman criminal law at Nijmegen (Nimwegen / Nimègue) at Museum Het Valkhof is an excellent occasion to look at this subject in some depth. Its title Plaats delict. Misdaad bij de Romeinen [The scene of the crime. Crime among the Romans] suggests correctly that artefacts will help you to get a better view of Roman attitudes towards crime.

The variety of crimes

Inscription about a murdered farmer

The exhibition at Nijmegen has been developed in cooperation with a number of German museums which created the travelling exhibition Gefährliches Pflaster. Kriminalität im römischen Reich [Dangerous pavement. Criminality in the Roman Empire]. At Museum Het Valkhof, a museum for art, history and archaeology, there is a clear stress on a way of presentation suited to young people. There is no accompanying catalogue, but only short texts with brief explanations about the objects put on display. Children are invited to play the role of Quintus, a Roman crime investigator, and to find out who has committed a murder. From Frankfurt am Main there is a skull with traces of a murderous attack. Children can also take a seat in a Roman court and deduce the exact way cases did take place. An inscription concerning a Roman investigator at Nyon (Switzerland) and an inscription telling us about the murder of a farmer certainly help to imagine how crimes touched the lives of very real people. At Nyon Quintus Severius Marcianus had been very successful as a praefectus arcendis latrociniis, and his home town honoured him with an inscription.

The crimes shown in this exhibition offer a wide variety, from theft and counterfeiting coins to playing with prepared dices, and from burglary to murder and the plundering of tombs. Punishments, too, show a great variety: penalties in money, hand cuffs, slavery and forced labour, and the death penalty in various forms, be it as a gladiator, fed to the lions, by beheading or crucifixion.

Waxtable with a fine

From the perspective of legal historians it is remarkable that Roman law is scarcely invoked at this exhibition, often only implicitly or strictly in the context of an object. For lesser crimes your punishment would often be a fine, an amount of money to be paid. It is a pity the exhibition shows only a replica of a second century wax table with such a fine, held at the Archäologisches Museum Baden-Württemberg in Rastatt.

The longest text about Roman law in the exhibition gives a short overview of the various sources of Roman law. The major place of private law is mentioned, as is the efforts under emperor Hadrian (117-138) to unify Roman law. The Codex Justinianus is described as a text-book for students. Just two paragraphs to summarize a development of many centuries is simply too short to bring more than a few things to the attention of people. More to the point is the explanation about the accusatory nature of judicial proceedings. The parties involved had to bring a case themselves to court. The role of provincial governors to hear cases and to ask for judgments from the emperor himself is also mentioned, but none of this information is further corroborated.

Roman burglars at work

The information concerning the objects on display fares better, with nice captions such as Inbrekers aan het werk [Burglars at work] for a box with traces of an attempt to force its lock. Some walls of the exhibition rooms have been decorated with actual Roman wall paintings or evocative artists’ impressions, showing for example a number of inscriptions in a Roman settlement. The exhibition shows small statues of dogs given to the dead in their graves to protect the gifts accompanying their bodies. The ubiquitous Cave canem [Watch out for the dog] is only hinted at by showing a bronze head of a dog.

Objects, stories and history

I left the exhibition at Nijmegen with mixed feelings. It is easy to admire the telling array of objects, to learn about them from the concise information about them, and to get here a general impression of Roman life, crimes and punishments. The immediate involvement of children in an imaginary murder investigation is to be welcomed as an example of teaching a subject by making students play a role in a historical setting. However, I cannot ignore the lack of more information about the Roman judiciary, and in particular about its development. The quality of the information for each object is much better, but this shows also forcefully that texts – or maybe a video presentation – can enhance the understanding of objects.

At the entrance of the exhibition you read the Romans faced much the same crimes as we do nowadays. The very substantial difference in punishments could have been highlighted stronger. The attention paid by Romans to safeguard their possessions could have been easily linked to their veritable obsession with hereditary law, the very heart of Roman private law. In the museum shop at Nijmegen with a nice selection of books on Roman history I searched in vain for the German book published for the original exhibition by Marcus Reuter and Romina Schiavone, Gefährliches Pflaster. Kriminalität im römischen Reich (Mainz 2013). Reuter works at the Archäologischer Park und RömerMuseum in Xanten, a town not far from Nijmegen, which makes this omission even more painful.

