History of Scholarship
Between the First and Second World Wars archaeology in Libya was largely undertaken by Italian teams; the academic tendency was to concentrate on the history of the classical period. From the mid-1940s British archaeologists started to become more actively engaged, particularly those working at the British School at Rome. John Ward Perkins, the Director, and Joyce Reynolds, a student at the school, started to travel extensively in the country. They both shared an interest in Roman archaeology, and in 1952 they published the Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania, still the authoritative work. After the revolution in 1969 Libyan relations with foreign powers became more strained, but trusted individuals continued to be welcomed; Dr Reynolds has visited the country regularly throughout her career, and been warmly welcomed.
Inscriptions of the Archaic to Hellenistic periods were regularly published by the Italian excavators between the two World Wars and the comparatively small number found subsequently have been taken care of, for the most part, by Italian and French scholars. In consequence the late Professor Goodchild (who was the senior archaeologist in Cyrenaica from 1953 to 1966) invited Dr Reynolds to join him in collecting a corpus of the often neglected Roman-period inscriptions. Their plan was to bring together texts of the Roman period from all five cities and to add those from as many villages as they could manage to visit (in those days roads away from the towns quickly deteriorated into cattle-tracks, making journeys difficult as well as uncomfortable; even now one may easily find oneself moving along with the sheep and goats to village sites which were last reported on in the nineteenth century, if ever). The result they had in mind was a picture of Roman provincial society in one area of the eastern half of the Empire. Dr Reynolds had a substantial part of a corpus of texts organised by the later 1960's, but it needed Goodchild's extensive geographical information if the texts were to give their full meaning - and this he never had time to write. Since his death in 1968, Dr Reynolds has added a number of additional texts, many collected in company with Libyan colleagues interested in exploring the countryside, but has never been able to get the geographical backing for the work.
The total number of inscriptions in the collection depends on how one counts the short graffiti which were often scratched on walls; but it is fair to say that it is approximately 2000 plus. Most are in Greek (the earlier ones often in the Cyrenaican dialect), some in Latin and a very few in Greek letters but probably seeking to express Libyan.
Some have been published already (certainly those of really obvious historical importance) but for these it is often possible to add information on their character and their relation to their physical contexts which adds to a reader's understanding of them. Sometimes too Dr Reynolds can provide a more correct text.
As a whole they provide information on the activities of Roman governors and their staffs in the area and on its defence by units of the Roman army; on the government of the cities and in a few cases the organisation of villages; on building developments; on disasters, notably Libyan invasions and the Jewish Revolt (on which see further below), at least once on an earthquake. But their most extensive contribution is on the people - the social interplay of Greeks and Libyans and of incoming Romans with both (but essentially with Greeks), their language, their religious cults, festivals, artistic interests, something of their educational arrangements, very occasionally their business undertakings. Of special interest are the texts relating to the several Jewish groups - which suggest some degree of integration with the Greeks followed by possible signs of a reaction from that, leading to the Jewish Revolt of the early second century A.D., after which Jews disappear from the epigraphic record. They also throw a very little light on the Christian communities of the late Roman and early Byzantine period. On these Dr Reynolds has already published the inscriptions as a feature supplementing the material on Christianity in Cyrenaica collected by the late J. B. Ward Perkins and R. G. Goodchild (Christian Monuments of Cyrenaica, London 2003), but the inscriptions will gain additional meaning from presentation in the context of earlier texts.
Online publication will enable the fullest possible use of the valuable photographic resources which Dr Reynolds and others have developed, and ensure that this material is easily available – particularly in Libya. The evidence that this corpus offers will add substantially to the knowledge of the area, and should stimulate further and more precisely focussed investigation into the history of ancient Cyrenaica.