Old epigraphic forgeries and a new research project from Italy

4 October 2018

Lorenzo Calvelli
Ca'Foscari University of Venice

This talk deals with fake ancient inscriptions and aims at introducing the work of an ongoing collaborative research project, sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Education and titled False testimonianze (Forged evidence). After a brief introduction to the history of scholarship on epigraphic forgeries, I shall focus on examining a group of inscribed bronze tablets, which belong to the collections of different European museums. These artefacts have similar features: they are all inscribed on both sides, one of which usually carries the text of a plausible Latin inscription, while the other bears abbreviations that are difficult to expand. Some of these objects have long been considered to be forgeries, while others are still displayed as genuine. Through a thorough analysis of intrinsic and extrinsic elements, I intend to enduringly challenge their authenticity and trace their history from the moment when they were first attested. A number of unpublished and little investigated documents will eventually lead the audience to 18th-century Florence, where a celebrated Academy of Literati, named La Colombaria (literally, the pigeon-house), was created in 1735 for the sake of scientific and antiquarian curiosity. As a result, the forged tablets are not be dismissed as non-authentic documents, but should be considered the multifaceted product of a specific cultural context, which had developed a complex relationship with the ancient world.

Lorenzo Calvelli is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice. Over the past years, he has been a research fellow or visiting scholar at the following institutions: University of Cyprus (1999), Svenska Institutet i Rom (2000-2001), University College London (2002), École Pratique des Hautes Études - Paris (2004), Institute of Classical Studies - London (2004), American Academy in Rome (2005), Warburg Institute - London (2007-2008), Villa I Tatti - Harvard (2009-2010), CEDANT - Pavia (2010), Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies - Princeton University (2015), University of Sydney (2018).

His research interests focus on the administrative and political history of the late Roman Republic and the early Empire, on Latin inscriptions and early Christianity in the Venice region, and on the reception of classical antiquity. He is the author of over 50 contributions published as book chapters or articles in peer-reviewed journals, as well as in conference proceedings. He teaches Roman History and Latin Epigraphy at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice, as well as a class on «Venice and the Classical Past» for the Harvard Summer Program in Venice.    He is a member of the British Epigraphy Society, the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, the Associazione Italiana di Cultura Classica, and the Association Internationale d'Épigraphie Grecque et Latine, on whose International Committee he sits as the representative of Italy.

He also serves in the Editorial Board of the series «Mediterranean Nexus», published by Brepols, and «Venetia / Venezia - Quaderni di storia e antichità lagunari», published by L'Erma di Bretschneider. He is an Associate Editor of the online periodical «Current Epigraphy», based in the UK. He is a charter member and member of the academic board of Terra Italia ONLUS, the largest Italian non-profit association for the study of ancient Italy, of which he was Secretary General from 2013 to 2015. He is also a member of the Editorial Committee of «The Journal of Epigraphic Studies», a new periodical published by Fabrizio Serra Editore, whose first issue will appear in 2018.    He is the Principal Investigator of a major three-year research project sponsored in 2017 by the Italian Ministry of Education on forged Roman inscriptions, entitled «False testimonianze. Copie, contraffazioni, manipolazioni e abusi del documento epigrafico antico».

(Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia)
Madsen Building F09
Eastern Avenue,
The University of Sydney
Click here for map

Event details

  • When: 4.15am - 5.30am
  • Cost: Free
  • Contact: Dr Tamara Neal
    Department of Classics and Ancient History
    The University of Sydney

Old epigraphic forgeries and a new research project from Italy


4 October 2018

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