Apart from the leaflet for children and a general flyer no printed information is available. In face of the Dutch fondness for English books studies such as Jill Harries, Law and crime in the Roman world (Cambridge 2007) and Olivia Robinson, The criminal law of ancient Rome (London 1995) could at the very least have been shown. For me it seems legal historians at the Radboud University Nijmegen have missed a chance to create for this occasion at least a succinct brochure which might redeem this conspicuous lack of further information. The city of Nijmegen can proudly trace its history back to Roman times, At Museum Het Valkhof is also a permanent exhibition about the Peace of Nijmegen (1678-1679), which without any doubt has benefited from advice by legal historians. Let’s hope they will exploit more actively future chances for cooperation with archives, museums and libraries, starting in their own town or region.

Plaats delict. Misdaad bij de Romeinen, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, May 18-October 5, 2014 – www.museumhetvalkhof.nl

A postscript

While finishing this post I visited also the exhibition De Krim / The Crimea at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. A splendidly flowing projection of tribes and their movements in the Roman empire from the first to the seventh century and a movie about excavations help here to see the context of the treasures shown. If I had noticed it earlier this year a posting about the Crimea and Ukraine would have been close to current world news, and for that reason the exhibition did not end in May, but will be open until August 31. In fact the museum fears either Russia or Ukraine will come with juridical claims when the objects would return now to the lending museums on the Krim (see a press release of the Allard Pierson Museum (August 20, 2014) and for example the Dutch newspaper Trouw, August 22, 2014). In one of the corridors of the Allard Pierson Museum is a small photo exhibition Culture under attack about the threats to cultural heritage worldwide since 1945.

Carved in stone: runes and Nordic law

When I started creating the blog roll for my blog, an important element of most blogs, I very soon found a blog using the same design as I do and touching subjects as medieval law which are also in my sphere of interest. Jonathan Jarrett is a very active blogger on the history of tenth-century Europe. When you look at his blog roll you will see he does not only point to many other blogs but also to a host of very useful websites in the field of medieval studies. One of the sites mentioned by Jarrett helped me to find the subject for this post on runes and Nordic law. You will soon see the Dutch twist to this theme!

Late Antique and Early Medieval Inscriptions is a portal created by Mark Handley to printed information and websites concerning inscriptions from Late Antiquity onwards into the Early Middle Ages up to 900 AD. Outsiders might not be completely aware that inscriptions are not the most commonly used source for medieval historians. It takes special training to decipher the texts after having learned the various scripts, and what is more, you will have to acquaint yourself with other technical matters as well before you can safely try to give an interpretation of such inscriptions.

For two reasons I feel prompted to write here about runes. The first impulse comes from Chris Wickham’s book The Inheritance of Rome. A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (2009). One of the images in his book shows the famous Jelling runestone set up by the Danish king Harald Blåtand (Bluetooth). In my hometown Utrecht we happen to have a full-scale copy of this stone, as do by now ten other cities. In January I stumbled for a posting by surprise on a digitized seventeenth century treatise on runes by the Danish historian Ole Worm, [Runir] seu Danica literatura antiquissima (..) (Hafniae [Copenhagen] 1651). It took me some time before I could bring both leads together in a post.

The Jelling runestone

The Utrecht copy of the Jelling runestone

The Utrecht copy of the Jelling runestone came to my city in 1936 as a gift from Danish friends of The Netherlands to celebrate 300 years Utrecht University. The stone stands between the Academiegebouw, the central building of Utrecht University, and the medieval cathedral. On the Jelling stone one side has been inscribed in runes. Two other sides of the stone show images and the sequel of the inscription.

A plaquette explaining the Jelling runestone

It is very thoughtful that at least a plaque in bronze was provided in 1936 with the stone to explain something of its significance, but more is needed to gain insight into the history and meaning of this rather large object. The Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen has devoted a special website to Jelling and the Jelling runestone. Wickham writes that king Harald ruled from 958 until 987. Around 965 he was baptized. Harald ruled Denmark from Jelling where he put this stone to commemorate his father Gorm.

