Urn, inkpot and stilus. Archaeological evidence of literacy

Luginbühl, Josy Martina (17 April 2016). Urn, inkpot and stilus. Archaeological evidence of literacy (Unpublished). In: Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology. Galway, Irland. 16.-18.04.2016.

The "Archaeology of Death" provides information about the life in this world and the concept of life in the hereafter. With the Roman expansion different worlds came into contact and have influenced each other. In northern Italy the burial practices have mixed with Gallic customs and the deceased was buried with objects of personal significance. This includes writing instruments, which are regarded as typical Roman elements. The ability to read and write has been well documented in the literary sources especially for Roman men. Mainly for urban Roman upper classes, they show that the appropriate skills were widespread and often used. But which statements are possible on the less privileged classes or individuals outside the capital? By their immediate connection to a concrete (buried) person archaeological grave finds can help here particularly. Inkwells, Stili and another writing instrument in the grave evidence of skills that do not necessarily have left their marks in the written sources. In particular, hardly any texts written by women have been handed down and their literary skills are mentioned only in exceptional cases. In grave context, they are proved by the burial offerings in different cases. The rich sarcophagus of Antestia Marciana from Aquileia provides for instance a jewel box and some amber objects as well two Stili made of bronze. Geographically, those discoveries spread throughout the Roman Empire. Different combinations of burial offerings and find concentrations show a varied picture of the spread of literacy. Hence chronological and geographical differences can be seen and allow statements about the social status and the gender distribution. The first results show that the spread of literacy and thus the writing instruments indeed started emanating from Rome and influenced the surrounding areas and the more distant provinces. But they can be established mainly due to the provincial burial customs in the graves. While the written sources often provide the basis for studies on literacy, the archaeological sources were only recently in the focus of research. They investigated the ability to write in different regions of the Roman Empire or published groups of writing equipment. A comprehensive compilation and interpretation of graves with writing implements does not exist for the western provinces and Italy so far. Likewise, a juxtaposition between women's and men's graves with these objects is lacking.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Archaeology of the Mediterranean Region

UniBE Contributor:

Luginbühl, Josy Martina


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)




Josy Martina Luginbühl

Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2017 16:01

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2017 16:01

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Römisches Italien; Gräber; Schreibgeräte; Schreiben; Grabbeigaben



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