(ĭn-skrĭp'shən) pronunciation
  1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
  2. A marking, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
  3. A piece of material, such as a stone or metal tablet, that is inscribed.
  4. An enrollment or a registration of names.
    1. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
    2. The usually informal dedication of a book or an artistic work.

[Middle English inscripcioun, statement giving the author or title of a book, from Latin īnscrīptiō, īnscrīptiōn-, from īnscrīptus, past participle of īnscrībere, to inscribe. See inscribe.]

inscriptional in·scrip'tion·al or in·scrip'tive adj.
inscriptively in·scrip'tive·ly adv.


A set of words or pictographic images cut into the surface of a block of stone, ceramic panel, metal plate, or some other kind of durable material in order to record some kind of event or dedication.

inscription, writing on durable material. The art is called epigraphy. Modern inscriptions are made for permanent, monumental record, as on gravestones, cornerstones, and building fronts; they are often decorative and imitative of ancient (usually Roman) methods. The only current use of inscriptions that has no accepted substitute, the marking of graves, is also the oldest continuous use. The first writing was probably universally executed on hard materials, mainly stones (rough or hewn), clay (often marked when wet), metal, bone, and ivory. When light materials like paper were developed, it was possible to distinguish between writing for temporary use and permanent recording, and epigraphy became restricted.

For the history and examples of epigraphy, see histories of appropriate cultures, countries, languages, literatures, and periods of art. See also calligraphy.

Non-Western Epigraphy

Outside Western history, epigraphy was of importance in two independent civilizations-in the remarkable art of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec cultures (see pre-Columbian art and architecture), and in China. Also notable is the exotic mid-Pacific epigraphy of Easter Island. The earliest Chinese inscriptions are on pottery (c.2500 B.C.) and bronze (c.1500 B.C.), and there are later writings on bone and tortoise shells. Dating from the classical period, before 200 B.C., are odes on great stone drums found in Shaanxi. The invention of paper (c.A.D. 100) ended the role of epigraphy in China. The bilingual inscriptions near Orkhon contain minor Chinese texts as well as the oldest known Turkic material.

The Hindus used palm leaves for writing early in their history, and their inscriptions do not record the older forms of their language. The most important are Prakrit inscriptions of Asoka (3d cent. B.C.). The first Sanskrit inscriptions date from some centuries later.

Epigraphy in the Ancient World

The course of Western epigraphy begins in Mesopotamia and on the Nile. The Mesopotamian writing, cuneiform, was invented c.4000 B.C., probably by the Sumerians. It was created for writing on sun-dried brick. This combines durability with lightness and contrasts favorably with all other epigraphic materials in convenience of making and handling. It thus anticipates some of the merits of paper (see Babylonia; Assyria; Hittites; Elam; for notes on examples of epigraphic treasure-troves, see Uruk; Lagash; Nineveh; Nippur; Susa; Tell el Amarna; Boğazköy).

An Eastern congener of Mesopotamian epigraphy is found in the seal inscriptions on faience and ivory (c.3000 B.C.) at the archaeological sites of the Indus valley civilization. Long after, in Persia, the Achaemenids revived cuneiform writing in an altered form; their chief monument is the Behistun Inscriptions (c.500 B.C.) of Darius I.

In Egypt the hieroglyphic epigraphy had a parallel development. From the I dynasty (4th millennium B.C.), inscriptions of the Nile present a grand panorama of history, past the age of the pyramid to the XII dynasty, heyday of hieroglyphic writing, then to the New Empire, with the splendid rock inscriptions at Thebes. Egyptian epigraphy lost its vitality more from the development of papyrus than from the downfall of the kingdom. Its influences are found everywhere in the Arabian peninsula in inscriptions of the 1st millennium B.C.; examples are the Moabite stone, Phoenician stones and coins, inscriptions near Damascus, and the Himyaritic writing of Yemen (see Sheba).

