Novel Perspectives on Communication Practices in Antiquity. Towards a Historical Socio-Semiotic Approach

03-05 October 2019, Ghent, Belgium 

The main aim of this conference, which forms the opening event of the ERC-project ‘Everyday writing in Graeco-Roman and Late Antique Egypt. A socio-semiotic study of communicative variation’ (2018-2023;, is to explore to what extent it is possible and desirable to found a discipline such as historical social-semiotics, parallel to historical socio-linguistics. Such a novel, interdisciplinary approach is particularly relevant for ‘everyday’ documentary texts: since these texts represent autographs, their external characteristics can also be brought into the interpretation. Jean-Luc Fournet (2007), for example, has recently argued for a ‘paléographie signifiante’, noting that ‘l’analyse matérielle d’un document peut être porteuse de sens’ (2007:353), not only when it comes to text type, but also with regard to the socio-cultural context of writing, and the provenance of the document. Other external characteristics to be considered as expressions of social meaning (functioning as ‘semiotic resources’) are – but are not limited to – writing material, document format, and language choice. Their analysis reveals information concerning hierarchy, status and social relations. 


Thursday, October 3, 2019 


Welcome Greetings 

Morning session: Genre and multimodality 
Chairperson: Klaas Bentein 

Klaas Bentein (Ghent University) 

Sarah Béthume (INCAL/CEMA, UCLouvain) 
“The ‘exposed writings’: how the study of the ‘pluricode’ message of ancient Greek inscriptions can shed light on the archaic and classical dialectal variation” 

Nicola Reggiani (University of Parma) 
“Towards a socio-semiotic analysis of Greek medical prescriptions on papyrus” 

11:00-11:30: Coffee Break 

Francesca Murano & Mariarosaria Zinzi (University of Florence) 
“A social-semiotic analysis of Greek defixiones from South Italy” 

Jimmy Wolfe (The Ohio State University) 
“Imagining faith: images, scripts, and texts of early Christian inscriptions from the Roman Near East” 

12:30-14:00: Lunch Break 

Afternoon session: Texts and intra-semiosis 
Chairperson: Yasmine Amory 

Key-note speaker, Antonella Ghignoli (Sapienza – University of Rome) 
“This is the catalogue! A so far unknown latin documentary papyrus from 6th century Italy” 

Martti Leiwo (University of Helsinki) 
“Hands and language in ostraca letters from Roman praesidia in Egypt” 

Giulio Iovine (University of Naples “Federico II”) 
“Descriptum et recognitum. A survey of Latin closing and acknowledging formulae in Latin and Greek papyri and ostraca” 

15:45-16:15: Coffee Break 

Antonia Apostolakou (Ghent University) 
“How to sign a contract in Late Antique Egypt: a study of linguistic variation” 

Simona Russo (Istituto papirologico “G. Vitelli”) 
“Rome as New York, fashion capital?” 

* Reception at Alice 

Friday, October 4, 2019 

Morning session: Sociolinguistic variation 
Chairperson: Mark Janse 

Key-note speaker, James Clackson (University of Cambridge) 
“Standard languages, language standards and language norms in the Greco-Roman world” 

Polina Yordanova (University of Helsinki) 
“Тhe forest’s broken branches: discontinuity in Greek word order in documentary papyri from III c BCE to III c CE” 

Alek Keersmaekers (UK Leuven) 
“Sociolinguistic variation in the Greek papyri: a corpus-based, bottom-up approach” 

11:00-11:30: Coffee Break 

Emmanuel Roumanis & Geert De Mol (Ghent University) 
“The Abinnaeus archive: lexical and orthographic features” 

Alessandro Papini (Ghent University) 
“A preliminary investigation on the graphemic oscillations in Italian Latin inscriptions of the Republican age” 

12:30-14:00: Lunch Break 

Afternoon session: Visual and material aspects of texts 
Chairperson: Joanne Stolk 

Key-note speaker, Jean-Luc Fournet (Collège de France – EPHE) 
“Beyond the text: the contribution of the ‘paléographie signifiante’” 

Marco Stroppa (Istituto papirologico “G. Vitelli”) 
“Big & small: the size of documents as a semiotic resource for Graeco-Roman Egypt?” 

Nina Sietis (Sapienza – University of Rome) 
“Abbreviations in Greek documentary texts. A case study of ‘significant palaeography’” 

15:45-16:15: Coffee Break 

Eleonora Conti (Istituto papirologico “G. Vitelli”) 
“Spread and persistence of Latin document features in some Greek letters of high chancery on papyrus” 

Yasmine Amory (Ghent University) 
“Visual signs of deference in Late Antique letters” 

Visit at the Archaeological Collection of Ghent University at Het Pand 

19:30: Dinner at Sint Jorishof (optional, pre-reservation required) 

Saturday, October 5, 2019 

Morning session: Multimodal aspects of writing 
Chairperson: Giovanbattista Galdi 

Key-note speaker, Mark Depauw (UC Leuven) 
“Splitting words in Greek letters and petitions. Quantitative research based on Trismegistos” 

Joanne Stolk (Ghent University/University of Oslo) 
“The social meaning of scribal corrections in final versions of papyrus letters”