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From ἐπιγράφειν=inscribere. A word conventionally used to describe the scientific study of inscriptions. In its widest sense it has reference to all inscriptions, including words engraved on rings, or stamped on coins, lamps, jars, vases, and other articles of use or ornament; but more strictly it relates to the historical inscriptions carved upon slabs of stone (i. e. lapidary inscriptions), or upon plates of bronze and other metal. Classical philology and archæology owe an inestimable debt to the study of the inscriptions that have been preserved to us from the Greek and Roman world, and to the inscriptions of these two great centres of civilization this short sketch must be confined. (For other epigraphic remains, see the articles Assyria; Babylonia; Cuneiform Inscriptions; Hieroglyphics; Persia. For inscriptions on coins, see the article Numismatics.)

I. Greek.—The inscriptions of ancient Greece are more valuable than those of Rome, for the twofold reason that they date much further back in point of time, and because, being usually carved on marble, they have more generally survived the ravages of time than the bronze plates employed by the Romans, which were either melted by various conflagrations that consumed the buildings where they were stored, or else were carried off by invading armies to be made over into coins. There are, however, some inscribed Greek tablets of bronze still surviving, as well as thin plates of lead marked with inscriptions. (See the Archäolog. Zeitung for 1877, p. 196; and id. for 1878, p. 71; Franz, Elementa Epigr. Graecae, p. 168; and Roberts, Greek Epigraphy, pp. 234-242.) One of the Greek bronze plates is represented on the next page. It contains part of a treaty between Oeanthea and Chaleion.

Immense numbers of inscriptions were set up in ancient times, in all public buildings, in temples and theatres, and by the side of the great roads. Delphi and Olympia abounded in them; while the Parthenon and Acropolis at Athens, the Heraeum at Samos, the Artemisium at Ephesus, and, in fact, all the important sanctuaries, were great storehouses of inscriptions recording laws, decrees, treaties, gifts, arbitrations, and other memorable events of political and religious life. In all, some 30,000 ancient Greek inscriptions are known to scholars.

A brief account of the Greek alphabet is given

Bronze Treaty Tablet found at Oeanthea. (Woodhouse Collection.)

under the title Alphabet, to which reference may be made. The alphabet itself is found in inscriptions in the so-called “abecedaria,” of which one of the most interesting is the “Formello Alphabet,” found at Formello near Veii, in Italy, in 1882 by Prince Chigi, and of which a representation is given below. It is the only abecedarium in exist

The Formello Alphabet.

ence which contains the archaic Greek forms of every one of the twenty-two Phœnician letters arranged precisely in the accepted Semitic order. (Cf. Roberts, Greek Epigraphy, p. 20.) It also enables us to determine the alphabetic position and the form of the Greek letter which represents the san (shin)—i. e. . (See Kirchhoff, Studien zur Geschichte des griechischen Alphabets, pp. 134 foll.). Other abecedaria are the “Alphabet of Caeré,” on a black vase found in 1836 by Galassi at Cervetri (Kirchhoff, pp. 134 foll.); the “Alphabet of Colle,” found painted on a tomb near Sienna in 1698; the “Cepolla Alphabet,” found near Basta in Calabria by Luigi Cepolla in 1805 (Kirchhoff, p. 157); the “Corinthian Alphabet” (incomplete), on a piece of pottery from Corinth (Kirchhoff, p. 103); and the “Ionic Alphabet,” from a fragment of a marble stelé found by Newton at Calymna (Roberts, p. 19).

The usual form for the Greek inscribed marbles was the στήλη, a slab from three to five feet high and from three to four inches in thickness, slightly tapering to the top, which was plain or ornamented with a slight moulding. Another form of marble was the βωμός, or altar, square or circular. There are also pillars (κίονες), sarcophagi, statue-bases, and even the walls of the cellae of temples (C. I. G. 2905). Letters cut on walls and στῆλαι were picked out in blue or red pigment.

