Epigraphy and the Display of Authority

John Ma

in Epigraphy and the Historical Sciences

Published by British Academy

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265062
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754173 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Epigraphy and the Display of Authority

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This chapter begins by citing modern examples of public notices in order to illustrate the role of inscriptions as both stylised gestures and as channels of authority: they are performative utterances. Various sources of authority are identified, such as human communities, divine sanction, magic or royal decision: the latter category is illustrated in detail by a dossier of 209 bce from Asia Minor that had both symbolic and ‘real’ impact. Also illustrated, by other examples, are the ways in which locations are used, especially by lending or creating authority. In these ways, inscriptions exemplify speech-act theories: they make us accept a particular version of events as social magic or even ‘truth’ and act in terms of it, while the negotiations involved are hidden under an authoritative aspect. Yet the latter may be detectable if the inscription is read against the grain, in the knowledge that words are also traps.

Keywords: authority; sources of authority; performative utterances; speech-acts; social magic; symbolic impact

Chapter.  9178 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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