Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Epigraphy (Greek, επιγραφή - "written upon") is the study of inscriptions engraved into stone or other permanent 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. The study of ancient handwriting, usually in ink, is a separate field, Paleography.
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 are usually inscribed in stone for public view (or 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 Minoan culture the deciphered texts of "Linear B" were revealed to be largely temple tallies of tribute for the gods. Infornal inscribed texts are "graffiti" in its original sense.
Often only the epigraphic texts have survived. A case in point is the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, where the written codices were collected and burned in the 16th century; the bulk of remaining epigraphical documentation are the monumental glyphs. Specialist epigraphers have decoded Mayan inscriptions in the 20th century, among them J. Eric S. Thompson, Tatiana Proskouriakoff , Yuri Knorozov , Linda Schele , and David Stewart.
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).
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. Other such series include (all the other standard series need listing)
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 superceeded 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.
Since epigraphy is a science of the particular, references to epigraphic evidence appear in most Wikipedia entries discussing aspects of Ancient history.
Other studies of the writing of texts include:
- Palaeography, the study of handwriting, often a basis for dating a document or even an inscription, (see further links at Palaeography);
- Papyrology, the study of manuscripts written on papyrus;
- Numismatics, the study of coins;
- Graffiti, informal scratched texts, more individual than official;
this list needs extending, with each category briefly summarized
- Onno van Nijf, "Introduction to Greek and Latin epigraphy: an absolute beginners' guide"
- Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford University
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