Written in Stone: The Roman Epigraphic Tradition and Anglo-Saxon Literature

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation explores the transmission and reception of Roman epigraphic poetry in early-medieval England, using intensive source-study analysis to demonstrate its profound influence on native Anglo-Saxon literary culture. The texts considered here include the full corpus of Anglo-Latin poetry up to the beginning of the ninth century, as well as the vernacular Old English poem Beowulf. Beginning with the history of epigraphic writing in the West and the Anglo-Saxons’ first-hand experience in Rome of this rich poetic inheritance, it demonstrates the ubiquitous presence of the epigraphic genre throughout the entirety of the early Anglo-Latin literary milieu. The dissertation also shows how Roman verse inscriptions not only influenced works composed by Anglo-Saxon authors in Latin, but also infiltrated their vernacular poetry in significant ways. Understanding the full story of how the Anglo-Saxons appropriated and adapted for their own ends this portion of Rome’s literary patrimony is critical on at least two fronts. It fundamentally enlarges our conception of the Anglo-Saxons’ literary horizons, and allows us to appreciate this material as holding every bit as important a place in the early-medieval curriculum as the Latin classroom poets. It also provides a window into the fledgling English church’s engagement with the culture of a specifically Roman form of Christianity. As a distinct genre in which the concepts of romanitas, the Church, the cult of the saints, and episcopal identity potently intersect, Roman inscriptions offered Anglo-Saxon authors a variety of ways, and the language to express and negotiate, their own relationship to these ideas. That the Anglo-Saxons should utilize this material to help articulate their own historical identity is fitting, for this is exactly what both pagan and Christian Romans before them sought to do. How the Anglo-Saxons did so constitutes a vital aspect of their literary culture, and one well deserving of its own fully-fledged investigation.


Attribute NameValues
Author Christopher R. J. Scheirer
Contributor Christopher Abram, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Medieval Studies
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2017-11-02

Submission Date 2018-03-22
Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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