AskDefine | Define epigraphic

Extensive Definition

Epigraphy (ἐπιγραφολογία, from Greek ἐπιγραφή — "inscription") is the study of inscriptions or epigraphs engraved into stone or other durable materials, or cast in metal, the science of classifying them as to cultural context and date, elucidating them and assessing what conclusions can be deduced from them. A person studying this is called an epigrapher or epigraphist (ἐπιγραφολόγος).


Epigraphy is a primary tool of archaeology when dealing with literate cultures. The US Library of Congress classifies epigraphy as one of the "Auxiliary Sciences of History". Epigraphy also helps identify a forgery: epigraphic evidence formed part of the discussion concerning the James Ossuary. Since epigraphy is a science of the particular, references to epigraphic evidence appear in most Wikipedia entries discussing aspects of Ancient history.
The study of ancient handwriting, usually in ink, is a separate field, Palaeography.
The character of the writing, the subject of epigraphy, is a matter quite separate from the nature of the text, which is studied in itself. Texts inscribed in stone are usually for public view (or for the view of the god, as in the Persian Behistun inscription), and so they are essentially different from the written texts of each culture. Not all inscribed texts are public, however: in Mycenean culture the deciphered texts of "Linear B" were revealed to be largely used for economic and administrative record keeping. Informal inscribed texts are "graffiti" in its original sense.


The science of epigraphy has been developing steadily since the 16th century. Principles of epigraphy vary culture by culture, and the infant science in European hands concentrated on Latin inscriptions at first. Individual contributions have been made by epigraphers such as Georg Fabricius (1516–1571); August Wilhelm Zumpt (1815–1877); Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903); Emil Hübner (1834–1901); Franz Cumont (1868–1947); Louis Robert (1904–1985).
The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, begun by Mommsen and other scholars, has been published in Berlin since 1863, with wartime interruptions. It is the largest and most extensive collection of Latin inscriptions. New fascicles are still produced as the recovery of inscriptions continues. The Corpus is arranged geographically: all inscriptions from Rome are contained in volume 6. This volume has the greatest number of inscriptions; volume 6, part 8, fascicle 3 was just recently published (2000). Specialists depend on such on-going series of volumes in which newly-discovered inscriptions are published, often in Latin, not unlike the biologists' Zoological Record— the raw material of history.
Greek epigraphy has unfolded in the hands of a different team, with different corpora. There are two. The first is Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum of which four volumes came out, again at Berlin, 1825-1877. This marked a first attempt at a comprehensive publication of Greek inscriptions copied from all over the Greek-speaking world. Only advanced students still consult it, for better editions of the texts have superseded it. The second, modern corpus is Inscriptiones Graecae arranged geographically under categories: decrees, catalogues, honorary titles, funeral inscriptions, various., all presented in Latin, to preserve the international neutrality of the field of classics.
Other such series include the Corpus Inscriptionum Etruscarum (Etruscan inscriptions), Corpus Inscriptionum Crucesignatorum Terrae Sanctae (Crusaders' inscriptions), Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, (Celtic inscriptions), Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum (Iranian inscriptions) and so forth.

See also

Other studies of the writing of texts include:

External links

epigraphic in Arabic: ابيغرافيا
epigraphic in Asturian: Epigrafía
epigraphic in Bulgarian: Епиграфика
epigraphic in Czech: Epigrafika
epigraphic in German: Epigraphik
epigraphic in Spanish: Epigrafía
epigraphic in French: Épigraphie
epigraphic in Galician: Epigrafía
epigraphic in Korean: 금석문
epigraphic in Croatian: Epigrafika
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epigraphic in Hebrew: אפיגרפיה
epigraphic in Latin: Epigraphia
epigraphic in Dutch: Epigrafie
epigraphic in Japanese: 金石学
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epigraphic in Portuguese: Epigrafia
epigraphic in Romanian: Epigrafie
epigraphic in Russian: Эпиграфика
epigraphic in Slovak: Epigrafika
epigraphic in Slovenian: Epigrafika
epigraphic in Finnish: Epigrafiikka
epigraphic in Swedish: Epigrafik
epigraphic in Turkish: Epigrafi
epigraphic in Chinese: 金石学
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