Fake news from the past

Spread of false information did not start with the Internet: Seemingly ancient inscriptions can be misleading. Two Italian scholars recently discovered that two similar artifacts now kept in Italy and in the United States with what seemed to be Early Christian inscriptions had in fact been purchased on the Roman antiques market at the beginning of the 20th century and were produced by the same forger.

“This significant discovery - explained Lorenzo Calvelli, researcher in Latin Epigraphy at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and one of the leading scholars of false inscriptions in history - will hopefully help us identify other artefacts produced by the same hand that can now be found in the collections of museums in Europe and around the world”.

Exposing fake news from the past has been the focus of ancient history experts who have analyzed artifacts from antique dealers, museums and private collections in order to examine their authenticity.

Historical falsification and manuscript studies with an emphasis on ancient inscriptions that are presented as authentic will be the focus of two symposia organized by Ca’ Foscari on October 10th and 13th - one of the most important European symposium on Roman epigraphy and a symposium on epigraphic falsification in Italy funded by the Italian Ministry for Education, University and Research as part of a three-year project coordinated by Lorenzo Calvelli regarded of national interest. During two days, more than 50 experts coming from Italy and France will discuss their latest findings.

THE CASE STUDY From Arezzo to Baltimore: Trailing the forger Sententiosus

In the Casa Museo Ivan Bruschi in the city of Arezzo a mysterious Latin inscription can be found on a small slab of marble. Until now it had not been noticed by experts. The only known information about the artifact was where it came from: It was part of the private collection of the counts Vitali that was in display in their beautiful villa in Fermo (in the Marche region) and is now dispersed.

On the slab of marble one can read a sentence from the Bible:  "Erudimini qui iudicatis terram", “Learn, you who judge on Earth”. Andrea Raggi (Università di Pisa) and Carlo Slavich (Sapienza Università di Roma) analyzed the inscription and cast new light on another artifact with a similar inscription in display at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum in Baltimore.

The latter had been universally recognized as authentic by experts who classified it as an Early Christian funerary inscription. A fortunate coincidence allowed to prove beyond any doubt that the two artifacts which had been purchased from an antique dealer in Rome at the beginning of the 20th century were in fact produced by a modern forger. The two scholars decided to name their author Sententiosus - the judgement producer - for the edifying quality of the inscriptions.