The vast majority of surviving Roman inscriptions originated in a cultural phenomenon that is characteristic of, and in some senses defines, the early Roman Empire. At the end of the last century B.C. — roughly co-incident, then, with the transition to autocracy, the Roman cultural revolution, and the formative period of provincial cultures throughout the Empire — an epigraphic boom occurred, in Italy and in every province of the Empire. That explosion of new inscriptions, and the subsequent rise and fall of an epigraphic culture, was experienced by eastern and western provinces alike, in Greek as well as in Latin epigraphy. Many regional epigraphies remain to be characterized in terms of their chronology, but such local studies as have been done strongly suggest that, although there was certainly some inter-regional variation in the scale, rate, and timing of this phenomenon, in its broad outlines this pattern was very widespread. Across the entire Empire, the number of inscriptions set up each year began to rise from the Augustan period and increased more and more steeply through the second century. In every region that has been examined in detail, the majority of extant inscriptions were produced in the late second and early third centuries. The peak or turning-point seems to have been reached at slightly different times in each area. But everywhere the subsequent decline was much faster than the original rise, reaching a new low between the middle and the end of the third century A.D. Epigraphy does survive into the fourth century — in most areas of the Empire, if not in most cities — but late imperial inscriptions are very much rarer and differ markedly from early imperial examples in genre, form, and style.