The Greek word epigraphḗ, which can be translated as “inscription”, came to modern Latin as epigraphia. The concept, in Spanish, became epigraphy: this is the name of the scientific discipline dedicated to analyzing the inscriptions.
The term inscriptionmeanwhile, it has several uses. In this opportunity we will focus on its meaning as a writing that is engraved on a sturdy material with the aim of registering something so that it subsists despite the passage of weather.
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 the history.
Experts in this area of knowledge seek decipher and interpret the inscriptions. In this framework, they also study the materials on which the engravings and the purpose of the writings.
It is common for epigraphy to be considered as a testimony of the transition of a people from the 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 developed around the 3800 BC, when the Sumerians they 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 they 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.
Based on studies by experts in epigraphy, we know that its process The carving took place in the Hellenistic period and it is believed that at first it was exhibited inside a temple, probably in the city of Sais, since it was not very far 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 Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.
On the other hand, we have both 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 origin Sarmatian and Greek.
The inscriptions on these tablets were of a public nature and were made to commemorate renovation works of the town. Since it is a pair, the experts in epigraphy who were in charge of studying them assigned a letter to each one to distinguish them, so that we speak of the tablet TO and of the B.
Tablet A is damaged and they have not been able to completely rebuild it. On the other hand, B is whole and it is known that it was made in the year 220. The archaeologist discovered them Pavel Mikhailovich Leontjev in 1853 and are currently exhibited in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
The third document aforementioned is the Stele of Mesha, a stone on which the Moabite king Mesha left a thirty-four-line inscription in the 9th century BC.