On Mark Handley’s splendid portal to early medieval inscriptions you can use nearly 500 links to all kind of websites for this subject. For this post I looked to websites telling me more about runes and about the Jelling runestone. Among the databases I quickly found the Scandinavian Runic-text Database (Samnordisk runtextdatabas) at Uppsala Universitet where you can download a database with runic inscriptions, Rundata 2.5. Its interface is only in Swedish in which language I am not very fluent, and therefore this tool takes sometime before you can use it. The Jelling runestone has the signum DR 42. Luckily the website is linked to a forum on runes, the Uppsala Runforum with a generous link collection, and thus I arrived at the website Danske Runeindskrifter of the Nordisk Forskninginstitut, the University of Copenhagen and the Nationalmuseet in Kopenhagen. Although the search interface of the database on this website is only in Danish, somehow searching here was easy. Three inscriptions are to be found at Jelling. Scholars have designated the large stone as Jelling-sten 2, with the number DK SJy 11. In English the text of the inscription is translated as:

King Haraldr ordered these kumbls made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Þyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.

indicates a king. Kumbl, kuml in modern Danish, is the word for a monument. The stone was rediscovered only in 1586. Ole Worm saw a notice in the church at Jelling stating this year.

A drawing on the Jelling runestone

The interpretation of the Jelling runestone is complicated by the two images carved on it. Wickham flatly states: “Harald was Christian, but the imagery of the stone is not”. Ole Worm made a famous drawing of the images in his Danicorum monumentorum libri sex (1643). The pages 326 to 338 of his book deal with the Jelling runestone. Incidentally five books by Worm have been digitized at the university of Strasbourg. The inscription below the drawing has been duly noted.

The main figure on the Jelling runestone

This image elicited even more confusion and discussion. For a long time it was assumed Christ was pictured, but only in the nineteenth century scholars concluded the figures represents king Harald. Here, too, one can discern another inscription.

Runes and Nordic law

The modern study of runes has suffered from the abuse of this script and the racist ideology of the German Third Reich. The rune for the letter S was used in the emblem of one of its most deadly organizations. Its use is forbidden in present-day Germany. I remember attending a seminar in Munich where it was made very clear that it is virtually impossible to detect anything German in early medieval Europe. On top of the historical abuse of runes the imagery of the Vikings and the popular imagination still fired by their reputation for ransacking and plundering has deeply marked the way Scandinavian history is looked upon. The Vikings were both raiders and traders. The grim stories collected in the Edda and in particular in the Icelandic sagas picture this northern region as a dangerous area of medieval Europe. It is necessary to be aware of this background, but at the same time one needs to step backwards and to look at Scandinavia’s medieval history in all its aspects, including laws and legal culture.

In fact inscriptions in runic script do not very often contain legal texts. Legal manuscripts from medieval Scandinavia, too, use seldom runes. Perhaps more manuscripts with laws in runic scripts might have existed once, but only one example has survived. In Danish medieval law it is restricted to the Skånske Lov (Scanian Law), transmitted in runic script only in the Codex Runicus, a manuscript written around 1300 (Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, ms. AM 28 8vo) and once owned by Ole Worm. Other medieval manuscripts with the Scanian Law use the normal alphabet. The website Handrit enables you to find quickly and sometimes very extensive information on medieval Scandinavian manuscripts at Reykjavik and Copenhagen. Some manuscripts have been digitized for this website.

Inscriptions with runes are sometimes witnesses of powerful kings, but they did not legislate using runes. You can check this for inscriptions from Bergen in the Rune Type database of the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Oslo. At the website for Danish runes links are provided to relevant websites on runes. Pride of place should go to the Runenprojekt Kiel which leads you to runes in the Futhark script and the places where these have been found in Europe. For The Netherlands only three inscriptions in Futhark are mentioned. The Kulturhistorisk Museum of the Universitetet i Oslo has a runic archive. In Sweden the Swedish National Heritage Board presents a substantial section on runes on its website, including a digital version (PDF) of part 3 of the Gotlands runinskrifter.

Digitized sources for medieval Nordic law

I had better concentrate here on medieval Nordic laws and lead you to some digitized medieval manuscripts containing these texts, and to other digital collections. In March 2011 a manuscript from the Swedish Royal Library returned after 300 years to Copenhagen. The manuscript Codex Holmiensis 37 with the Jyske Lov, the provincial law for Jutland, is now at the Danish Royal Library and can be consulted online; a full description and bibliography are additional assets. At Lund University Library another manuscript with the Jyske Lov has been digitized for the Laurentius Digital Manuscript Library (Mh 18; 14th century), and also a manuscript with the Skånske Lov and also the Skånske Kirkelov (Mh 41; 15th century). A German translation was published in 1593 and has been digitized at Heidelberg (Dat Rechte Judske Lowbock (…) (Schleswig 1593)). Another version in German appeared in print in 1717 (Das Jütisch Low-Buch (…) (Flensburg 1717)). Schleswig-Holstein belonged for many centuries to Denmark. At Lund more legal manuscripts from Scandinavia have been digitized, among them the Sjaellaensfare logh, the laws of Sjaelland (Mh 23; 15-16th century). A critical edition of the Skånske Lov, the Jyske Lov and other medieval Danish laws can be found in Danmarks gamle landskabslove med kirkelovene [Denmarks old provincial laws and ecclesiastical laws], Johannes Brodnum-Nielsen and Poul Johannes Jorgensen (eds.) (8 vol., Copenhagen 1933-1961). Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, AM 4 4to, is another digitized manuscript with the text of the Jyske Lov, this time dating from around 1300.

