Associations in the Greco-Roman World (AGRW)

An expanding collection of inscriptions, papyri, and other sources in translation (run by Philip A. Harland)

Orphic Bone Tablets (V BCE) Olbia - Scythia and Moesia

Olbia (Scythia and Moesia, Danube and Black Sea areas — Pleiades map), V BCE
IOlbiaD 94 = M.L. West, "The Orphics of Olbia," ZPE 45 (1982) 17–29 = SEG 28:659–661 = PHI 184168 = AGRW ID# 15649
Copenhagen Inventory info: 1328


Three tiny bone tablets with graffiti scratched on them. Discovered at one of the sanctuaries at Olbia. One of the tablets refers either to “Orphic matters” or to “Orphics” as a group of people (Ὀρφικοί). See the comments on GRA 92.

(Tablet A) Life, Death, Life, Truth. Dionysos. Orphic (matters) (or: Orphics; Orphikoi)

(Tablet B) Peace, War, ǀ Truth, Falsehood, Dionysos.

(Tablet C) Dionysos, Z. Truth, Body, Soul.

Translation by: Harland

(Tablet A)

βίος θάνατος βίος Ζ(?) ǀ ἀλήθεια ǀ Ζα(γρεύς?) Ζ(?) ǀ Διό(νυσος) (Διο(νύσῳ) ?) Ὀρφικοί.

(Tablet B)

εἰρήνη πόλεμος ǀ ἀλήθεια ψεῦδος ǀ Διόν(υσος) (Διον(ύσῳ) ?) ǀ Α

(Tablet C)

Διό(νυσος) (Διο(νύσῳ) ?) ǀ ἀλήθεια ǀ σῶμα ψυχή ǀ Α

Item added: October 12, 2014
Item modified: October 1, 2020
ID number: 15649
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  • Jem Bendell says:
    November 26, 2017 / Reply

    Why are the inscriptions described as graffiti? Is there evidence that the inscriptions were “unofficial” and added after the issue of the bone tablets? e.g. If some of these bone tablets don’t carry the word “Orphic”? Or is the writing Orphic different to the other writing in some way?

    Has someone determined what species the bone is from?

    • Phil Harland says:
      December 20, 2017 / Reply

      Hello Jem. I’m afraid that I don’t have the original works before me. If you look into any of those sources, you may find the answer to your question. What I remember is that all of the texts on them are somewhat roughly scratched on, which may be why the word graffiti is used as opposed to the idea that the bones had some other use. Hope this helps.

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