The oldest Greek inscriptions yet discovered are from the island of Thera (Santorin) in the Aegean, which are mortuary records, and are by some scholars dated as far back as the tenth century B.C. The oldest, however, to which a definite date can be assigned are found cut on the knee of a colossal

Inscription from a Block of Stone found at Thera. Ἐπάγατος ἐποίει.

statue at Abu Simbel in Egypt by Greek mercenaries in the service of Psammetichus, king of Egypt, and hence dating from the end of the seventh or the beginning of the sixth century B.C. Next in order come the inscriptions upon the bases of the statues set along the Sacred Way leading to the Temple of Apollo at Branchidae near Miletus, and assigned to the sixth century B.C. An inscription found by Newton at Halicarnassus, and known as the “Lygdamis Inscription,” is of the time of Herodotus (B.C. 453), and is important as exhibiting the Ionic alphabet in almost exactly the form in which it was legally adopted at Athens, fifty years later. A fac-simile of this is given by Roberts in his Greek Epigraphy, p. 175. (See, also, Newton and Pullan, Historical Discoveries at Halicarnassus, etc., pp. 23 foll.). A very interesting Greek inscription is that upon the trophy set up at Delphi by the Greeks to commemorate the Persian defeat at Plataea, and now in the Hippodrome at Constantinople, whither it was brought by Constantine. See Columna.

Greek inscriptions may be conveniently grouped under the following heads:


Historical and Political (ψηφίσματα, νόμοι, treaties, records of awards and arbitrations between rival cities, letters from kings and other rulers, public accounts, lists of treasures, and laudatory inscriptions in honour of individuals);


Religious (rituals, laws relating to priests, calendars of sacrifices, rules of augury, etc.; prayers and imprecations, leases of sacred lands, oracles, etc.);


Private (dedications and honourary inscriptions, epitaphs, sepulchral inscriptions, boundary stones of mortgaged lands, inscriptions on statues, etc.). The finest collections of Greek inscribed marbles are those at Athens, London (British Museum), Paris (Louvre), Smyrna, Constantinople, and Oxford.

II. Roman.—The oldest Latin inscriptions do not date from an earlier period than the beginning of the sixth century B.C. The oldest of all is probably the so-called “Fibula Praenestina,” a gold clasp found at Praenesté in 1886, with a short inscription written from right to left. Next in point of time comes the celebrated “Duenos Inscription” (q. v.), written (also from right to left) on three earthen pots, figured on p. 608, and called the “Vascula Dresseliana,” from the archaeologist, Dr. Dressel.

Other Latin inscriptions of great historical and linguistic interest are those on the tombs of the Scipios, now in the Vatican Library, and other tituli sepulcrales, the Carmen Arvale (see Fratres Arvales), the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus (see Dionysia, p. 521), and a number of leges, such as the Lex Acilia Repetundarum (C. I. L. 198); Lex Luci Lucerini on a stone found at Luceria (C. I. L. ix. 782), the Lex Luci Spoletini found at Spoletum in 1876 (Cortese, Latini Sermonis Vetust. Exempla, p. 11), the Lex Antonia Rubrica (C. I. L. 204), the Lex Salpensana and the Lex Malacitana from Spain (C. I. L. ii. 1963, 1964), etc.

Vascula Dresseliana, showing the Duenos Inscription.

Roman inscriptions are, as a rule, of a much more formal character than the Greek, and are expressed in regular conventional formulae, with abbreviated designations of status for freemen, slaves, children, freedmen, and all the dignities and functions of official, military, and sacerdotal life. Formulaic, also, are the legal inscriptions of all kinds—the sortes, prayers, dedicatory sentences, and execrations—thus exemplifying the methodical and orderly character of the Roman mind. The most important of the epigraphic abbreviations are given in this Dictionary under the different letters of the alphabet. Informal inscriptions, especially the graffiti scratched upon the walls and elsewhere, are likewise numerous and valuable, and have a literature of their own. See Graffiti. The finest collections of Roman inscriptions are at Rome (Vatican, Capitoline Museum, etc.), Naples (Museo Nazionale), London (British Museum), Paris (Louvre), Vienna, and Munich.

Besides the Latin inscriptions proper, of which some 70,000 are now known, there are dialectic inscriptions in Oscan and Umbrian, and some 6000 in Etruscan. See Etruria; Osci; Tabula Bantina; Tabulae Iguvinae; Umbria.

