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Theoroi and Initiates in Samothrace. The Epigraphical Evidence. By NORA M. 
DIMITROVA. Hesperia Supplement 37. Princeton, NJ: The American School of 
Classical Studies at Athens, 2008. Pp. 280. Paper, $55.00. ISBN 

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The epigraphic habit at Samothrace from the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd 
century CE is distinguished by the inscription of sometimes lengthy lists 
of names of individuals (in Greek and Latin) who visited the island either 
seeking initiation in the cult of the Great Gods or as sacred ambassadors 
to an unspecified Samothracian festival, and sometimes as both. Catalogues 
of initiates are known in such quantity from nowhere else in the Greek 
world, but they make up nearly 75% of all known inscriptions from the city 
of Samothrace and its chora. In Theoroi and Initiates in Samothrace, Nora 
Dimitrova (henceforth D.) provides a new edition of and commentary on 171 
inscriptions that mention either group (including more than 30 inedita), 
together with a series of exegetical essays that situate this evidence in 
its historical and religious context.

The work falls into two parts; the first treats the theoroi (28 
inscriptions), the second the initiates (143 inscriptions). Short essays 
bookend each section and provide critical background, including, discussion 
of the etymology of the word theoros and the function of theoroi in 
antiquity, and a general introduction to myesis and mystery cult. In 
Appendices I–II, D. collects 8 further inscriptions that bear on the two 
primary groups. Following the Appendices are a bibliography, a concordance 
of previously published inscriptions and of inscriptions in museums, an 
index of names (subdivided by language and office), and a geographic index.

The new editions are based when possible on autopsy, and D. has spent weeks 
of study not just at Samothrace, where the majority of the inscriptions are 
located, but also in Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Kavala, tracking down 
squeezes and membra disiecta. Couple this autopsy with the fact that D. is 
a careful, conservative (in the best sense of the word) editorand the 
results are transformative for the study of Samothracian history and 
religion. Roughly 500 names of theoroi and initiates are corrected from 
earlier publications, and some 100 new names are added. There are new or 
corrected provenances for several of the now more than 700 initiates and 
250 theoroi recorded in the inscriptions.
D. offers new readings in nearly every inscription she has examined in 
person. [ed. note: if you encounter difficulty with the Greek display, a 
PDF version of the review is at http://classicaljournal.org/CJ Graninger on 
Dimitrova.pdf] A brief, representative selection: at no. 4, D. reads the 
relatively common Βακχύλλ̣ο̣ς for Friedrich’s otherwise 
unattested Βά[ττ]αλος. There will be no ghost names here; at no. 
12, a likely record of Kyzikene and Mylasan theoroi possibly dating to the 
early 2nd century BCE, Friedrich had read at lines 9–10 
Κυζικηνῶν | [μη]νὸς Ποσειδεῶν[ος]. An 
initiate’s name and father’s name are expected, not a dating formula. 
D. now reads: [------]ΝΟΣ Ποσειδέου̣, “…nos, son of 
Poseideos”; at no. 17, a record of theoroi from Stratonikeia and Sardis, 
possibly dating to the 1st century BCE, Triantaphyllos had read θ . τος 
at ii.4, which gives no sense. D. now reads ἀρχιθεωρ̣ός 
(relatively clear in the photograph). The Stratonikeian theoroi thus had a 
lead theoros (paralleled elsewhere in the corpus) who is recognized as 
such. One could go on.

Some exceptional texts are collected here. No. 29 is a 2nd–1st century 
BCE epitaph for Isidore, a mime from Attica who was initiated at Eleusis 
and also Samothrace, where he saw the “doubly sacred light of Kabiros” 
(l. 16: Καβ̣ίρου δὶχ’ ἱερὸν φῶς). This is the 
first mention of Kabiros in a Samothracian document in relation to the cult 
of the Great Gods, as well as the first hint that seeing light was featured 
in the Samothracian Mysteries. Isidore’s initiations invoke a lengthy, 
prosperous life and a position among the euseboi in the underworld—the 
first indication that the latter was a possible outcome of the Samothracian 
Mysteries. No. 46, a stele dated to ca. 40–45 CE, commemorates the 
initiation of Gaios Ioulios Raskos, probably the son of Rhoimetalkes II, 
and the inscription (?) offers clear evidence that Thracian royals 
participated in the cult. No. 66, a stele precisely dated to September 4, 
100 BCE, records the initiation of (among others) Lucius Tullius, the uncle 
of Cicero, who was campaigning against Cilician pirates under the 
leadership of M. Antonius, grandfather of Mark Antony the triumvir. But the 
value of this collection goes beyond such extraordinary texts; it lies 
rather in what Robert called the mise en série, tracing the evolution of a 
fundamental institution over the course of centuries.

In the commentaries and essays, D. is sensitive throughout to 
archaeological context, problems of sanctuary topography, and the crucial 
distinction between Fundort and Standort. Many of the theoroi records were 
inscribed on wall blocks that do not fit the dimensions of any known 
building associated with the temenos of the Great Gods, and D. infers that 
these may have been published in the city, not the sanctuary. D. likewise 
suggests that the initiate catalogues will have been published outside the 
sanctuary and will thus have been visible to those who had not yet been 
initiated. Her attention to onomastics is laudable (this was a major 
failing of P. Fraser’s 1960 corpus of Samothracian inscriptions), [[1]] 
and the work is particularly strong on Thracian names. D. suggests that the 
theoroi of this corpus were attending the Samothracian Dionysia and that 
some took advantage of the opportunity to seek initiation; the point is 
persuasive and well-argued, but may be controversial. D. finds no evidence 
of a major, annual festival of the Mysteria in these inscriptions, but 
thinks it likely that there were multiple iterations from late spring to 
early autumn at which visitors might be initiated.

Criticisms are few and superficial. Occasionally, D.’s epigraphic 
commentary could have elucidated more fully what portions of dotted letters 
are visible on the stone, especially within a sequence of letters that does 
not construe (e.g., nos. 68, 128, 161; but cf. no. 133). And practically 
every inscription, even when letter forms are the only criterion for 
dating, can be supplied a more specific date than “Date?” (see, e.g., 
nos. 126–7); “post-Archaic” vel sim. would be an improvement. 
Finally, as is inevitable in publications of this sort, there are some 
minor inconsistencies of line number between text, apparatus and 
commentary, none of which will cause confusion.

The Hesperia Supplement monograph series has long been a premier venue for 
epigraphic publication, but D.’s edition represents a new height: text 
and commentary are laid out cleanly and legibly; there are 133 black and 
white photographs and drawings of the inscriptions; and it is possible in 
many cases to check D.’s text against an illustration without turning a 

In sum, D. has presented what will be the standard corpus of Samothracian 
inscriptions concerning theoroi and initiates for this generation, as well 
as an invaluable resource for advanced students and scholars researching 
nearly any aspect of the religion and history of the island.

American School of Classical Studies at Athens
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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[[1]] P.M. Fraser, Samothrace 2.1: The Inscriptions on Stone, New York 1960.

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