For later Danish laws I can at least offer the links to text versions of the Dansk Lov issued on behalf of king Christian V in 1583 – edited by Vilhelm Adolf Secher – and the Kongeloven af 1685 (Lex Regia). It is good also to point to the project for the digital editions of the works by the great Norwegian scholar Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) who in many of his works mentions the old Nordic laws and his views on law and justice.

It is not sensible nor possible to provide here a complete overview of digitized legal manuscripts from medieval Scandinavia. The digitized legal manuscripts at Lund contain texts in Old Norse, Swedish and Danish, and this points to the fact that the history of Denmark, Norway and Sweden is closely related. In this post I also mention texts from Iceland, and these, too, cannot be neglected. On Sagnanet, the portal to digitized books and manuscripts with the medieval literature of Iceland, you can find also some texts on jurisprudence (Lögfræði) and legal literature (Lögbaekur). The Swedish Kungliga Biblioteket has not digitized any legal manuscript, but on the website at least two legal manuscripts are briefly introduced, the Kalmar or Åbo manuscript of the Magnus Eriksson Landlag (Magnus Eriksson’s Law of the Realm) (B172) and the Äldre västgotenlag (Elder Westrogothic law) (B 59). The Ediffah project helps searching for manuscripts and archives in both the Swedish Royal Library and five Swedish university libraries.

Apart from digitized manuscripts in particular charters from Scandinavia can be searched online using the Diplomatarium Danicum, the Diplomatarium Norvegicum and the Regesta Norvegica. The Danish charter project is connected to a project presenting Danish medieval texts, among them the Jyske Lov (Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek (KB), NKS 295 8vo), the Skånske Kirkelov (KB, NKS 66 8vo) and the Flensborg Stadsret (Flensburg, Stadtarchiv, Perg. 12 x 17). The Norwegian charter project is a part of the Dokumentasjonprosjektet which leads you to archaeological material, an online dictionary and more texts. One of the digitized manuscripts with a Norwegian law text contains the Magnus Lagabøtes landslov in the Hardenbergs Codex (Copenhagen, KB, GKS 1154 2°). Bergen University Library, ms 1836, is a fragment from a later version of this law, Magnus Lagabøters Nyere Landslov. At Bergen you can also search in the database of the Diplomsamling, a collection with some 1250 charters, 300 of them dating before 1600.

You can search specifically for manuscripts in the REX catalogue of the Danish Royal Library, and you can look in REX also in the holdings of other Danish libraries. One of the digitized manuscripts at Copenhagen worth pointing at is the Södermannalagen of king Magnus Eriksson (KB, NKS 2237 4°), since March 2011 deposited at the Royal Library in Stockholm. Among the Codices Latini Haunienses are some law texts in Latin. Swedish charters can be searched in the Svenska Diplomatarium database of the Riksarkivet in Stockholm.

Digital libraries in Norway do provide online access to source editions on medieval Norse law. The rather restricted search interface of NBDigital, the digital library of the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Olso, may take some time to adjust to, but you can find many digitized books on legal history and relevant source editions. Using the Ask website of Bibsys you can benefit from an advanced search form. In the Bokhylla of the Norwegian Digital Archive you can use for example the volumes of Norges gamle love indtil 1387 [Old laws of Norway until 1387] (5 vol., Christiania 1846-1895), Danske kirkelov (…), Holger Rørdam (ed.) (3 vol., Copenhagen 1883-1889), books on medieval and early modern seals (sigiller), and sources for ecclesiastical history. The Digitalarkivet itself brings you to a rich variety of sources: census records, ecclesiastical administration (kirkebøker), pledge registers and a general searchable database for all these sources. One of the largest Norwegian research projects is concerned with tingbøker, court proceedings, including cases concerning witchcraft. There is a database for searching witchcraft trials. A number of editions of seventeenth-century proceedings is accessible online.

