Epigraphical Museum in Greece: the largest of its kind in the world

24grammata.com/ μουσεία
M. Tsouli, archaeologist


The Epigraphical Museum is unique in Greece and the largest of its kind in the world. It safeguards 13,510, mostly Greek, inscriptions, which cover the period from early historical times to the Late Roman period, primarily in Greece.
The museum is housed in the south wing ground floor of the National Archaeological Museum. It comprises an internal and external courtyard (atrium), a lobby, eleven rooms, a large hypostyle Pi-shaped corridor, a gallery, offices, a laboratory for the conservation of inscribed stone monuments and lavatories. Only the courtyards, lobby and four rooms are open to the public; the other premisces are accessible only to researchers and staff.

The purpose of the museum, which is a Special Regional Service of the Ministry of Culture, is to safeguard, protect, conserve, display and promote the epigraphical collections that it contains. The museum also aims to comprise photographic and impression archives and a specialized epigraphy library. Moreover, a digital catalogue of the inscriptions is currently under construction, so that the collection can be accessible digitally to future visitors.

History of museum

The Epigraphical Museum was founded at its current location in 1885. The architect Patroclos Karantinos refurbished it with new spaces and gave the museum its present form in the 1950’s.

Kyriakos Pittakis painstakingly gathered the inscriptions, which formed the first nucleus of the museum’s collection, from different parts of Athens. These were supplemented by inscriptions from the collections of the Archaeological Society (Varvakeion) and finds from the Acropolis excavations. New examples from systematic excavations and surface finds, mainly from Attica but also from other parts of Greece, continued to enrich the museum’s collection until approximately 1960 when new acquisitions, with the exception of a few donations and joining fragments from other museums (mostly the Ancient Agora), ceased for lack of space.

Vasileios Leonardos undertook the first inventory of the museum’s collection at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Because this coincided with the publication of the academic series Inscriptiones Graecae, the inscriptions were classified and inventoried by subject matter, and displayed in that order. Markellos Mitsos followed more or less the same principal during the radical renovation of the display following World War II. Mitsos’s work was completed by Constantina Delmouzou. The lobby and more recent rooms (9 and 11) were given an instructive and academic character, in accordance with contemporary museological principals, during their refurbishment in the 1990s. In an effort to modernize the permanent collection, the bilingual (Greek-English) labels were replaced by new and more informative texts, and a touch-screen computer, which plays the CD-ROM entitled ‘Greek writing’, was installed in the lobby in April 2002.

The addition of areas adjacent to the museum will provide the space for the planned re-display of the educational exhibition ‘Speaking Stones’, which illustrates the birth, formation and evolution of the ancient Greek alphabet, and its use in ancient Greek inscriptions, the mounting of an educational exhibition entitled ‘The Birth of Writing’, and the creation of temporary exhibition spaces and of a documentation centre (library, impressions archive, video room etc).

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