Inscriptions are among the most directly transmitted, and thus most valuable, historical sources; they provide crucial information on the life and living of ancient societies. Throughout the centuries, a constant awareness of this has been the motivation to collect and edit epigraphic remains. As early as in the Carolingian times in the Early Middle Ages, Latin inscriptions were collected in the Codex Einsidlensis. Especially during the Renaissance, scholars attempted to preserve the epigraphic tradition in extensive corpora, which are associated with names such as Cola di Rienzo and Scaliger. Soon their work, however, did not meet the newly emerging scientific standards for critical editions anymore. Additionally, these early corpora became quickly outdated, as the amount of inscriptions was ever increasing. Even influential personalities of later generations like Gaetano Marini were unable to work through the epigraphical sources in such quantity. In 1815, the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin then resolved to publish firstly all Greek inscriptions and secondly all ancient Latin inscriptions then known in comprehensive corpora.
In 1853, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum was founded under Theodor Mommsen’s direction; the first volume was published ten years later. Up to the First World War, most of the ancient Latin inscriptions then known had been published. This achievement, which was largely accomplished by Mommsen himself, and later mainly by his assistants in conjunction with numerous scholars from the countries where the inscriptions had been found, received great international recognition.
Financial difficulties, Germany’s isolation after the First World War, and the political situation in the German Democratic Republic after the Second World War impeded the CIL’s work significantly. Only due to the CIL’s excellent reputation amongst experts, scholars and institutions from the Federal Republic of Germany and abroad stepped in to fund and pursue the epigraphic project after 1945.
Originally, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum had been an autonomous institution within the Berlin Academy. Between 1955 and 1991, the CIL was then part of several different Academy institutes. Following a transitional phase, the CIL was integrated into the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1994. The German reunification in 1990 paved the way for the revival of the close international collaboration that had been the standard before the World Wars. Currently, the CIL collaborates, apart from the German colleagues, with scholars from Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
Today, the CIL counts 17 volumes in folio format in about 80 parts, containing almost 200,000 inscriptions. The supplementary volumes provide tables, indices, and further studies. The inscriptions are edited mainly on the basis of the original inscriptions, but also in consideration of their tradition in manuscripts and print. All volumes include readings of the inscriptions and a historical contextualisation, built upon a comprehensive documentation of the epigraphic and archaeological findings. Furthermore, the editions contain bibliographies, information on the ancient places in which the inscriptions were found, thematic indices, and maps.
Since the mid-1990s, the CIL volumes offer photos and sketches of the inscriptions. Up to that point, such visual documentation had only been provided in select cases, on separate plates or on microfiches, which were added to the respective volumes; only in exceptional cases were photos or drawings included in the volumes themselves. Today, the pictures are integrated in the entries alongside the transcription and the reading of the inscription’s text, thereby enabling readers to assess the inscription’s condition against the backdrop of their historical knowledge. This presentation allows for a more direct and critical access to the epigraphic text and monument than was possible in Mommsen’s time.
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