Corpora

The systematic study and annotated cataloguing of ancient monuments have contributed over time to the advancement of archaeology. From the 19th century and mainly in the German environment, the systematisation and classification of archaeological collections led to the creation of monumental archaeological corpora, i.e. of catalogues containing the description of large quantities of ancient objects gathered by type or by subject that soon represented an important point of reference for many research areas. Among the first that were published, which were specifically dedicated to epigraphic and linguistic subjects, we can quote for example those on Greek (1825-1859) and Latin (1863-1891) inscriptions, edited by A. Boeck and Th. Mommsen. Other corpora focused on the Etruscan bronze mirrors, initiated in 1840 by E. Gerhard (Etruskische Spiegel), and on the reliefs of the Etruscan urns, started by H. Brunn in 1870 and continued G. Körte (I rilievi delle urne etrusche). Since 1919, the Union Académique Internationale (UAI) sponsored, supported or supervised a number of research projects, such as the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, that by then has steadily increased.

For their systematic approach, as early as the 1970s the corpora proved particularly suitable to be submitted to computer automated processing. Actually, they represented large and structured archives that could be made easily retrievable and rapidly searchable through various search keys. For this reason, some of the first archaeological computer projects concerned the design of databases pivoting around these vast repertoires. Among the initiatives dating back to the 1970s, one should mention the computerisation of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, promoted in Pisa by Paolo Enrico Arias and based on a DBMS that also allowed to formulate quantitative assessments. Equally focused on Attic pottery were also the projects started in Oxford on Sir John Beazley’s Archives. Even before, in France, at Nanterre University, a database of Greek mosaics was set up at the Centre de Recherche sur les traitements automatisés en archéologie classique. An initiative that went along with a meticulous work of term normalisation, carried out by René Ginouves and Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets.

In recent decades, the challenge of how to transfer data coming from computerised corpora to the web, in order to make them accessible to a broad user community, has been identified as a priority. This has involved the introduction of global standards for data recording and dissemination, allowing large corpora of archaeological data to be navigated. The first research group to pursue this challenge was linked to the Oxford University’s Beazley Archive under the leadership of Donna Kurtz: on-line databases and other web resources extended to categories of objects beyond the Greek pottery are today made freely available through the Classical Art Research Centre website and the Claros portal. The Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, which is strictly linked to the name of Lilly Kahil as a publishing initiative promoted in the 1970s, has recently made freely available three main databases in the LIMC Foundation website. Another important example is the project for the computerisation of Latin inscriptions collected in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, made available through the databases of the Electronic Archive of Greek and Latin Epigraphy (EAGLE) and recently renewed within the Europeana network.

Beazley Archive CVA EAGLE LIMC