Epigraphy is the study of writings inscribed on durable materials such as stone, terracotta, wood, or metal. Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions.
Inscriptions are primary documents. As such, they provide direct and immediate reference to the culture being studied. Inscriptions yield information on many aspects of society, including religion, literature, art, architecture, politics, social culture, and language.
The very words used in inscriptions sometimes offer meanings and nuances previously unrecognized when given in other contexts. These extended meanings can bring a deeper understanding to literary texts and other documents where the words are used.
Unlike manuscripts, inscriptions provide us with original texts that have not been subject to later editing or revision. They can supply exact details that writers of the time often leave out: the cost of building projects down to the smallest sums, or military expeditions to the man.
Virtually every aspect of ancient life, both public and private, can be found expressed in inscriptions. Through the study of inscriptions our concept of the ancient world evolves and becomes more complete.