Stelae were also used as territorial markers, as the boundary stelae of Akhenaton at Amarna, or to commemorate military victories. They were widely used in the Ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, and, most likely independently, in China and elsewhere in the Far East, and, more surely independently, by Mesoamerican civilisations, notably the Olmec and Maya. The huge number of stelae surviving from ancient Egypt and in Central America constitute one of the largest and most significant sources of information on those civilisations. An informative stele of Tiglath-Pileser III is preserved in the British Museum. Two stelae built into the walls of a church are major documents relating to the Etruscan language.
The erection of steles was popular in China and consisted of rectangular stone tablets usually inscribed with a funerary, commemorative, or edifying text. Although the earliest steles, inspired by Buddhists, date to the first half of the fifth century, this visual form did not come into general use until the last years of the fifth century, and this custom prevailed until the end of the sixth century. From then on the design of steles drifted away from pure Buddhist influence and became wordy displays of script mostly eulogistic or commemorative. They were placed in front of tombs to announce the name of the person buried there, often to provide details of the deceased’s life, or were provided to commemorate a particular incident or event and to give details of the purpose of the occasion.
Erecting steles at tombs or temples eventually became a widespread social and religious phenomenon. Emperors found it necessary to promulgate laws, regulating the use of funerary steles by the population. The Ming Dynasty laws, instituted in the 14th century by its founder the Hongwu Emperor, listed a number of stele types available as status symbols to various ranks of the nobility and officialdom: the top noblemen and mandarins were eligible for steles installed on top of a stone tortoise and crowned with hornless dragons, while the lower-level officials had to be satisfied with steles with plain rounded tops, standing on simple rectangular pedestals.
A number of such stone monuments have preserved the origin and history of China's minority religious communities. The 8th-century Christians of Xi'an left behind the Nestorian Stele, which survived adverse events of the later history by being buried underground for several centuries. Steles created by the Kaifeng Jews in 1489, 1512, and 1663, have survived the repeated flooding of the Yellow River that destroyed their synagogue several times, to tell us something about their world. China's Muslim have a number of steles of considerable antiquity as well, often containing both Chinese and Arabic text.