Inscriptions are writings that were carved onto monuments, tombs, buildings, and other objects. In ancient times, they provided a public record of an event, recorded laws, announced governmental decisions, or dedicated temples to the gods. Many inscriptions were epigrams, brief verses that expressed an opinion about a person or an event. Statues and tombs of famous leaders often bore inscriptions that praised their accomplishments.

There were few written texts in Greece. Greek society relied on, and had great admiration for, the spoken word. The Greeks, who believed that all citizens deserved to be informed of the affairs of state, often placed inscriptions in public places, such as the agora*. The Greeks wrote their inscriptions in capital letters, without punctuation marks or space between words. Although clear and uniform, these inscriptions were legible only by sounding out the letters in a stream and hearing the words.

The Romans developed monumental inscriptions into a fine art. By the early imperial* period, cutters used three different styles of lettering. Inscriptions were carefully incised and often accompanied by art. Letters in stone might be colored in red, those in bronze in white. Sometimes letters formed from strips of metal or colored marble were also inserted. The Romans carved their laws and decrees on stone throughout the lands that they conquered. In doing so, they helped to spread the Latin alphabet.

* agora in ancient Greece, the public square or marketplace

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

Studying inscriptions provides scholars with important clues about the development of languages and dialects*, as well as information about the daily life and religious beliefs of the people who created them. Epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, is a branch of classical studies.

* dialect form of speech characteristic of a region that differs from the standard language in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar

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