The lead tablets of Dodona, a unique artifact in the ancient Greek world dating from the 6th century BC to the mid-2nd century BC, were recently inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of World Register, an initiative that showcases the most significant documents of the heritage of humanity.
The Dodona Oracle lead tablets were included among the 64 new inscriptions on the list, bringing the total number of listed collections to 494.
The Dodona Oracle tablets consist of small strips of lead upon which questions were inscribed, addressed either to Zeus alone or to both Zeus and Dione, his cult partner at Dodona. Over 4,000 lead tablets have been discovered, scattered within the sacred precinct of Dodona.
These lead strips provide direct and unbiased insight into the concerns of those who sought answers, encompassing various aspects such as marriage, divorce, birth, child survival, travel, career plans, health, healing, military service, purchase of slaves, and manumission.
The tablets not only exhibit different dialects but also reveal distinct handwriting styles, reflecting the multitude of people who visited the oracle over the centuries.
Due to the typological diversity of the questions and the varied origins of the inquirers, the tablets represent a collection that not only offers a unique understanding of the Oracle’s religious practice but also provides valuable information about socio-historical and political contexts, as well as epigraphy and dialectology.
The Dodona tablets mark the second Greek inscription on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
First Greek inscription on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register: the Derveni Papyrus
The first inscription, made in 2015, is the Derveni Papyrus, currently housed at the Thessaloniki archaeological museum. Considered the oldest “book” in Europe, the papyrus is a significant document not only for the study of Greek religion and philosophy, which forms the basis of Western philosophical thought, but also as evidence of the early dating of the Orphic poems, offering a distinctive version of the Presocratic philosophers.
Among this year’s inscriptions on the Memory of the World Register, several collections contribute to learning from past events and promoting reconciliation. These include Canada’s submission on the assimilation of indigenous children, Ukraine’s archives of the Babi Yar Nazi massacres, and the submission of Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust film Shoah, along with its 200 hours of archival footage, by France and Germany.
Established by UNESCO in 1992, the Memory of the World program was relaunched this year after its suspension in 2017 due to disagreements between states regarding the nomination process.