III. History of Epigraphy.—The ancients themselves fully recognized the historical value of inscriptions, so that both orators and historians continually cite them as evidence. (See Demosth. De Falsa Legat. 428; In Ctes. 75; Herod.iv. 88; v. 58; vii. 228; ix. 81; Thucyd. v. 18; and cf. Eurip. Suppl. 1202 foll.). Regular collections of Greek inscriptions were made by Philochorus (B.C. 300), Polemo (hence called στηλοκόπας), Aristodemus, and others. Cicero, Livy , Pliny the Elder, and Suetonius often cite important inscriptions. As soon as the revival of learning began after the downfall of the Roman Empire, the study of epigraphy commenced—first of the Latin remains by scholars like Poggio Bracciolini and Signorili in the fourteenth century, and then of both Greek and Latin by Cyriacus of Ancona, who copied great numbers of monumental inscriptions, in which he was followed by Marcanova, Felice Feliciano, Ferrarino, Marino Sanudo, and others in the fifteenth century. The first printed collections were published by Spreti (Ravenna, 1489), Peutinger (Augsburg, 1509), Huttich (Mayence, 1520), and Albertini (Rome, 1521). Early corpora inscriptionum are those of Apianus (Ingolstadt, 1534), Gruter (1603; re-edited by Graevius, 1707), Gudius (ed. by Hessel, 1731), Reinesius (1682), Fabretti (1699), Muratori (1739), Maffei (1749), and Donati (1765-75). Among these collections, however, were many inaccurately copied inscriptions and many actual forgeries and falsifications, so that only after critical study and acute investigation could they be used with safety. The sifting of the inscriptions by Maffei, Marini, and others with a view to the detection of falsehood and to scientific research, laid the foundations of critical epigraphy. In 1828, Orelli (q.v.) published two volumes of Roman inscriptions embodying the researches of Marini and others, and in the same year August Boeckh published the first volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, subsequently augmented by other volumes and by the labours of Franz and Kirchhoff. The publication of these works fixed the methods of epigraphy; and from this time on, numerous epigraphists have devoted themselves to the study of inscriptions and to the working up in monographs of the results obtained in their investigations. The great Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum was projected as early as 1732 by Maffei, but was not actually begun until the work had been taken up by the Royal Academy of Sciences of Berlin. The first volume (Inscriptiones Antiquissimae ad C. Caesaris Mortem) appeared in 1863, containing also the Fasti Consulares and indices. Up to 1895, fifteen volumes had appeared under the editorship of Mommsen, Henzen, De Rossi, Hübner, Ritschl, Zangemeister, Wilmanns, Hirschfeld, Dessan, and others. The arrangement adopted is the geographical.

Of late, great attention to the study of inscriptions has been given by students of the dialects, especially the dialects of Greece, as the information which the epigraphic remains afford is much more reliable than that derived from literature with its conventional and frequently artificial language. See Dialects.

