In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin Epigraphy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources and Bibliographic Surveys
  • Journals
  • Early Latin and Latin Linguistics
  • Literacy, “Epigraphic Habit,” and Bilingualism
  • Methodology, Technical Aspects, and Paleography
  • Calendars and Dating
  • Studies of Individual Inscriptions
  • Abbreviation System
  • Epigraphic Websites

Classics Latin Epigraphy
Gil H. Renberg, Sara Saba
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0017


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.

General Overviews

Introductions to Latin epigraphy in general belong to one of two groups: those works that are especially aimed at teaching how to read, interpret, and contextualize particular documents and those more broadly aimed at how to employ inscriptions in research. Bodel 2001 is an excellent example of the second group, providing countless insights into how inscriptions can prove valuable, and the conference volume Desmulliez and Hoët-van Cauwenberghe 2005 is a good supplement. The first group has many more representatives, most notably Gordon 1983 and the still-useful introduction in Sandys 1927. A new introduction to Latin epigraphy written in English is badly needed, as these two works are insufficient, but there has been a burst of new publications in Italian and French since around 2000: Bernard Rémy and François Kayser, Initiation à l’épigraphie grecque et latine (Paris: Ellipses, 1999); M. Cébeillac, M. L. Caldelli and F. Zevi, Épigraphie latine (Paris, 2006); Jean-Marie Lassère, Manuel d’épigraphie romaine, 2 vols., 2d ed. (Paris: Picard, 2007); Alfredo Buonopane, Manuale di epigrafia latina (Rome: Carocci, 2009). These newer works complement and in some ways improve upon the older standard French (Cagnat 1914) and Italian (Calabi Limentani 1991, Di Stefano Manzella 1987) introductions. In addition there is a basic introduction to Latin epigraphy for nonspecialists in Keppie 1991.

  • Bodel, John, ed. 2001. Epigraphic evidence: Ancient history from inscriptions. London: Routledge.

    This volume collects six contributions that explore five key areas of research employing Greek and Latin inscriptions: onomastics, prosopography, social history, civic life, and religious life. Epigraphy as a discipline is the subject of Bodel’s own contribution as well as a valuable appendix in which he reviews several important bibliographic tools.

  • Cagnat, René. 1914. Cours d’épigraphie latine. 4th ed. Paris: Fontemoing.

    Long after its final edition, this introduction to Latin epigraphy by one of the discipline’s most important scholars is still to be considered among the best guides to Latin epigraphy. It is especially noteworthy for its long list of abbreviations found in Latin inscriptions.

  • Calabi Limentani, Ida. 1991. Epigrafia latina. 4th ed. Milan: Istituto editoriale cisalpino.

    An excellent introduction to Latin epigraphy with especially valuable appendixes providing such useful information as lists of imperial titulature and standard abbreviations.

  • Desmulliez, Janine, and Christine Hoët-van Cauwenberghe, eds. 2005. Le monde romain à travers l’épigraphie: Méthodes et pratiques; Actes du XXIVe Colloque International de Lille (8–10 novembre 2001). Lille, France: Université Charles-de-Gaulle.

    Containing twenty papers on subjects important to the study of Greek and Latin epigraphy from Roman times, nearly half from late Antiquity, this volume serves as an in-depth supplement to Bodel 2001.

  • Di Stefano Manzella, Ivan. 1987. Mestiere di epigrafista: Guida alla schedatura del materiale epigrafico lapideo. Rome: Quasar.

    This manual in Italian focuses on Latin epigraphy (for stone inscriptions only), but its usefulness reaches beyond the language of the inscriptions. It aims to clarify procedures epigraphers adopt when confronted with a new monument. This is not a handbook but rather a reference tool for the most practical aspects of the discipline.

  • Gordon, Arthur E. 1983. Illustrated introduction to Latin epigraphy. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Composed by one of the foremost experts in Latin epigraphy, this book begins with a fifty-page introduction that concisely covers many of the important issues pertaining to Latin inscriptions and then provides as case studies one hundred inscriptions with detailed commentaries.

  • Keppie, Lawrence. 1991. Understanding Roman inscriptions. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    An introduction to Latin epigraphy for nonspecialists giving a readable and well-illustrated overview of their value to the study of the Roman world.

  • Sandys, John E. 1927. Latin epigraphy: An introduction to the study of Latin inscriptions. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A wide-ranging introduction to Latin epigraphy in English, though somewhat outdated.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.