We are the DDB: The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum

The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL was established in 1853 at the initiative of the historian, jurist and later winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Theodor Mommsen, at the Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Prussian Academy of Sciences). The aim was to systematically record and edit all Latin inscriptions of Roman antiquity. After nearly eighty years, more than 100,000 inscriptions were published between Britain and North Africa, Portugal and the Middle East in 50 volumes. At that time, it was not known that this figure would increase fivefold in the next 100 years and that the need for fundamental editions would not end. Originally working as an independent institution under the umbrella of the Berliner Akademie (Berlin Academy), the CIL was integrated into various academy institutes from 1955 to 1991. After a transitional phase, the project has been under the care of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities) since the beginning of 1994. You can find further information about the history of the CIL here.

CIL XV 4373 δ, Gelatinefolie (1878-1879), Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL, Berlin, Heinrich Dressel (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

About the image: Gelatin film with the scored outlines of the amphora inscription, dyed with black pigment. The inscription is a control note and confirms the filling of the amphorae in Hispalis, today's Seville, in 179 A.D. The edition number from the relevant CIL volume is written in red, the scale of printing and the more detailed description of the location of the amphorae at Monte Testaccio in Rome are written in black.

The preparatory work for the volumes coming from the 19th and early 20th centuries define the archive of the CIL and a centrepiece of Latin epigraphy as a whole: With more than 20,000 copies, the CIL has the world's largest collection of Latin inscriptions. The facsimiles, mostly made of paper, more rarely latex, seal wax, tin foil or gelatin foil, are often the only testimonies of inscriptions lost to wars or other destructions. In addition, there are 650 boxes in Berlin with an estimated 600,000 so-called data sheets. These are the direct handwritten print templates for the CIL volumes, to which further documents, excerpts of older writings, correspondence, drawings, etc., keep getting attached. The archive of the CIL has neither been systematically sighted nor accessed to date.

CIL XV 4373, Schede 1892-1899 (?), Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL, Berlin, Heinrich Dressel (Public Domain Mark 1.0)/em

About the image: Data sheet written by Dressel in Latin with last corrections and print instructions. There were cuts in the presentation of the inscription and in its commentary. Terms to be put in italics have been underlined; the desired position of the comment is marked with an arrow. The edition number was supplemented with a pencil at the top right, furthermore by another hand with a blue copying pen, rotated by 90°, Bg. 81. No. 4373 was the first number on sheet 81 of the CIL volume in question. The sheet lay at the top of the damaged data sheet, which had been tied up to form a package. The first copy of the cliché, which had been provided with corrections by Dressel, was stuck to the scabbard. His instructions "the outer tip away" and "the point away" show the meticulousness with which printing took place

As part of the funding project 'Zielgerichtete Digitalisierungsförderung bei Kultureinrichtungen aus dem Netzwerk der Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek (Targeted Promotion of Digitisation at Cultural Institutions from the German Digital Library Network)', a set of archives was digitised, which depicts the complete knowledge process from the initial recording of an inscription group to its penetration into the content and printing in the CIL. The project was funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) as part of the Neustart Kultur programme.

It deals with the inscriptions on amphorae, Mediterranean transport containers for olive oil, wine, fish sauce and pickled fruit that Heinrich Dressel worked on in Rome in the 1870s and 1880s. He used innovative means: He traced the inscriptions on gelatin film and had them transferred to zinc plates for printing by means of photography. He made notes and sketches of the amphorae, which still today form the decisive basis of the amphorae research he initiated.

Klischee zu CIL XV 4373 (1899) Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL, Berlin, Heinrich Dressel (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

About the image: Zincograph transformed by photography from Dressel's transcription of the amphora inscription on gelatin film. The zinc plate is fixed to the top block wood with several nails placed at the edges. The wood is cut out in the lower right corner to insert the letters indicating the scale of the figure in the sentence.

His data sheets, including the corrected first prints of the clichés affixed to it, shows the meticulous struggle for the highest standards and the time and personal commitment that has been made for this. In addition, the digitised archives make it clear which knowledge was generated but not published. The archives contain much more information than was printed and are therefore not only retrospective, but also open up new research perspectives for the CIL and Latin epigraphy as a whole.