Syriac Terms for Roman Institutions: An Exercise in Syriac Lexicography and the Digital Humanities

Although we know that the Syriac language underwent significant lexical and syntactic changes due to contact with Greek in Roman imperial contexts (Butts 2016), there has yet to be a systematic analysis of the ways in which Syriac writers rendered termini technici of Roman law and the Roman imperial administration into Syriac. Similar studies on the evolution of post-classical Greek have proven vital to the study of the Roman state in late antiquity and Byzantium (Magie 1905, Mason 1974). There is no such study of Syriac terms for Roman institutions.

Despite the robust tradition of providing Greek and Latin glosses in Syriac lexica (Ferrari 1622, Brockelmann 1895, R. Payne Smith 1901, Köbert 1956, Sokoloff 2009) and the significant amount of scholarship on Syriac translations of Greek texts, few of these resources are readily accessible to non-specialists and many require knowledge of Greek or Latin. Our current project, Syriac Terms for Roman Institutions (STRI), will be an online searchable database of Syriac lexemes for non-specialists, collating pertinent lexical data from Syriac texts and the major Syriac lexica into one open access repository. Of particular interest are calques, idioms, and multiword lexemes that are not discussed in the lexica due to the conventions and restrictions of Syriac lexicography on the printed page.

With the support of a Seed Grant from the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University, a limited corpus prototype as a proof of concept will go live in June 2022. In this paper, in addition to outlining the in-scope goals of the prototype, we present our methods and some preliminary findings. We also discuss the future of the project and a roadmap for future collaboration with other projects in Syriac lexicography and the Digital Humanities.

Website James C. Wolfe