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Nine - Late Antique and Early Medieval Monograms

From Producers’ Marks to Liminal Graphic Devices

from Part II - Legible Signs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2021

John Bodel
Affiliation:
Brown University, Rhode Island
Stephen Houston
Affiliation:
Brown University, Rhode Island
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Summary

This chapter investigates the interplay of textual and non-textual features in the marking systems of three types of clay products widely used in Roman Italy during the first three centuries CE ‒ fine tableware (sigillata), shipping containers (amphorae), and bricks and tiles. The semiotic flexibility of the footprint as a polyvalent sign indicating both authorship and identity is illustrated by its use as a stamp on Roman tableware. The marks employed on amphorae to identify different phases of the manufacture, transport, and distribution of the vessels or their contents reveal a well-defined taxonomy of textual and atextual signs differentiated according to medium, placement, and stage of application. Brickstamps on larger bricks at Rome combined texts with semantically distinctive figured symbols (signa) in complex messages that identified brickyard owner, manufacturer, and origin; smaller bricks, when marked, bore distinctive patterns of atextual designs created by matrix. Atextual marking systems operated both together with and independently of textual markers, offering different advantages of utility (visual comprehensibility without need of literacy) and facility (being easily constructed out of everyday objects) in return for less semantic precision and differential range.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Hidden Language of Graphic Signs
Cryptic Writing and Meaningful Marks
, pp. 199 - 213
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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