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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Databases
  • Journals
  • The Alphabet(s), Literacy, and the “Epigraphic Habit”
  • Methodology, Technical Aspects, and Palaeography
  • Calendars and Dating
  • Collections of Historical Inscriptions
  • Studies of Individual Inscriptions
  • Abbreviation Systems

Classics Greek Epigraphy
Sara Saba, Gil H. Renberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0125


Epigraphy is the discipline devoted to the study of documents engraved, painted, or written on any material surviving from Antiquity, other than papyrus. As the distinguished epigrapher Margherita Guarducci once noted, epigraphers tend to classify as epigraphic documents only those written on stone. However, the broader and more correct definition includes a range of other materials—metals such as lead or bronze, shards of clay pottery, vases, gemstones, mosaics, and so on—and therefore this bibliography is not limited to stone inscriptions. The inscriptions studied by Greek epigraphers date to a period of more than one thousand years, from the 8th century BCE to Late Antiquity, and even longer for those who study Christian inscriptions, treated by most epigraphers as a separate discipline despite the obvious fact that there are far more similarities than differences between Christian and non-Christian documents. The discipline of epigraphy was long considered ancillary to ancient history, even though Theodor Mommsen had already established a distinct methodology for epigraphy in the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, however, with the work of Jeanne and Louis Robert, it gained the status of an independent field. Epigraphy is indeed a discipline strongly related to history, but it is also intimately connected with philology, archaeology, and often literary studies, as well as a number of other disciplines and subdisciplines: not only are inscriptions often crucial to historical work, but their interpretation also requires an excellent knowledge of classical languages and literature. Inscriptions are often objects with their own archaeological context as well as 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 non-degrading material, but also to assess its physical qualities and archaeological context (when known), the pertinent linguistic issues, and the document’s relevance to one or more fields of ancient scholarship.

General Overviews

There are several general guides authored by established epigraphers that attempt to clarify a variety of issues pertaining to technical aspects of epigraphy, as well as the use of inscriptions for the study of ancient history and other disciplines. The best way to learn something about Greek epigraphy would be to read through Louis Robert’s work, which represents the height of scholarship in this field, but there are shorter alternatives to this monumental task. For Greek epigraphy the classroom manual is still Woodhead 1981, though Guarducci’s work is broader in its scope in both its formats, Guarducci 1967–1978 and Guarducci 1987. McLean 2002 devotes attention to epigraphy in a specific time period, which makes this manual a useful guide to the Hellenistic peculiarities of the discipline. Bodel 2001 explores themes applicable to both Greek and Latin epigraphy but represents a supplement rather than an epigraphical manual in its own right.

  • 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, and civic 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 bibliographical tools.

  • Guarducci, Margherita. 1967–1978. Epigrafia greca. 4 vols. Rome: Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato.

    In Italian. Guarducci treats Greek epigraphy from a technical point of view, employing dozens of inscriptions as examples and paying close attention to the historical development of epigraphic writing and its uses in private and public life.

  • Guarducci, Margherita. 1987. L’epigrafia greca dalle origini al tardo impero. Rome: Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato.

    An abridged one-volume version of Guarducci 1967–1978.

  • McLean, B. Hudson. 2002. An introduction to Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman periods from Alexander the Great down to the reign of Constantine 323 B.C.–A.D. 337. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

    McLean’s is a standard handbook, except that it shifts its chronological focus to Hellenistic and Roman Greek epigraphy. This choice influences its approach and allows the neglect of otherwise central themes, such as the alphabet. Its users must have a solid background in the discipline; however, it provides valuable tables of abbreviations, calendrical systems, numerals, currency symbols, and the like.

  • Woodhead, Arthur G. 1981. The study of Greek inscriptions. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The first edition of this book appeared in 1959, and its success was so great that a paperback and then a second edition were needed. This is indeed a standard reference for anybody who wants to get acquainted with Greek epigraphy. Reprinted with a new preface (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1992).

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