For a long time considered the discipline of antiquarians, from the mid-19th century,
epigraphy o">, like archaeology, acquired scientific status. Until then epigraphy had been the field of scholars who gathered inscriptions according to their own collections and travels.
The establishment of rules and techniques
For the first time, rules for reading and interpreting inscriptions were established and a real scientific methodology put in place. Techniques were implemented for obtaining inscriptions, in particular the almost systematic use of estampage. Copies had to state the date and place of their discovery, as well as the place where the inscription was conserved and its dimensions. False copies were identified by referring back to the original inscriptions and real critical work on the obtaining of inscriptions was carried out. Léon Renier was opposed to the technique of rubrication, which had been in broad use until then. Rubrication involved retracing the letters on the stones with red paint, and prevented any critical rereading.
Building exhaustive and methodical corpora
Despite an attempt by Joseph-Juste Scaliger, Marc Velser and Jean Gruter to collect inscriptions in 1603, the discipline of epigraphy suffered from the dispersal of inscriptions in a large number of publications which largely lacked methodology. In the late 1830s, in France and Prussia, systematic corpus projects were developed. These involved collecting together, by province, all known inscriptions, stating where they were obtained and the date of discovery. For the first time, large-scale, exhaustive and methodical investigations took place. In the end, the Berlin Academy’s project, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, was the only one to be completed. Today it contains, in 17 volumes, all known inscriptions, organised by geographical location.