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When weapons speak: Inscriptions on munitions as performative messages

In 2021, plaster copies and tinfoil casts of nearly 1,000 Roman glandes (lead sling bullets) bearing inscriptions were discovered in the archives of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL. Incised or stamped onto the glandes, the texts often consist of insults or defamations of the military enemy. The phenomenon of inscribing insults directed at the enemy’s troops, rulers or general population on weapons and particularly on ammunition has been documented throughout history, up to the present day. Thus far, though, there has been no general treatment or analysis of this phenomenon. This, then, is the substance of this project, which has two key objectives:

1. The glandes documented in plaster and tin foil define the largest collection of this group of ancient objects and inscriptions. These copies were made in connection with the publication of a volume edited by Karl Zangemeister in 1885 that compiled all of the Latin glandes inscriptions known at that time. Project researchers will identify and digitize the individual casts and impressions and make them available for open access via the CIL archival database.

2. An interdisciplinary workshop will be held to condense the evidence of denigrating, hostile texts on arms and to undertake a comparative analysis of the performative messages. For this analysis, researchers will seek and examine evidence originating outside of Europe and/or in cultures of other periods. Sociological and psychological approaches will help to identify systematic and case-specific mechanisms. One of the questions addressed will be whether invective is necessarily always associated with the intensification of a confrontation involving the clash of arms, or whether it can be an outlet that helps to defuse a conflict and shows other ways of dealing with it.


PD Dr. Ulrike Ehmig

PD Dr. Ulrike Ehmig
Image Credit: IKGF Erlangen

PD Dr. Ulrike Ehmig is an assistant professor (Privatdozentin) of Archeology and History of the Roman Provinces at the University of Bamberg and has headed the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum project (CIL) at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities since the summer of 2018. Ulrike Ehmig studied Classical Archaeology, Latin Philology and Ancient History; she received her doctoral degree (2000) in the History and Culture of the Roman Provinces. Economic questions have been one of the focuses of her research; her Habilitation thesis investigates waste management in Antiquity. She has been involved in numerous research projects in Germany and abroad, investigating questions in the field of Latin epigraphy with a special focus on communication studies and sociological perspectives, as well as questions relating to risk perception and management in Roman Antiquity.