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of the material, the Romans engraved their public documents (treaties, laws, &c.) to a large extent on bronze. These bronze tablets, chiefly set up in the Capitol, were melted in the various conflagrations, or were carried off to feed the mint of the conqueror. In Greece, on the contrary, the mountains everywhere afforded an inexhaustible supply of marble, and made it the natural material for inscriptions. Some Greek inscribed tablets of bronze have come down to us,[1] and many more must have perished in the sack of cities and burning of temples. A number of inscriptions on small thin plates of lead, rolled up, have survived; these are chiefly imprecations on enemies[2] or questions asked of oracles.[3] An early inscription recently discovered (1905) at Ephesus is on a plate of silver. But as a rule the material employed was marble. These marble monuments are often found in situ; and, though more often they were used up as convenient stones for building purposes, yet they have thus survived in a more or less perfect condition.[4]

Inscriptions were usually set up in temples, theatres, at the side of streets and roads, in τεμένη or temple-precincts, and near public buildings generally. At Delphi and Olympia were immense numbers of inscriptions—not only those engraved upon the gifts of victorious kings and cities, but also many of a more public character. At Delphi were inscribed the decrees of the Amphictyonic assembly, at Olympia international documents concerning the Peloponnesian cities; the Parthenon and Acropolis were crowded with treaties, laws and decrees concerning the Athenian confederation; the Heraeum at Samos, the Artemisium at Ephesus, and indeed every important sanctuary, abounded with inscriptions. It is a common thing for decrees (ψηφίσματα) to contain a clause specifying where they are to be set up, and what department of the state is to defray the cost of inscribing and erecting them. Sometimes duplicates are ordered to be set up in various places; and, in cases of treaties, arbitrations and other international documents, copies were always set up by each city concerned. Accordingly documents like the Marmor Ancyranum and the Edict of Diocletian have been restored by a comparison of the various fragments of copies set up in diverse quarters of the empire.

Greek inscribed marbles varied considerably in their external appearance. The usual form was the στήλη, the normal type of which was a plain slab, from 3 to 4 or even 5 ft. high,[5] 3 or 4 in. thick, tapering slightly upwards from about 2 ft. wide at bottom to about 18 in. at the top, where it was either left plain or often had a slight moulding, or still more commonly was adorned with a more or less elaborate pediment; the slab was otherwise usually plain. Another form was the βωμός or altar, sometimes square, oftener circular, and varying widely in size. Tombstones were either στῆλαι (often enriched beneath the pediment with simple groups in relief, commemorative of the deceased), or κίονες, pillars, of different size and design, or sarcophagi plain and ornamental. To these must be added statue-bases of every kind, often inscribed, not only with the names and honours of individuals, but also with decrees and other documents. All these forms were intended to stand by themselves in the open air. But it was also common to inscribe state documents upon the surface of the walls of a temple, or other public building. Thus the antae and external face of the walls of the pronaos of the temple of Athena Polias at Priene were covered with copies of the awards made concerning the lands disputed between Samos and Priene (see Gk. Inscr. in Brit. Mus. iii. § 1); similarly the walls of the Artemisium at Ephesus contained a number of decrees (ibid. iii. § 2), and the proscenium of the Odeum was lined with crustae, or “marble-veneering,” under 1 in. thick, inscribed with copies of letters from Hadrian, Antoninus and other emperors to the Ephesian people (ibid. p. 151). The workmanship and appearance of inscriptions varied considerably according to the period of artistic development. The letters incised with the chisel upon the wall or the στήλη were painted in with red or blue pigment, which is often traceable upon newly unearthed inscriptions. When Thucydides, in quoting the epigram of Peisistratus the younger (vi. 54), says “it may still be read ἀμυδροῖς γράμμασι,” he must refer to the fading of the colour; for the inscription was brought to light in 1877 with the letters as fresh as when they were first chiselled (see Kumanudes in Ἀθήναιον, vi. 149; I.G. suppl. to vol. i. p. 41). The Greeks found no inconvenience, as we should, in the bulkiness of inscriptions as a means of keeping public records. On the contrary they made every temple a muniment room; and while the innumerable στῆλαι, Hermae, bases and altars served to adorn the city, it must also have encouraged and educated the sense of patriotism for the citizen to move continually among the records of the past. The history of a Greek city was literally written upon her stones.