In the Mediterranean, the earliest epigraphy of Greek culture appears in Aegean civilization and Minoan civilization. In Cyprus there are inscriptions of many ages, cuneiform and Greek writing side by side. From the expansion of Greece through the course of Roman history, epigraphy flourished everywhere, and inscriptions are literally innumerable. Among the older Greek inscriptions are those on vases, coins, votive offerings, statues, and the like. In addition, there are accounts of expenditures in temples, annals (e.g., the Parian Chronicle on Páros), codes of laws (at Gortyna), decrees, bookkeeping accounts, lists of citizens, ostraca (see ostracism), and many graffiti (wall scribblings; see graffito).

Greek influence was, of course, decisive in Italy, first in the inscriptions of the Etruscan civilization. There are also many inscriptions in Italic languages, notably the Iguvine Tables. Latin epigraphy began with religious documents, but by the end of the republic it was touching every phase of life. Contemporary with the late republic there was a Celtic epigraphy in Gaul, at first in Greek letters. However, the chief Celtic inscriptions are in the ogham writings of the Christian era. The Germanic runes are another European alphabet used in inscriptions.

Later Epigraphy

Latin epigraphy extended in time far beyond the Roman Empire. The stoneworkers of Christianity adapted the old forms, first in the catacombs, then in churches. Modern monumental inscription is in the same tradition, but materially renovated by the neoclassicism of the Italian Renaissance.

A cynical view of the world by Ambrose Bierce


Something written on another thing. Inscriptions are of many kinds, but mostly memorial, intended to commemorate the fame of some illustrious person and hand down to distant ages the record of his services and virtues. To this class of inscriptions belongs the name of John Smith, penciled on the Washington monument. Following are examples of memorial inscriptions on tombstones: (See EPITAPH.)

    "In the sky my soul is found,
    And my body in the ground.
    By and by my body'll rise
    To my spirit in the skies,
    Soaring up to Heaven's gate.
"Sacred to the memory of Jeremiah Tree. Cut down May 9th, 1862, aged 27 yrs. 4 mos. and 12 ds. Indigenous."
        "Affliction sore long time she boar,
            Phisicians was in vain,
        Till Deth released the dear deceased
            And left her a remain.
    Gone to join Ananias in the regions of bliss."
    "The clay that rests beneath this stone
    As Silas Wood was widely known.
    Now, lying here, I ask what good
    It was to let me be S. Wood.
    O Man, let not ambition trouble you,
    Is the advice of Silas W."
"Richard Haymon, of Heaven. Fell to Earth Jan. 20, 1807, and had the dust brushed off him Oct. 3, 1874."

1. a mark or line.
2. that part of a prescription containing the names and amounts of the ingredients.




Dansk (Danish)
n. - inskription, indskrivning, indførelse

Nederlands (Dutch)
inscriptie, opdracht, inschrijving, opschrift, gravering

Français (French)
n. - (gén) inscription, légende, dédicace, envoi (d'un livre)

Deutsch (German)
n. - Inschrift, Aufschrift, Beschriftung, Widmung

Ελληνική (Greek)
n. - επιγραφή, αφιέρωση, εγγραφή

Italiano (Italian)
iscrizione, dedica, epitaffio

Português (Portuguese)
n. - inscrição (f)

Русский (Russian)

Español (Spanish)
n. - inscripción, dedicatoria, grabado

Svenska (Swedish)
n. - inskrift, påskrift, utsläppande (av lån), dedikation, inskrivande (geom.)

中文(简体)(Chinese (Simplified))
题字, 碑铭

中文(繁體)(Chinese (Traditional))
n. - 題字, 碑銘

한국어 (Korean)
n. - 비문, 책의 제명, (주식의) 등록

日本語 (Japanese)
n. - 銘, 碑文, 献呈の辞

العربيه (Arabic)
‏(الاسم) نقش, إهداء الكتاب إلى شخص ما, الكتابه, الحفر, الطبع‏

עברית (Hebrew)
n. - ‮הקדשה, רישום, כתובת (חקוקה), לוח הסימנים‬

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