What is epigraphy?

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What Does epigraphy Mean

The Greek word epigraphḗ , which can be translated as "inscription," came to modern Latin as epigraphia . The concept, in Castilian, became epigraphy : this is the name of the scientific discipline that is dedicated to analyzing the inscriptions .

The term inscription , meanwhile, has several uses. This time we will focus on its meaning as a writing that is recorded on a resistant material with the aim of recording something so that it survives despite the passage of time .
Epigraphy aims to analyze the support, structure, content and function of the inscriptions. Although it is considered a science with autonomy, it is also an auxiliary branch of history .

Experts in this area of ​​knowledge seek to decipher and interpret the inscriptions . Within this framework, they also study the materials on which the engravings were made and the purpose of the writings.
It is common for epigraphy to be considered as a testimony of the transition of a people from prehistory to history . This is because history begins with the appearance of written documents, with which the existence of inscriptions would imply for a culture to leave the prehistoric period behind.
The oldest inscriptions were developed around the year 3800 BC , when the Sumerians devised the writing cuneiform . Today epigraphy investigates inscriptions of multiple kinds: legal, honorific, historical, religious, etc.
The Rosetta Stone , the Tablets of Tanais and the Stele of Mesha are some of the most famous documents among those studied by epigraphy. These three testimonies are preserved in museums .
Let's start by talking about the Rosetta Stone. It is a part of an ancient Egyptian stele made of granodiorite, an igneous rock whose texture makes it similar to granite. On its surface you can see a decree that was inscribed in 196 BC in the capital of the ancient Egyptian Empire, Memphis, representing Pharaoh Ptolemy V.
According to the studies of experts in epigraphy, we know that its carving process took place in the Hellenistic period and it is believed that it was originally exhibited inside a temple, probably in the city of Sais, since it is not found a long way away. Its transfer, it is estimated that it took place in the last stage of Antiquity or in the time of the medieval kingdom known as the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt .

On the other hand, we have the two Tablets of Tanais , which date from the third century and were written in Greek in the homonymous city, relatively close to present-day Rostov-on-Don, in Russia. To provide a more precise context, we must clarify that the population of Tanais included people of Sarmatian and Greek origin .
The inscriptions on these tablets were of a public nature and were made to commemorate renovation works in the city . Since this is a pair, the epigraphers that took care of them to study assigned to each letter to distinguish so spoken tablet A and B .
Tablet A is damaged and they have not been able to completely rebuild it. B, on the other hand, is whole and is known to have been made in 220. They were discovered by archaeologist Pavel Mikhailovich Leontjev in 1853 and are currently on display in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
The third document mentioned above is the Stela of Mesha , a stone on which the Moabite king Mesha left an inscription of thirty-four lines in the 9th century BC.

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