IV. Bibliography.—Standard works on Greek epigraphy are the following: Franz, Elementa Epigraphices Graecae (1840); Keil, Analecta Epigraphica (1842); Reinach, Traité d'Epigraphie Grecque (Paris, 1885); Hicks, Manual of Greek Historical Inscriptions (Oxford, 1882); Roberts, Introduction to Greek Epigraphy (Cambridge, 1887). Important collections of Greek Inscriptions are the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, 4 vols. (1828- 1877); the Corpus Inscriptionum Atticarum, 3 vols. (1873-83); Lebas, Voyage Archéologique en Grèce et en Asie Mineure, 6 vols. (Paris, 1847); Keil, Sylloge Inscriptionum Boeoticarum (Leipzig, 1847); Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca ex Lapidibus Conlecta (Berlin, 1878); Rangabé, Antiquités Helléniques, 2 vols. (Athens, 1842-55); Rose, Inscriptiones Graecae Vetustessimae (Cambridge, 1825); Roehl, Imagines Inscriptionum Graec. Antiquissimarum (Berlin, 1883); Hicks and Newton, Collection of Anc. Gk. Inscript. in the British Museum, 3 parts (Oxford, 1874-86); Cumanudes, Ἀττικῆς Ἐπιγραφαὶ Ἐπιτύμβιοι (Athens, 1871); Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum (Leipzig, 1883); and with especial reference to the dialects, Cauer, Delectus Inscriptionum Graecarum, etc. (Leipzig, 1883); Collitz, Sammlung der griechischen Dialekt-Inschriften, 3 vols. (Göttingen, 1884-86); Larfeld, Sylloge Inscriptionum Boeoticarum Popularem Dialectum Exhibentium (Berlin, 1883); Roehl, Inscript. Graec. Antiquiss. praeter Atticas in Attica Repert. (Berlin, 1882); Hoffman, Die griechischen Dialekte (Göttingen, 1891). On the language of the Greek inscriptions see especially Meisterhans, Grammatik der attischen Inschriften (Berlin, 1885); Meister, Die griechischen Dialekte (Göttingen, 1882-89); and the bibliography given in the article Dialects. Other valuable supplementary reading will be found in the following: Hinrichs, the article “Griechische Epigraphik” in I. Müller's Handbuch; Newton, Essays on Art and Archaeology (London, 1880); Newton and Pullan, History of Discoveries at Halicarnassus, etc., 2 vols. (London, 1862); the article by Egger, Des Collections des Inscriptions Grecques, in the Journal des Savants for 1871; and Westermann in Pauly's RealEncyclopädie, s. v. “Inscriptions.”

Standard works on Roman epigraphy are the following: Cagnat, Cours d'Épigraphie Latine (2d ed. Paris, 1890); Egbert, Introd. to Study of Lat. Inscriptions (N. Y. 1895); Bone, Anleitung zum Lesen, Ergänzen, und Datiren römischer Inschriften (Trèves, 1881); Blanchère, Hist. de l'Épigraphie Romaine (Paris, 1887); the article “Römische Epigraphik” in I. Müller's Handbuch; and that by E. Hübner in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, s. v. “Inscriptions,” vol. xiii. pp. 124-133. Valuable collections of Latin inscriptions are the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 15 vols. (Berlin, 1863 foll.); Morcelli, Lexicon Epigraphicum (Padua, 1819); Zell, Handbuch der römischen Epigraphik, 2 vols. (Heidelberg, 1850-52); Ritschl, Priscae Latinitatis Monumenta Epigraphica, with 5 supplements (Berlin, 1862); Hübner, Exempla Scripturae Epigraphicae Latinae (Berlin, 1885); and for general and convenient use, the two following: Wilmanns, Exempla Inscriptionum Latinarum, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1873); and Dessau, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, vol. i. (Berlin, 1892). A good selection of Latin inscriptions, with an introduction and commentary, is that of Wordsworth, Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin (Oxford, 1874), containing also literary remains. Elementary is the work of F. D. Allen, Remnants of Early Latin (Boston, 1884). A short and convenient collection, showing the forms of the letters, is that of Cortese, Latini Sermonis Vetustioris Exempla Selecta (Turin, 1892). For very early and dialectic Latin, see Schneider, Dialectorum Italicarum Aevi Vetustioris Exempla Selecta (Leipzig, 1886); and for Etruscan, Oscan, and Umbrian, Mommsen, Die Unteritalische Dialekte (Leipzig, 1850); Fabretti, Corpus Inscrip. Italicarum Antiquitoris Aevi, and its supplements (Turin, 1867, 1872-77); and the bibliography given in the articles Etruria; Osci; Umbria. Christian inscriptions are collected by De Rossi (see Catacumbae); by Le Blant, Inscriptions Chrétiennes de la Gaule, 2 vols. (Paris, 1857-65); and by Hübner, Inscriptiones Britanniae Christianae (Berlin, 1876), and id. Inscript. Hispaniae Christ. (Berlin, 1871). See, also, Le Blant, L'Épigraphie Chrétienne en Gaule et dans l'Afrique (Paris, 1890). General supplementary reading will be found in Curtius's Studien (Leipzig, 1868-78); in Hübner's Grundriss zu Vorlesungen über die lateinische Grammatik (2d ed. Berlin, 1880); and the Dizionario Epigrafico di Antichità Romane (Rome, 1886 foll.).

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