Latin Epigraphy

Gil H. Renberg and Sara Saba

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Latin Epigraphy

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Epigraphy is the discipline devoted to the study of texts engraved, painted, or written on any material surviving from Antiquity other than papyrus. As the distinguished Greek epigrapher Margherita Guarducci once noted, epigraphers tend to classify as epigraphic documents only those written on stone. However, the more correct definition includes a range of other materials—metals, shards of clay pottery, vases, gemstones, mosaics, and so on—and therefore this bibliography is not limited to stone inscriptions. The inscriptions studied by Latin epigraphers date from a period of more than a thousand years, from the 6th century bce to late Antiquity, and even longer for those who study Christian inscriptions. The discipline was long considered ancillary to ancient history, even though Theodor Mommsen had already established a distinct methodology for epigraphy in the 19th century. This is indeed a discipline strongly related to history, but it is also intimately connected with philology, archaeology, and literary studies as well as a number of other disciplines. Not only are inscriptions often crucial to historical work, but their interpretation also requires an excellent knowledge of classical languages and literature. They are often objects with their own archaeological context and physical attributes. Proper training in epigraphy therefore involves the ability not only to produce an accurate version of a text preserved on stone or some other material but also to assess its physical qualities and archaeological context (when known), the pertinent linguistic issues, and the document’s relevance to other fields of ancient scholarship. Much more than Greek epigraphy, widespread scholarly interest in Latin inscriptions predates their “scientific” study. As early as the 8th or 9th century ce a visitor to Rome recorded eighty inscriptions in a manuscript, a 10th-century copy of which is now preserved at Einsiedeln, Switzerland (see Gerold Walser, Die Einsiedler Inschriftensammlung und der Pilgerführer durch Rom [Codex Einsiedlensis 326] [Stuttgart: Steiner, 1987]). But it was during the Renaissance that numerous antiquarians began recording Latin inscriptions, especially in Rome (see William Stenhouse, Reading Inscriptions and Writing Ancient History: Historical Scholarship in the Late Renaissance [London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London School of Advanced Study, 2005]). These antiquarians provided an invaluable service, as they both recorded countless inscriptions that have since been lost and laid the groundwork for their more systematic study. Sometimes, however, they created problems for future scholars, especially when fabricating realistic inscriptions in their sketchbooks, for which the distinguished Renaissance architect Pirro Ligorio (b. 1513–d. 1583) is especially notorious (see Erma Mandowsky and Charles Mitchell, eds., Pirro Ligorio’s Roman Antiquities: The Drawings in MS. XIII B.7. in the National Library of Naples [London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1963]). The arrival of new printing technologies enabled the publication of volumes reproducing images of inscriptions, the first and most significant of which was Friedrich Ritschl’s Priscae Latinitatis Monumenta Epigraphica (Berlin: Reimer, 1862). The first publication of Latin inscriptions in the format now used for corpora was Mommsen’s volume for the king of Naples (Inscriptiones Regni Neapolitani Latinae [Leipzig: Wigand, 1852]), and a decade later, with the initiation of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum project (see The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum and Related or Supplementary Projects), Latin epigraphy had arrived as an academic discipline with high standards and a well-established approach.

Article.  15436 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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