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Transforming access to the inscriptions of ancient Athens and Attica

Attic Inscriptions Online unlocks major source of ancient Greek and Latin records.

Acropolis, Athens at sunset.

Innovative database and website Attic Inscriptions Online (AIO) is illuminating the history of Attica and ancient Athens and the life of its inhabitants.

Led by Professor Stephen Lambert, AIO has opened up a thousand years of history, providing searchable annotated English translations of inscriptions for the first time.

Now offering more English translations than any other resource globally, AIO is making these rich sources more accessible to heritage professionals, museum visitors, teachers and students worldwide, regardless of working knowledge of Latin or ancient Greek.

Attic Inscriptions Online is a pioneering project which has the power to transform the landscape of the study not only of Ancient Athenian inscriptions but also of the humanities as a whole. It is a major tool for the dissemination of Classics and the subsequent appreciation of their importance by larger segments of the population.
Visitor 2019/20 Anonymous On-line Survey of AIO Users

Window into an ancient world

Attic inscriptions make up one fifth of the total from Ancient Greece, constituting the single most important documentary source for the history of ancient Athens and Attica, with more discoveries every year.

Giving us rich insights into this influential society and its politics, economics and cultural history, these 20,000 carved stone texts reveal detailed information not available in other evidence from 700BC – AD300. For example, of the 63,000 Athenian citizens and residents, male and female, known by name, nine out of ten are known from inscriptions.

Research-led beginnings

Initially launched in December 2012 with English translations of the 281 Athenian laws and decrees of the 4th century BC edited by Professor Lambert in the Berlin Academy’s authoritative corpus Inscriptiones Graecae, AIO has since expanded to incorporate almost one in ten of all known Attic inscriptions, reaching 1837 entries by July 2020.

With 32 contributors spanning Europe, the US and Australia overseen by Professor Lambert, AIO works dynamically through a unique framework and a bespoke content management system in Python utilising the Django framework allowing for evolution. Functionality now offers data mapping and originally sourced Greek texts including images.

Revolutionising accessibility to ‘lost’ inscriptions

AIO has global reach, with almost two thirds of users outside the UK and 5,000 online visits monthly. AIO has reached 172 countries to date, with most frequent visits from USA, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Australia, France and Japan.

Professor Lambert’s team has expanded the reach of UK-held collections by making all 250 Attic inscriptions held in UK collections accessible for the first time, as well as unearthing previously unpublished inscriptions and identifying joins between fragments in the UK and Athens. Among these are inscriptions held in the British Museum’s collection, several volumes of which have been edited by Professor Lambert himself.

Ancient stone inscription

Professor Lambert’s research has revolutionised the accessibility of Attic inscriptions in a wider context, namely:

  • changing how heritage professionals and museum visitors present and understand inscriptions
  • enhancing the teaching of the history of ancient Athens
  • underpinning the technical development of other archives

Where few inscriptions were available in English, in print or online, AIO has enabled users to find multiple ‘lost’ inscriptions, with facilities to search for linked subject matter or content.

AIO resulted in changes in awareness and knowledge of the inscriptions, with users noting the potential to understand and further investigate these sources, "…Greek inscriptions have not always been used to the fullest potential. AIO makes Attic inscriptions accessible for the widest possible audience” (2019/20 Anonymous On-line Survey of AIO Users).

Enhancing heritage practice and public understanding

AIO has helped heritage professions present Attic inscriptions in new and engaging ways, which increased public interest and understanding. Seven out of eight heritage professions said the site had had a significant or transformative impact on their capacity to present Attic inscriptions to visitors.

“Inscriptions have been historically difficult to display and visitors often walk past…This project has the great benefit of making inscriptions more accessible both visually and in terms of their content.” (2019/20 Anonymous On-line Survey of AIO Users, respondents identifying as collections managers or museum curators)

Transforming educational practices for teaching the history of Ancient Athens

AIO has succeeded in unlocking Ancient Greek inscriptions in higher and secondary education settings, with just over half of AIO’s visitors engaged in teaching or learning.

Educators and students highly rate the resource for its transformative or significant impact (2019/20 survey, 86% of 51 teaching users, 89% of 38 student users). Teachers also appreciated the translation of A-level ancient history prescribed source material, greater searchability, and the accessibility of the resource free of charge.

Inspiring and enabling new archives

Unique for foregrounding translations, AIO has inspired the creation of archives, sharing its technical infrastructure for the development of Greek Inscriptions Online, a Modern Greek translation equivalent resource to mutual benefit, with sites sharing information for Greek and English-speaking users.

Authoritative online resources such as the Collection of Greek Ritual Norms are also using AIO in developing their digital publications.

Selected publications