The primary value of an inscription lay in its documentary evidence (so Euripides, Suppl. 1202, fol.). In this way they are continually cited and put in evidence by the orators (e.g. see Demosth. Fals. Leg. 428; Aeschin. In Ctes. § 75). But the Greek historians also were not slow to recognize their importance. Herodotus often cites them (iv. 88, 90, 91, v. 58 sq., vii. 228); and in his account of the victory of Plataea he had his eye upon the tripod-inscription (ix. 81; cf. Thuc. i. 132). Thucydides’s use of inscriptions is illustrated by v. 18 fol., 23, 47, 77, vi. 54, 59. Polybius used them still more. In later Greece, when men’s thoughts were thrown back upon the past, regular collections of inscriptions began to be made by such writers as Philochorus (300 B.C.), Polemon (2nd century B.C., called στηλοκόπας for his devotion to inscriptions), Aristodemus, Craterus of Macedon, and many others.

At the revival of learning, the study of inscriptions revived with the renewed interest in Greek literature. Cyriac of Ancona, early in the 15th century, copied a vast number of inscriptions during his travels in Greece and Asia Minor; his MS. collections were deposited in the Barberini library at Rome, and have been used by other scholars. (See Bull. Corr. Hellén. i.; Larfeld in Müller’s Handbuch 1.², p. 368 f.; Ziebarth, “de ant. Inscript. Syllogis” in Ephem. Epigr. ix.). Succeeding generations of travellers and scholars continued to collect and edit, and Englishmen in both capacities did much for this study.

Thus early in the 19th century the store of known Greek inscriptions had so far accumulated that the time had come for a comprehensive survey of the whole subject. And it was the work of one great scholar, Augustus Boeckh, to raise Greek epigraphy into a science. At the request of the Academy of Berlin he undertook to arrange and edit all the known inscriptions in one systematic work, and vol. i. of the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum was published in 1828, vol. ii. in 1833. He lived to see the work completed, although other scholars were called in to help him to execute his great design; vol. iii., by Franz, appeared in 1853; vol. iv., by Kirchhoff, in 1856.[6] The work is a masterpiece of lucid arrangement and profound learning, of untiring industry and brilliant generalization. Out of the publication of the Corpus there grew up a new school of students, who devoted themselves to discovering and editing new texts, and working up epigraphical results into monographs upon the many-sided history of Greece. In the Corpus Boeckh had settled for ever the methods of Greek epigraphy; and in his Staatshaushaltung der Athener (3rd ed. of vols. i. ii. by Fränkel, 1886; well known to English readers from Sir G. C. Lewis’s translation, The Public Economy of Athens, 2nd ed., 1842) he had given a palmary specimen of the application of epigraphy to historical studies. At the same time Franz drew up a valuable introduction to the study of inscriptions in his Elementa Epigraphices Graecae (1840).

Meanwhile the liberation of Greece and increasing facilities for

  1. e.g. Treaty between Elis and the Heraeans, about 550-500 B.C., from Olympia (Boeckh, C.I.G. 11, Hicks, 29, and others in Dittenberger-Purgold, Inschr. v. Olympia, 1-43); a similar bronze treaty from the Locri Ozolae (Dittenberger, I.G. ix. 334); bronze plate from Dodona, recording the victory of Athens over the Lacedaemonians in a sea-fight, probably 429 B.C. (Dittenberger, Syll. 2. 30).
  2. See Wünsch I.G. iii., App.; Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae (1904).
  3. See Karapanos, Dodone et ses ruines; Hoffman, Gr. Dial. Inschr. 1558-1598.
  4. What was done by Themistocles under stress of public necessity (Thucyd. i. 93) was done by others with less justification elsewhere; and from Byzantine times onward Greek temples and inscriptions were found convenient quarries.
  5. It appears from Cicero, De Legibus, ii. 26, 27, that the size of Athenian gravestones was limited by law.
  6. An index to the four volumes was long wanting; it was at length completed and appeared in 1877.