This term refers to well-known collections of inscriptions, which are invaluable because they report texts that have often been lost and that were of great historical, archaeological and hagiographical importance think of the case of the epigraphs composed by Pope Damasus, the originals of which have not been preserved, or of which only random fragments exist. The first indepth study on these documents was composed in the second volume of the Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae by De Rossi, who critically analyzed all of the very numerous manuscripts that were well known until 1888, which were dated from the 6th through the 16th c., also providing epigraphic comments and emphasizing their chief characteristics. Subsequent investigations on the epigraphic collections were undertaken by Silvagni.
By the 4th c. certain pilgrims had begun to copy for devotion and personal use inscriptions found in venerated places; subsequently small collections were made, prototypes for more extensive works, which equipped the first Roman itineraries. From the 9th c. onwards the original collections, which were already full of lacunae, became a source of inspiration for new compilations, in which, however, often noteworthy corrections and variants, even typographical, were inserted skipping over certain parts. These documents form the basis for subsequent anthologies, which were added in various redactions until the present. It was rather difficult for De Rossi to distinguish in the various texts the most ancient redactions and their sources.
The majority of the epigraphic collections contain inscriptions from Rome, and they generally subdivide into two primary groups: the basilicas, containing the dedications of urban and suburban sanctuaries; the cemeteries, mostly regarding the Roman catacombs, apart from some poems pertaining to the basilicas. According to Silvagni, all the epigraphic collections go back to two prototypes: the first from the 7th c., which originated along with an itinerary and was formed by cemeterial epigraphs, apart from a few basilical epigraphs; the second from the 8th c., composed only by inscriptions from St. Peter’s Basilica and a description of the basilica.
The most important epigraphic inscriptions come from monasteries in Gaul and Germany, as well as from Britain Cambridge and Canterbury. From other areas for example, Milan only a few fragmentary documents have survived. The most ancient would be the epigraphic collections of Latin poems inserted in the Anthologia Salmasiana ICR II, 238ff. and dated to the 5th c., although the Collection of Tours is attributed to the first half of the 6th c., which gathers together the existing inscriptions in that sanctuary. Moreover, the documents considered most important and which are dated before the year 1000 are as follows: the Corpus Laureshamense Vat. Pal. lat. 833, from two authors of the 9th and 10th c.; the Corpus Einsiedlense Eins. 326 containing pagan and Christian texts; the Corpus Virdunense Vird. 45, from the 10th c. Likewise worthy of mention, among the cemeterial collections, are the following corpora: Turonense, Einsiedlense II, Sangallense, Virdunense I, Vaticana, Centulense, Harleiana, Laureshamense IV and Laureshamense III; among the basilica collections: Laureshamense I and Laureshamense II, Virdunense II, Wirceburgense and Cantabrigense. The practice of composing epigraphic collections is attested until the 10th c. and was resumed in the 14th, contining almost uninterrupted thereafter. Besides that from Rome, there is an epigraphic collection from the city of Nola and two from Milan also containing texts of Pavia, Vercelli, Piacenza and Ivrea.