Mount Athos is one of the most important sites for inscriptions of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods. As a center of cenobitic monasticism since at least the tenth century, Athos benefitted from the patronage of emperors and aristocrats who financed buildings and precious objects. Many of these works of art and architecture were adorned with inscriptions, some of which are still visible today. This vast epigraphical material includes inscriptions written primarily in Greek, but also Serbian, Bulgarian, Latin, and Arabic.
In the early twentieth century, Gabriel Millet, Jules Pargoire, and Louis Petit, under the auspices of the Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, attempted to catalogue this enormous amount of data, but their ambitious project was understandably never finished. Their only publication, Recueil des inscriptions chrétiennes de l’Athos, vol. 1 (1904), documented 570 inscriptions found at the Protaton and twelve of the twenty sovereign monasteries. A second volume, which would have included inscriptions from the eight other monasteries as well as the kellia and skete communities, was planned for the following year but various circumstances prevented its publication. The first volume, while incomplete, continues to serve as an indispensable resource for historians, philologists, archaeologists, art historians, and epigraphists. It would therefore be a great benefit to students and scholars if this project was completed and revised in a more systematic manner.
Today Byzantine studies is better equipped to handle the epigraphic data. The surge in publications and exhibitions over the last twenty years that focus on the art and architecture of Mount Athos have brought to light many works of art that were previously unknown and inaccessible. Recent studies in Byzantine epigraphy, the corpus of Byzantine epigrams edited by Andreas Rhoby, and the project Inscriptiones Graecae Aevi Byzantini (IGAB) sponsored by the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften have provided scholars with fundamental tools and methods for analyzing and presenting Byzantine inscriptions.
The IMA project is the first step in creating a new systematic study of the inscriptions at Mount Athos. Rather than adopt the broad scope of Millet et al, IMA focuses on a more manageable corpus: Greek inscriptions that date to the Byzantine era and that are found on the so-called minor arts. This category includes such objects as reliquaries and patens, but excludes icons and textiles, which require their own independent studies. While the minor arts have been illustrated in recent publications, their inscriptions have been largely neglected or inadequately documented. IMA follows the standards set forth by the IGAB, which includes classifying an inscription’s function, location, and medium, producing a transcription, edition, and translation, and commenting on the paleographical, philological, and art-historical features.
IMA will also include an index of letters from each inscription in the corpus. This will provide scholars with a convenient table with which to compare inscriptions from other sites and collections for the purposes of dating, identifying common production centers, and tracing the developments of letterforms across media and techniques.