Anno Accademico 2023/2024

  • Docente: Giulio Iovine
  • Crediti formativi: 6
  • SSD: L-ANT/05
  • Lingua di insegnamento: Inglese

Conoscenze e abilità da conseguire

At the end of the course students will have a critical understanding of the different systems of attainment, transfer and conservation of knowledge in ancient societies all over the world. Students will be able to analyze the methods and procedures of exchanging and archiving wisdom in different cultures and will be able to compare them in regard of their specific aims and their effectiveness in storing knowledge and information, with special attention to material aspects. Students will be able to undertake an informed review of recently established databases which aim at collecting data and texts of ancient authors and literary works, and to carve out new tendencies in the conception of modern storage systems on the basis of a widened perspective of classification of cultural memories. Students will acquire awareness of recent developments in Digital Papyrology and be able to manage and communicate interdisciplinary and intercultural connections, also considering different scientific approaches.


Course contents

The course aims to discuss how different ancient cultures across the world, from the Graeco-Latin to the Indian, Chinese, Mesoamerican and the like, have faced and solved the problem of the organization and transmission of written data, both in the documentary (the texts of everyday life and of administration: letters, accounts, contracts, lists) and literary domain (books).

In class we will discuss how, within different pre-modern cultural systems, people conceived and organized their archives.

The preferred methodological approach will be that of archiving as a social practice, which in turn will allow a cross-cultural comparison of phenomena beyond the European and modern idea of archive. Among the points to be explored there will be the difference between documents that can be discarded or that must be preserved (short or long term); the different ways of organizing the material writing support and – where possible – the physical place where the texts are stored; finally, we will refocus attention on the activities of non-élite agents and stress the diffusion of archival practices throughout societies.

A special focus will be devoted to the implications of this methodological approach within digitalization of ancient archives.


Class work

  1. Introductory lecture and source discussion (2 hours). Themes discussed will include: the shifting concept of ‘archiving’ beyond the traditional Eurocentric meaning towards a cross-cultural perspective of archiving as a social practice; the different concepts of preservation, usability and transmission of written data across cultures. This lecture will be usually given by an invited speaker;
  2. Introductory lecture on archiving practices in Mediterranean and Graeco-latin cultures of the ancient world, handled directly by the teacher as his specific expertise area (4 to 6 hours). Themes focused upon will include: materiality in the culture of writing and reading with examples of the material aspects of preservation of the documentary and literary culture; material support and writing from the Mediterranean: the papyrus scroll and the codex, writing on crockery (ostraka) and reuse of scrap material; the great libraries within ancient Mediterranean cultures; commercial and military archives; lists of books and private libraries; the layout and symbols for the organization of the written page.
  3. Presentations on ways of archiving around the ancient and pre-modern world, comparing archival phenomena across space (and time), coordinated by the teacher, and entrusted to an external expert (about 14 hours). The milieus investigated will depend on the number and expertise of the invited speakers, and may include:
    • the early Christian archives and Coptic culture
    • manuscripts from Ethiopia and Eritrea
    • epigraphic archives and records on stone from Graeco-Roman antiquity
    • the cultures of Mesoamerica
    • Iranian (Achaemenid and Sasanian) Imperial chanceries and archives
    • the Arab world
    • the Ancient Near East (Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians)
    • ancient Egypt before the Greeks
    • Indian documents in Sanskrit
    • imperial China
    • feudal Japan
  4. Presentations by students (in working groups) on topics agreed with the teacher (about 8 hours). This presentation will be part of the work for the final assessment. Students involved in the presentation will be considered attending students.

Pending the availability of all the external experts and the number of students willing to make a presentation over a chosen topic, the final distribution of hours in sections 3) and 4) may vary.



a) Compulsory readings for attending students:

  • M. Friedrich, Epilogue: Archives and Archiving across Cultures―Towards a Matrix of Analysis, in A. Bausi-C. Brockmann-M. Friedrich-S. Kienitz (eds.), Manuscripts and Archives. Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Berlin 2018, 421–45.
  • W. Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance. Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization, 2nd edn., Ann Arbor 2003, Chapter 2 The Materiality of Reading and Writing Cultures: The Chain of Sounds, Graphic Signs, and Sign Carriers, pp. 69-122
  • J.-L. Fournet, Archives and Libraries in Graeco-Roman Egypt, in A. Bausi-C. Brockmann-M. Friedrich-S. Kienitz (eds.), Manuscripts and Archives. Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Berlin 2018, 171–99.