For Danish medieval legal history it is useful to be aware of the DigDag project, a historical-geographical atlas for Denmark until 1600, and of the Adkomstregistrering 1513-1550 which provides information on persons, place-names and documents. The Statens Arkiver, the Danish National Archives, offer a number of services at their website; the Danish version lists more than the German and English version! Swedish archival records are being digitized in ArkivDigital, a project completely accessible only for subscribers. The Swedish National Archive has a central database for searching archival collections in Swedish archives. A number of record series in the Swedish Riksarkivet can be searched online, and also a substantial number of databases, for example court proceedings from the dombok for Värmland in the seventeenth century. The Finnish National Archive, too, has started a digital archive. This institution takes also responsibility for the digital Diplomatarium Fennicum for medieval charters from Finland.

The Swedish National Library has digitized a number of Swedish books printed before 1700 (Svenskt tryck före 1700). Among them are an edition of city bylaws, Sverikes rikes stadz lagh (…) (Stockholm 1628) and privileges for merchant towns, Biärkoa Rätten (…) (Stockholm 1687). At Lunds Universitet you can find digitized texts of many laws in the Fornsvenska textbanken, a linguistic corpus for Old Swedish for which critical text editions have been used, in particular the Samling af Sveriges Gamle Lagar edited by Carl Johan Schlyter and others between 1827 and 1877.

Looking for more

Of course I am woefully aware that I have missed a lot of information due to my inadequate knowledge of Scandinavian languages and relative unfamiliarity with Nordic research institutions and their websites. At my pags on digital libraries l have not yet put anything on Denmark… No doubt you can find more using general websites on Scandinavian culture. A nice example is Kulturnät Sverige. Let’s not overload this post and give you just one example from the numerous projects listed at this portal, the digital Svenska ostindiska kompaniet archiv at Göteborg University Library. A number of Danish digital resources for legal history have been brought together by the Kongelige Bibliotek. I found this only after I had finally spotted the Kulturperler search interface on the KB’s manysided website…

You can also find useful information in the ViFaNord, the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Nordeuropa und Ostseeraum, a cooperative project of the universities in Kiel, Greifswald and Göttingen. At the very least ViFaNord will bring you to some websites for specific projects. With some luck I found a Danish website on rape, Voldtaegt, with a page on the history of Scandinavian law pointing to several online sources. For modern Scandinavian law it might be useful to go to Juridisk Nettviser. Hopefully this post satisfies to some extent the curiosity of those interested in the history of law in Scandinavia. It gives you a taste of this subject, at the best a menu card, but not a diner or the complete Scandinavian kitchen.

A practical postscript

Having at your disposal a nice selection of links to digitized sources is one thing, reading texts in medieval Scandinavian languages is something else. I did not mention the Medieval Nordic Text Archive (Menota). For this project a number of links to relevant dictionaries have been put together for your convenience. Menota itselfs brings you to digital editions of mainly literary texts, among them the Heimskringla, and brings you also a fine links selection. A concise guide to Scandinavian studies is provided for example by the UCLA Universitiy Library. For information about current research on legal history in Scandinavia I somehow missed the article by Heikki Pihlajamäki, ‘Legal history in the Nordic countries. A short story of Nordic legal history’, Clio@Themis 1 (2009).

A second postscript

In 2013 Ditlev Tamm and Helle Vogt made a short movie on Translating Medieval Danish Law. In this introduction to their project for the English translation of medieval legal texts from Denmark they show several manuscripts kept at the Royal Library in Copenhagen. A second movie with Tamma and Vogt in Danish from Det Juridiske Fakultet at the University of Copenhagen focuses somewhat longer on Danmarks Gamle Lov. The University of Aberdeen has a project The Medieval Nordic Laws in coopration with the Ubniversity of Stockholm.. The team will translate law texts and create the Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary. Since Autumn 2014 there is an accompanying blog with a useful overview of laws and editions to be included.

The coming of Christianity to Scandinavia is the subject of a book by Anders Winroth, The conversion of Scandinavia. Vikings, merchants and missionaries in the remaking of Northern Europe (New Haven, Conn., 2012), and you will enjoy also his The Age of the Vikings (Princeton, NJ, 2014).

Sagnanet, the partnership between Cornell University and the National Library of Iceland is no longer live. Its functions have been taken over by the Handrit portal.