INSCRIPTION

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INSCRIPTION, in archaeology, is used to designate any monumental writing, intended to commemorate some remarkable event, to preserve the name of the builder of a monument, or of the person in whose honor it was erected, &c. Inscriptions are one of the most important sources of history, particularly for the earlier periods of nations, when other written documents are rare or entirely wanting, and tradition is the only medium of historical knowledge. After the invention of the alphabet, the earliest application of the art of writing is by engravings on wood, stone or metals ; and, after other and more convenient materials have come into common use, this method is still preferred for many purposes, on account of the greater durability of the material. We have inscriptions, therefore, from all nations who have arrived at a certain stage of civilization, on walls of temples, tombs, triumphal monuments, tablets, vases, &c, containing faws, decrees, treaties, religious legends, moral, philosophical or scientific precepts, chronological tables, &c, generally con temporary with the events they commemorate. Indian, Persian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Etruscan, Grecian, Roman, &c, inscriptions, have been diligently studied, and have made important revelations in the hands of learned and ingenious men. The Egyptian monuments are numerous, and covered with inscriptions, which the learned have only recently been able to decipher. They are in the hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic characters, in the Coptic or old Egyptian language, and have already served to throw much light on the imperfect accounts of historians, and to supply many deficiencies in our knowledge of Egyptian history. (See Hieroglyphics.) The Phoenician monuments, bearing inscriptions, are few. The language was employed on the medals of the Phoenician cities till the time of Alexander, and was carried to Carthage, Cadiz, &c, by this commercial people. Barthelemy (Mem. de VAcad. des Belles Lettres, torn, xxxii), Swinton, Chishull, have written on this subject, but it is still involved in obscurity. The inscriptions on the ruins of Pasargada?, Babylon and Persepolis (q. v.), are in the arrowheaded character, of which there are two kinds, the Persian and the Babylonian: the former consists of three sorts of characters, all of which are commonly used in the same inscription. The Persian inscriptions, so far as they have been deciphered, appear to contain merely names of the kings, with wishes for their welfare. The Babylonian characters are of two sorts, and are sometimes called nailheaded, in distinction from the Persian. The little that is known relating to the arrowheaded characters may be found in Heeren's Ideen, i, 1 ; Hagers Diss, on the Babylonian Inscript. (London, 1801); Von Hammer's Fundgruben des Orients, iv, 4 ; Alexander's Travels from India to England (London, 1827). The ancient Arabic inscriptions are in the Culic character (see Oufic Writing), and the old Hebrew are in the Samaritan character. Greek art was carried from its native soil into all the countries around the Mediterranean, by commerce and colonies, and, by the arms of Alexander and his successors, even into the remote East. The Greek language appears on a great number of monuments in this extensive region, written in different characters, according to the age of the inscription, and in different dialects in different countries. The Doric dialect is perceptible in the monuments of Dorian colonies, and so with the others. In this manner, where there are twu citiesor artists of the same name, it may be determined to which the work of art should be attributed by the dialect of the inscription. The forms of the Greek letters underwent some changes, which must be attended to in the study of inscriptions: the absence or admission of certain letters (as H and ft), the different forms of the sigma (s, C, or S), of the epsilon (as E or <?), of the o (as round or square, ?), of the lambda (as A or L), &c, may aid in determining the age of a monument. The early inscriptions are often from right to left, sometimes in the boustrophcdon (q. v.), which was abandoned about the middle of the fifth century before Christ. (See the 8th vol. of the Thesaur, Antiq. Grac. of Gronovius; the works of Pococke, Chandler, and other travellers; Montfaucon's Pal&ographia Grceca; Mem. de PAcademie des Inscriptions.) The Etruscan inscriptions, on vases and monuments, have occasioned much dispute among the learned. Niebuhr, in his Roman History, says, that the assertion of Dionysius, that the Etruscans spoke a peculiar language, deserves full credit, since it was, in his time, a living language; and it is fully confirmed by the inscriptions extant, in the words of which no analogy wTith the Greek or Latin can be detected; and he adds in a note, that, among all the Etruscan words of which explanations have been pretended, only two have been really explained. See, however, Lanzi's Saggi di Ldngua Etrusca (Rome, 1789, 3 vols.); Gori's Museum Etruscum; and Inghirami's Monument. Eruschi (1826). From the Eugubian Tables, discovered in 1444, Buonarotti, Gori and others endeavored to form an alphabet: the former thought he had discovered 24, the latter 16 letters. The Latin inscriptions are the most frequently met with. They are found on monuments of all descriptions; some very ancient ones are yet preserved. (See Gramus's Thesaur. Antiq. Rom., vol. 4, and Fabricius's Bibliotheca Latina, lib.iv, c. 3.) Inscriptions are called bilingual, when the characters are taken from two different languages, as was sometimes done by the vanquished people, in compliment to their conquerors. Inscriptions are sometimes repeated in different languages, or in different characters, on the same monument; as, for instance, in the language cf the province and in the Greek or Latin, in the times of the Greek and Roman empires. Some of the general collections of inscriptions are, Gruter's Inscriptiones antique Cura Grcevii (x^msterdam, 1707,2 vols., folio); Muratori's Thesaurus Vet. Inscrip. (Milan, 1739, 4 vols.) Consult, also, the works of Selden, Prideaux, Chandler, and Mattaire on the Parian (Arundelian) marbles (q.v.); the Archceologia Britannica 1779 to 1822, 21 vols., 4to.; the Memoires de VAcademic des Inscriptions; and the numerous works on particular countries, cities or collections. (See Med at, Vase, Obelisks, Pyramids, &c.)