The Wikipedia entry for Lapis Niger mentions that the inscription was written in boustrophedon, alternating reading direction between every line. This inscription is far from complete. Are there Latin inscriptions that were written in boustrophedon that have (almost if not fully) completely survived to us?

I could not find examples of Latin inscriptions in boustrophedon besides the one I mentioned, probably because I am not familiar with any inscription databases. What I want is a good example or two, not necessarily a full listing of all known inscriptions (if there are many). I don't mind if an example inscription is short, but it should have at least two lines, of course.

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    The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, known as CIL, is online cil.bbaw.de/cil_en/index_en.html This is the ultimate collection of inscriptions in Latin (not completely digitized though, there are 30 volumes). Caveat: it needs some training how to use it.
    – Alex B.
    Mar 13, 2016 at 13:03
  • @AlexB., thanks! I had heard of CIL but had never seen it online. Is it possible to search it for boustrophedon inscriptions? I can't see how to do that.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 13, 2016 at 13:21
  • I thought to remember my teacher mention that TETEROROMAMANUNUDADATETELALATETE was not only confusing (ore more elaboratela: onomatopoetic representation of barbaric language) by its lack of white space or letter case or interpunction in its original, but additionally confusing when written as boustrophedron. But perhaps this does not imply that the origianl was written that way ... May 1, 2020 at 10:28

2 Answers 2


Since this is not exactly my area of expertise, I will quote Rex Wallace (Wallace 2011).

He argues that the earliest Latin inscriptions were written from right to left and from left to right (p. 22). He mentions three examples of right-to-left inscriptions in Latin: the Vetusia inscription (ET La 2.1) and the Fibula Praenestina (CIL I².3). Not everyone agrees whether the language of the Vetusia inscription should be considered Latin, though, and the authenticity of the Fibula Praenestina gets questioned from time to time (the artifact, not the text).

Note: Michael Weiss writes, in the new, second edition of his Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin (2020),

"New scientific investigation with a scanning electron microscope by Edilberto Formigli and Daniela Ferro (2014) has now shown beyond a reasonable doubt that both the fibula and its inscription are ancient" (Weiss 2020: 24, ft. 2).

The third example is the bronze Fucine Lake inscription (CIL I².5), which was found in 1877 but is lost now. Clackson and Horrocks 2007/2011 give its text in a new version proposed in Crawford 2006.




This is what it looks like in CIL (de visu, I took the picture myself):


Most importantly, Wallace observes that

"By the middle of the republican period, however, writers had settled on left-to-right direction as the norm, and almost all Latin inscriptions after this date are written in this manner. Inscriptions in other formats, such as boustrophendon, appear rather infrequently" (Wallace 2011: 22).

Also note that there is a difference between boustrophedon (the direction of writing alternates) and sinistroverse (the direction of writing is right-to-left), e.g. a bronze tablet from Falerii Novi (CIL I² 365); please follow the link to see it, since it is copyrighted. Here's the glossed text, from Clackson and Horrocks:


This is what it looks like in CIL (de visu, I took the picture myself):

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Clackson and Horrocks 2007 argue it is written in Latin and not Faliscan (contrary to what Getty Images says). As they put it, it is written in the Faliscan manner (sinistroverse), with Faliscan letter forms and mainly Faliscan orthography (see Clackson and Horrock 2007: 119-120 for further detail).

John Bodel (Bodel 2012) observes that by the end of the fifth BCE Latin texts "regularly ran left to right" (p. 82). He discusses two theories, neither of which, he argues, can be proven correct at this point.

According to the first theory, "[w]hen inscribed writing began to be used to label larger monuments, however, the fixed position of (generally) rectilinear objects necessitated accommodating a more limited range of viewing perspectives" (p. 83).

The second theory holds that Roman script is dextroverse because of the desire to make it look as much different as possible from sinistroverse ductus in Etruscan, due to rising political and cultural ambitions of Rome.


Bodel, John. 2012. Paragrams, punctuation, and system in ancient Roman script. In S. Houston (ed.), The Shape of script: How and why writing systems change, pp. 63-90. Santa Fe, NM.

Clackson, James, and Geoffrey Horrocks. 2007. The Blackwell history of the Latin language.

Wallace, Rex. 2011. “The Latin Alphabet and Orthography.” In James Clackson (ed.), A Companion to the Latin Language, pp. 9–28. London/New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    StackExchange allows html formatting for superscripts and subscripts. <sup>1</sup> and <sub>2</sub> gives you superscript 1 and subscript 2 but it doesn't seem to work in comments. (@C.M.Weimer, you may also want to know this.) Does Wallace's article contain photographs or drawings of the inscriptions so that one could actually see the boustrophedon in action? I can't access it now; I'll see if I have better luck tomorrow when I'm on campus. And thanks, this is a good answer, and so is the other one!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 14, 2016 at 0:21

We do in fact have a couple.

The best little collection of Old Latin inscriptions is found in Warmington's old Loeb, Remains of Old Latin IV: Archaic Inscriptions. It's a tiny bit out of date, but otherwise holds up well as an anthology of old inscriptions with a very good translation to go along with it.

Thumbing through quickly, I noticed a couple dedicatory inscriptions. They're generally easy to find in here, as there are arrows by the editor which show the direction of the text. The first I noticed was the second of the dedicatory inscriptions, which is known as the Lapis Fucinus or Caso Cantovios bronze (CIL 1².5, dated c. 300 BCE). Below is a screenshot to the online Loeb edition, since I cannot figure out how to accurately preserve formatting without it looking a mess.

Lapis Fucinus, example of boustrophedon

in English:

Caso Cantovios Aprufclanos set up pillars at the Esalican boundary in the city Casontonia; and his allies brought a sacred gift to Angitia on behalf of Marsian legions.

This seems to be the best example of a complete inscription in boustrophedon. We also have examples of sinistroverse (left-to-right) inscriptions, such as a Falerian bronze tablet (Warmington 71).

Falerian Bronze, example of sinistroverse

I can't find a quick picture of the inscription, but the arrows again show the direction of the inscription.

Edit: See Alex B.'s post for a picture of the text.

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