An unknown ancient Greek marble inscription stored in a museum vault since the 1880s has been rediscovered in Scotland. New research now shows that the tablet includes a list of young men who took the Ephebic Oath. It is in effect an ancient version of a school graduate yearbook.
Experts analyzed the stone, which has been stored in the National Museums Scotland (NMS) collection for more than one hundred years, as part of a project to publish English translations of inscriptions from ancient Athens held in UK collections.
They discovered that the carved letters on the marble in the NMS collection record the names of young men inducted into the ephebate, a year of military and civic training undertaken around the age of eighteen, which was intended to prepare them for life as adults.
It lists a group of 31 friends who went through the Athenian ephebate together during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) and was intended to commemorate the close relationships they had formed.
Names of young men in Ancient Greece
Among the names clearly visible on the marble are Atlas, Dionysos, Theofas, Elis, Zopyros Tryphon, Antypas, and Apollonios.
The stone is inscribed with a list of names. Credit: National Museums Scotland
When they first read of a reference to it, experts thought it might be a copy of a similar list in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, but realized that that was not the case when they saw it.
Dr. Peter Liddel, professor of Greek history and epigraphy at the University of Manchester, who managed the discovery, said: “It is a completely unique new discovery which had been in the storerooms of the NMS for a very long time, since the 1880s, and it listed a group of young men who called themselves co-ephebes or co-cadets and friends.”
“It turned out to be a list of the cadets for one particular year during the period 41-54 AD, the reign of Claudius, and it gives us new names…names we’d never come across before in ancient Greek,” he said, adding that “it also gives us among the earliest evidence for non-citizens taking part in the ephebate in this period.”
Dr. Liddel adds that this is “a really interesting inscription, partly because it’s new but also because it gives us new names and a bit of insight into the sort of access or accessibility of this institution which is often associated with elite citizens.”
It is unknown where the list was displayed, but it is assumed that it could have been exhibited somewhere, such as the gymnasium, where the young men trained.
Dr. Liddel said: “It was made to create a sense of camaraderie and comradeship among this group of people who had been through a rigorous training program together and felt like they were part of a cohort.”
“It’s the ancient equivalent of a graduate school yearbook,” he reveals, “although this is one which is created by a number of individuals who wanted to feel like they had come together as friends.”
The inscription has been published this week on the website www.atticinscriptions.com.
Experts said the discovery represents an important new source of information about elite Athenian society in the mid-first century AD, a period that was crucial for Athens as it adapted to its place under the Roman Empire.