The city-state of Athens in the Classical period was among the most prolific producers of inscribed monuments in the ancient world. From the early fifth century BCE, and increasingly frequently over the next 200 years, the city carved onto stone and put on public display thousands of texts, recording a whole spectrum of civic activities. These texts are an exceptionally rich resource for the historian of Classical Athens: in the absence of any other substantial source of archival material for this period they provide our most important ‘primary’ records of the city’s political, diplomatic and economic activities. But these inscribed monuments are also significant pieces of evidence in their own right: they reveal not just what the Athenians did, but also how they chose to commemorate those actions. Studying the reasons why inscriptions were created and the ways in which they were used after their creation can offer extremely valuable insights into the processes by which the Athenians, as individuals and as a collective, shaped and reshaped the memories of their community. This chapter explores the uses of inscriptions from various perspectives,

although it focuses on a single type of inscribed text: the decrees of the Athenian popular assembly. It starts with an apparently simple question: why did the Athenians set up inscriptions? It is tempting to assume that a monument on stone must have a commemorative function: this is, after all, true of the inscribed monuments with which we are most familiar today (gravestones, statue bases, war memorials). The situation in Classical Athens is more complex: commemoration is certainly one function of inscriptions, but it is not the only one; indeed, scholarly opinion remains divided as to both the nature and the importance of the commemorative function of inscribed monuments. Complexity of a different sort is added when we turn to look at the uses of inscriptions: the evidence reveals a constantly shifting relationship between the actions recorded in inscribed monuments and those preserved through other forms of collective memory.