Non-attending students will read the articles and chapters listed above, plus some more material among those listed below. Non-attending students are required to discuss with the teacher their final choice before signing in for the oral exam, or the exam itself will not take place.


b) Compulsory readings for non-attending students:

- 5 more articles or a full monograph to be selected, according to topics close to the students’ interests and sensibility, from the articles published within the following three collections of essays:

  • A. Bausi-C. Brockmann-M. Friedrich-S. Kienitz (eds.), Manuscripts and Archives. Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Berlin 2018
  • M. Brosius (ed.), Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions. Concepts of Record-Keeping in the Ancient World, Oxford 2003
  • W. A. Johnson, Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus, Toronto 2004.
  • A. Jördens, Papyri und private Archive. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag zur papyrologischen Terminologie, in E. Cantarella-G. Tür (eds.), Symposion 1997: Vortrage zur griechischen und hellenistischen Rechtsgeschichte (Altafiumara 8-14 September 1997), Cologne-Böhlau 2001, 253–67.
  • N. Leon, Códice Sierra. Náhuatl Text and Translation, México, 1984.
  • K. McNamee, Sigla and select marginalia in Greek literary papyri, Bruxelles 1992.
  • R. Otranto, Antiche liste di libri su papiro, Roma 2000.
  • K. A. Raaflaub (ed.), Thinking, Recording and Writing History in the Ancient World, Chichester 2014
  • C. Rosell, Códice Sierra Texupan: Estudio e interpretación. Puebla, 2016.
  • K. Terracing, The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries, Stanford 2001.
  • K. Vandorpe, Seals in and on the Papyri of Greco-Roman and Byzantine Egypt, in M.-Fr. Boussac-A. Invernizzi (eds.), Archives et Sceaux du monde hellénistique (Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, Suppl. 29), Paris 1997, 231–91

Other choices may be suggested by the students (especially for DHDK students) and must be previously agreed upon with the teacher also on the basis of their specific interests.

All the texts read and discussed during the course will be available as teaching materials in the Virtuale website; students will find PDF version of the bibliography where available or specific indications about availability of books and articles in the same Virtuale repository.

Metodi didattici

1) Class lectures by the teacher, presentation of the subject and some case studies, where students are invited to participate in analysis and discussion;

2) Presentation by experts in the field; students, after reading some suggested readings in preparation to classes, agreed with the teacher, will critically participate in the discussion following experts presentations;

3) Presentation by students who, divided into groups, will prepare and discuss in class specific case studies agreed with the teacher.

Modalità di verifica e valutazione dell'apprendimento

Attending students. Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending. Students are strongly advised to declare as soon as possible whether they will attend the course or not, in order to facilitate the partition in groups and the final presentations of the attending students.

The final assessment is divided into two parts:

  1. 50% of the final assessment will be based on the presentation of the working groups. Depending on the critical insight and depth of the presentation, the members of the group receive a preliminary grade. The grade assigned to the presentation will be based on the assessment of information retrieval (including informed review of existing databases), quality of analysis of the state of the art, use of appropriate vocabulary, critical appraisal of the main methodological issues, use of appropriate analytical tools, clear structure and presentation, capacity of dividing tasks in the group and produce an organic work.
  2. 50% of the assessment will be based on an oral examination. Each student will be asked three questions on the compulsory readings. The oral exam will assess a precise knowledge of the essays studied and a mature critical understanding and ability to discuss about them, capacity to manage and communicate interdisciplinary and intercultural connections with awareness of the different scientific approaches.

Non-attending students. Students who are unable to properly attend the course (see above) are strongly advised to say so as soon as possible, in order to facilitate the partition of the working groups. The assessment will be based on an oral exam, in which three questions will be asked on the compulsory readings. The questions will assess the capacity of presenting the course topics with critical awareness of the methodological implications and interdisciplinary/intercultural connections, clarity of oral expression, use of appropriate vocabulary. Quality of autonomy in the assessment of the digital tools and methods related to specific case studies.

  • good/excellent final grade: critical analysis of topics with use of proper terminology and autonomous capacity to apply the appropriate methods and analytical tools to a given context.

  • sufficient/fair grade: description of the main issues learned or analysed, use of appropriate language even if with some uncertainties. Guided capacity to apply methods, based on replication of class examples or examples found in readings

  • fail: Serious or extensive shortcomings, inappropriate language, inability to correctly frame the topics dealt with, lack of orientation within the bibliographical materials indicated will be evaluated negatively.

Strumenti a supporto della didattica

The course is paper-free. The teacher will employ power-point files, as will the students in their presentations. Pdf documents are available on the platform Virtuale.

Orario di ricevimento

Consulta il sito web di Giulio Iovine