Inscriptions from NY.NY.CU.Butl

The Rare Book and Manuscript Room of the Butler Library of Columbia University houses a large collection of Latin inscriptions on stone and lead and a few Greek texts. Latin inscriptions on bronze andlead and stamped terracotta (bricks, tiles, Arretine ware) are held by the Art Properties Department of the university elsewhere on campus. Both groups of inscriptions, along with an extensive collection of ancient coins (some 3,9000 specimens), were bequeathed to the university in 1912 by George N. Olcott, at the time of his death Associate Professor of Latin at Columbia. The bulk of the collection was purchased by Olcott in Rome, beginning in the years 1896 to 1898, when he was a student and Fellow at the newly founded American School of Classical Studies (subsequently joined with the American Academy in Rome), partly with his own funds for his private collection and partly, later, on behalf of Columbia University. Olcott's premature death from pneumonia at the age of forty-two thus cut short not only his ambitious magnum opus--the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Epigraphicae of which he had published a first fascicle ('A-Aser') in 1904 (a second fascicle, 'Asturica - Avillianus', was published in 1935-36 before the project was abandoned)--but a productive and active career as a collector of Roman antiquities. The collection he left comprises mainly epitaphs of the first two centuries from the cemeteries outside the Porta Salaria and along the modern Via Ostiense and a large selection of Arretine ware and stamped amphora handles from Monte Testaccio; there are very few public documents. It thus fairly reflects Olcott's aim of compiling a teaching collection to illustrate ancient Roman private life.

Many of the inscribed objects collected by Olcott have been dispersed. At the time of his death in 1912 Olcott was on sabbatical leave in Rome and had with him at his house there (the "villetta Olcott") a considerable part of his collection of stamped Arretine ware, which his widow subsequently donated to the American Academy in Rome (MAAR 7 [1929] 179). At the same time, several of the inscriptions on stone in his personal collection were put up for sale in New York. Even during his lifetime Olcott had not been averse to selling pieces from his private collection, and individual pieces seem to have found their way by private sale to Wellesley College in Massachussets and into private hands. Part of his collection (Roman lamps, glass, bronzes, and Arretine ware) was purchased in 1916 by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was transferred to the World Heritage Museum in Urbana. (See further about Olcott and his collections, I.E.M. Edlund, The Iron Age and Etruscan Vases in the Olcott Collection at Columbia University, New York [Philadelphia 1980] 6-8).

Many of the Latin inscriptions on stone were published by Chr. Huelsen in his supplement to CIL VI in 1902 and by Olcott himself in an abbreviated series of articles in the American Journal of Archaeology: vol. 3 (1899) 229-39; 10 (1906) 154-58; 12 (1908) 39-46. Nine others were edited in 1988 by J-J Aubert, J.R. Lenz, J. Roth, and J.A. Sheridan in ZPE 73: 91-97. In 1948 H. Comfort published an Arretine ware plate from Olcott's bequest bearing a potter's stamp and graffito (AJA 52 [1948] 321-22), and many of the stamps on amphorae handles and Arretine ware are identified by Olcott in a handwritten catalogue that can be consulted in the Rare Book and Manuscript Room of Butler Library. Almost all the inscriptions were acquired in Rome. In most cases (and in the list that follows except where otherwise indicated), they are known or may be presumed to have originated there as well.

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