Latin Epigraphy II Posted by on Jan 11, 2012 in Latin Language, Uncategorized


  • Honorary: in statues or monuments devoted to an important figure. Name of the figure (in dative, also in nominative or otherwise), name of the dedicator (nominative), dedication reasons and possible additional sentences.
  • Funerary: in the tombs or other monuments erected in memory of a deceased. The formulas varied over time and places, but the most popular was: consecration header (D.M., D.M.S. or similar), the name of the deceased (in nominative) with his charges or honors, age of the deceased (ANNORUM… in years, sometimes months, days and even hours), additional items such as H.S.E. (Hic Situs -Sepults- Est), S.T.T.L. (Sit Tibi Terra Levis), name (and relationship) of the dedicator, testamentary dispositions, sentences with philosophicl content, etc.
  • Votive: dedicated to a deity. They are usually brief inscriptions: name of the deity (generally in dative), name of the dedicator (in nominative), dedication (D., D.D., D.D.D., F.C., V.S.L.A.) and complementary elements (offerins motifs, date, place…).
  • Public and monumental: in monuments or public buildings. There are many different models. They may include, among others, the following information: name of deity (if a temple), during the construction or restoration, date, name and titles (in nominative) of the offerer, name of the building (in accusative), type, cost of the work, etc. In the miliary columns, apart from the number of miles, data about the road construction…
  • Public or private acta: laws, decrees, treaties, documents… They use the typical form of the concerned document. Engraved on bronze, stone plaques or tablets.
  • Other types of inscription: brief marks or inscriptions on various objects, public or private. Industrial inscriptions (on metal ingots, blocks of marble, tiles, bricks, in jars, cups, loom weights, pottery, in glass objects and other metallic objects, in sculptures, lead waterpipes, seals, etc.) Public or collective marks such as weight and measure marks, projectiles… Private inscriptions (in jars and vases, jewelry, slaves’ necklaces, spells…)



The reading of the inscriptions of the last centuries of the Republic and early Empire is easy (the letters are clear), but the popular inscriptions, marks or cursive inscriptions have more difficulty (you should consult different alphabet models). Bear in mind that they used plenty of acronyms and abbreviations (lists or tables are available ) and also that there may exist possible errors and fragmented inscriptions.

Sometimes we could find false or suspicious inscriptions , and others may not be original but copied texts. In these cases we must apply the principles of textual criticism on the author and the text itself. We may apply (in addition to internal criticism) paleographic data such as: the shape of the letters (which is constant for times and places), the separation points are always halfway up, never down, and the cut or section lines of the letters  is usually triangular, not curved.

The fragmentary inscriptions can be completed, once calculated the missing space, thanks to the constancy of the epigraphic formula. This requires an extensive knowledge and a detailed study of all data, yet many times the reconstruction can only be proposed as a hypothesis.

The dating of the inscriptions may be based on: a) Historical elements: names of the consuls, titles of the emperors (terms “post quem“), historical events, particular time calculations (for example the “Aera Hispanica” -Hispanic era- begins in 38 BC)… b) Paleographic and artistic elements: shape of letters, artwork or symbols accompanying the inscription.  c) Literary elements: development of used formulas and language.


For those who speak or at least understand spanish, here you have a very interesting video (please, if you find any other good and didactic video in english, let us know!):

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