Epigraphic Museum of Athens houses the largest collection of ancient Greek inscriptions, the primary historical sources that provide valuable information for the economic, politic, religious and social life of antiquity. It stores 14078 inscriptions on stone, deriving mostly from Attica, the region that gave birth to the democracy, but also from other areas of the ancient Greek world. Most of the inscriptions are written in ancient Greek language, few in Latin and a small number in other languages (Phoenician, Hebrew and Ottoman), and they are dating from the 8th cent. B.C. until Byzantine, Post-Byzantine and later times. Because of the great variety of subjects of the ancient Greek inscriptions, a visitor of the Epigraphic Museum can learn about all aspects of ancient life, ranging from details of private lives to the most important aspects of public life and politics.
The Epigraphic Museum of Athens was founded in 1885 to enable the protecting, preserving, studying, and exhibiting of ancient inscriptions on stone. It houses the largest collection of ancient Greek inscriptions in the world, on which are written the primary historical sources that inform us about all aspects of the economic, political, religious and social life of Greek antiquity. The majority of these are from Athens and Attica, though there is also a considerable number from the rest of Greece and from Asia Minor. Most of the inscriptions are written in Greek, though some are in Latin and a small number in other languages (Phoenician, Hebrew, and Ottoman). They range from the 8th c. BC to the Early Christian, Byzantine and later times.
In gallery 11 (red room) you will find the oldest preserved ancient Greek inscriptions (8th-5th c. BC). Laws, dedications to the Gods and funerary monuments are the main documents ancient Greek people wrote on stone in the Archaic period (700-480 BC). The exhibition is designed to take you through various themes, such as the birth and the development of writing in the Greek World. You will see the earliest preserved attic inscription on stone (EM 5365) from the Acropolis (end of 8th c. BC), and the funerary stele EM 22 for the Corinthians who died in the naval battle of Salamis (480 BC) . You will also see the altar (EM 6787) that Peisistratos the younger, grandson of the famous tyrant, dedicated to Apollo Pythios (near the temple of Olympian Zeus) after his term as eponymous archon (522/1 BC). Also noteworthy are two inscribed gifts to the gods: the base of the bronze statuette of Athena Promachos, a dedication of Aristion and Pasias, signed by the great sculptor Hegias, teacher of Pheidias (EM 6299+6247), and the base of a dedication by Euphronios, the famous potter and painter of the red-figure style (ΕΜ 6278+6278α).
In gallery 1 impressive and important public documents of ancient Athens are presented, such as decrees (resolutions, decisions) of the Athenian boule (Council) and demos (the People’s Assembly) about political, financial and religious issues. You will also see alliances and written inventories of dedications on the Acropolis. Of great historical importance are the Tribute lists of the First Athenian League (478-404 BC). These monumental stelae (the tallest is 3.5 m. high), set up on the Acropolis after the transfer of the treasury of the alliance from Delos to Athens, recorded one sixtieth of the collected tribute, that the allied cities paid as an offering (aparche) to Athena, protector goddess of the Athenians, every year from 454/3 to 415 BC. Other Athenian decrees inscribed during the Peloponnesian War offer valuable information for the external and financial policy of Athens and its attitude towards its allies .
In the Vestibule of the Museum, worth noting is the Athenian decree (EM 10397) for the foundation of the Second Athenian League (378-377 BC) that was aimed at ensuring the freedom, the autonomy and the integrity of the Greek cities against the expansionism of Sparta . A fascinating inscription for the history of science is the Salamis abacus/tablet (ΕΜ 11515) believed to be a table of mathematical calculations or a toy with symbols written in the ancient Greek, acrophonic numerical system.
In gallery 2 a variety of inscriptions are exhibited. Notice the decree for the adornment of the sanctuary of Aphrodite Pandemos on the south slope of the Acropolis (EM 7381), as well as the honorary decree of the Athenian demos for the general, ambassador and agonothetes (president of the games) Phaidros from the deme of Sphettos (EM 10546). Other inscriptions to see here include the honorary decrees of the Athenian People for Zopyros, father of a kanephoros (maiden who carried a basket in procession at festivals) and the epimeletai (curators) of the procession at the festival of Great Dionysia (EM 7559), as well as the statue base of the Roman general Sulla (EM 3125+). An important Roman decree comes from Laconia (EM 10297) according to which the city of Gytheum bestowes honours on the Roman brothers Nemerios and Marcus Cloatii, because they aided financially the city and citizens in difficult circumstances.
In gallery 9 (blue room) you will see inscribed monuments from the 6th c. BC to the 4th c. AD, that inform us about several aspects of the public life of ancient people, mainly the Athenians. Of great importance among them is the republication (EM 6602) in 409/8 BC of Draco’s Law on homicide, a law that was issued in 621/20 BC, and includes provisions on the crime of involuntary murder, and on justifiable homicide or homicide in self-defence. Another particularly important monument is the decree (EM 13330) of the first half of the 3rd c. BC (possibly a copy of an older decree), according to which Themistokles appears to be proposing significant measures to confront the Persian invasion before the naval battle of Salamis (480 BC).
In the same gallery you can see inscriptions for important sectors of public life, such as religious matters (EM 13537), management of the property of the sanctuaries (EM 10616, EM 12863), founding of colonies (EM 6577), construction of public works (EM 6849), bestowing of honours on foreign citizens (ΕΜ 6796), choregia (sponsoring of dramatic performances, EM 13262, EM 13180, EM 12693) and ephebeia (military training of youths, EM 8642). The system of appointing the Athenian officials (archons) by lot (EM 13255) designed to safeguard democratic principles and prevent corruption, was accomplished through an allotment machine, Kleroterion.
In the outer courtyard you will find dedicatory, honorary, and funerary monuments such as stelae, marble lekythoi (vases in the shape of huge perfume bottles) and trapezae. In the inner courtyard you can also see funerary stelae, colonnettes and marble trapezae, and in the terrace you will see funerary monuments and ephebic inscriptions.