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SEG XIII 64 = iPan 65 is a bilingual pair of inscriptions at about the same height on opposite sides of the entrance to a cave shelter in the Wadi Menih, near the road from Coptos to the Red Sea port of Berenice. They were made by Lysas, (presumably) a slave of P. Annius Plocamus, who must be a near relative (if not the same) as the Annius Plocamus connected with an embassy from Ceylon to the emperor Claudius recorded by Pliny, N. H.  6.24. The Greek inscription is dated <vacat>8 Epeiph year 35 of Augustus; the Latin to a.d. III Non. Iul. year XXXV = 5 July A.D. 6.

The difficulty is to interpret the Egyptian date. The original publication, D. Meredith, JRS 43 (1953) 38, which was based on a record in the notebooks of H. A. Winkler, gave it simply as 8 Epeiph and interpreted it as an Alexandrian date, equivalent to 2 July A.D. 6. Meredith concluded that Lysas had made two separate inscriptions three days apart, visiting the nearby Roman station on the main Berenice road to obtain water in the meantime. F. De Romanis, Helikon 28 (1988) 5 at 8ff. (English translation in F. De Romanis & A. Tchernia, Crossroads, 161 at 163ff.), noted that Pliny, N. H.  6.26 gave a synchronism 6 Mecheir = Id. Ian. for the latest date for the return voyage from India, which must be a synchronism between the Julian and wandering Egyptian calendars made between the years AD 48 and 51. From this and similar data in Pliny, De Romanis concluded that the Indian Ocean traders generally used the wandering calendar. Reviewing Winkler's notebook, he discovered the <vacat>, which Meredith had omitted to mention. He rejected Meredith's explanation for the supposed gap in time between the inscriptions, noting the inherent implausibility of such a return on a desert journey, especially since the Roman station Meredith supposed to be a water source did not exist in AD 6. He suggested, therefore, that the Egyptian date should be restored as [1]8 Epeiph year 35 of Augustus = 5 July A.D. 6 on the wandering Egyptian calendar.

In Helikon 29/30 (1989/90) 369, De Romanis reported his personal examination in which he claimed to identify an unclear vertical stroke which he thought was the missing iota. However, H. Cuvigny & A. Bülow-Jacobsen, BIFAO 99 (1999) 133 at 139 no 3 reexamined the inscription and argued that no iota was present: De Romanis had mistaken a small vertical natural rill as traces of a letter. They suggested that the <vacat> was due to a desire of Lysas to make the two lines of the inscription the same length. F. De Romanis, Epigraphica 63 (2001) 9, has strongly defended his view.

In my opinion, De Romanis has a strong circumstantial case that a synchronism was intended. The use of the wandering calendar for the Indian Ocean trade seems established, and it seems very unlikely that Lysas would make two inscriptions in different languages on different visits to the shelter in matching positions. On the other hand, the photograph he supplies seems to me to support the view of Cuvigny and Bülow-Jacobsen that the claimed iota is just a natural channel. That being said, their explanation for the <vacat> seems to me to be a stretch. I would guess it is more likely that the iota has simply worn away. But the case is far from settled.

The synchronism is of interest here for two reasons. First, De Romanis' article is not just a fascinating exposition of the Indian Ocean trade, he makes some intriguing arguments for using Pliny's data to settle problems of Sri Lankan chronology. More directly relevant: If he is right about these inscriptions, this is the earliest known synchronism to the true Julian calendar.

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