Art · History · Latin · Past · Rome · Travels

A Tourist Guide to Rome- Inscription

Rome is swamped with tourists all year, in chilly climes as much as in hot summer months when most people take their vacations. Other popular cities not so much, or at least not advised such, since a city like Venice can be a horrific smell in some heats, and flooded in certain seasons and therefore difficult to manoeuvre.

Tourists take in ancient relics much the same manner as people generally take in paintings at a museum. That involves a ten second glance, superficial at best, before moving on to the next. I like to think that this is not solely, or even mostly, the result of disinterest because why would one pay so much money to travel to a part of the world unless they were interested in it? I prefer to believe that tourists do this because they don’t know quite what they are looking at.

I am understanding and sympathetic to their plight. To fully understand what you are looking at amongst classic relics requires both historical knowledge and an at least rudimentary understanding of the Latin language. For now, and for sanity’s sake, I think addressing only inscription should suffice.

Romans did make inscription difficult for a number of reasons:
1. They were working with limited space and often had to shorten words.
2. They were working with limited space which meant often including no spaces or punctuation.
3. Roman lettering excluded certain letters entirely like the J and U and instead used, respectively, the I and V.

Some are more difficult than others. The inscription on the Arch of Titus is one of the more easy ones. Observe.

SENATVS
POPVLVSQVEROMANVS
DIVOTITODIVIVESPASIANIF
VESPASIANOAVGVSTO

That’s one of the easy ones? Yes. Yes it is. Because we are fortunate to have most of words actually spelled out in their entirety. So first, add the spaces. This requires one know a bit about Latin in order to identify words.

SENATVS
POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS
DIVO TITO DIVI VESPASIANI F
VESPASIANO AVGVSTO

Then we fill in the one missing word, by the F. This is where knowledge of Roman history and Latin is essential, since by reading the words around the F one can easily surmise that this is in reference to Titus’s relation to Vespasian. Further, things like C.F., M.F, etc, are common after the name of Roman sons since Roman naming tended to name sons after their fathers, and one could only tell one from the other by which one had the F at the end of their name. The F stood for “Filio”. Son of.

SENATVS
POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS
DIVO TITO DIVI VESPASIANI F[ILIO]
VESPASIANO AVGVSTO

Easier too if we then substitute the V for the U where applicable. Some words do have the V while others need a substitution. Again, one must know Latin to know when to switch a V for a U.

SENATUS
POPULUSQUE ROMANUS
DIVO TITO DIVI VESPASIANI F[ILIO]
VESPASIANO AUGUSTO

Now we translate…

The Senate
And the Roman People
To the Divine Titus Vespasian Augustus
Son of the Divine Vespasian

Reading the inscription transforms the arch from an ambiguous, albeit grand, relic into an artefact that has true meaning.

If you think temple/mausoleum/building inscription is tedious and confusing, imagine such a thing on a much smaller artefact, specifically a coin.

Coin of Vespasian
Coin of Vespasian

Now we are having fun, aren’t we?

Alright, no. Not so much. I admit that even I have moments when I look at something and throw it over my shoulder with a resounding and pointed, “no.” This coin is, for all its value (no pun intended), a cluster of seemingly random and almost impossible to discern letters.

The front says:

IMPCAESVESPASIANAVGPMTRPPPCOSIII

On the back:
IVDAEA CAPTA SC

The back is relatively straightforward. Turn the I to a J, turn the V to a U, and you have Judea Capta, SC. Judea Captured. And the SC was an abbreviation that indicated that the striking of the coin and its value was done by degree of the Roman Senate. A painless series of deductions that, granted, do require some knowledge.

But what aboutthe front?

IMPCAESVESPASIANAVGPMTRPPPCOSIII

I will concede that this does require a bit of expertise. First, using considerable experience in Roman history, section off where words will begin…

IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M TR P P P COS III

Simple, no? Then one need only fill in the rest of the words.

IMP[ERĀTOR] CAES[SAR] VESPĀSIĀN[US] AUG[USTUS] P[ONTIFEX] M[AXIMUS] TR[IBŪNICIĀ] P[OTESTĀTE] P[ATER] P[ATRIAE] CO[N]S[UL] III (ie., third consulship).

Completely understandable that something so very lengthy could not have possibly fit onto an entire coin, and emperors did so love their honourifics be given without exclusion to any grand title they may have tacked on as a cog-cog-cog-cog-cog-cognomen.

And now I really must learn to discuss trivialities, which I have been told are quite entertaining, in an engaging manner.

Perhaps something “fun” next time.

28 thoughts on “A Tourist Guide to Rome- Inscription

  1. Marius my dear, I swear it, WE HAVE FUN XDDDD. Damn that´s so cool and I love your “Simple, no?” XD It’s great how you explain it. And what passion I feel! WOW. That is your cup of blood ummm tea, right? 😀
    Granted, for me, its not simple but I really enjoy it and its really fun. And the best thing, even I don´t speak or get latin so I know some words like fili/filio or senatus XDDDD Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I looking forward to the next round. Lets rock you adorable old man!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    1. This is my cup of tea. There is nothing in this world I love more than Roman history, and I am an historian. I have all of the degrees on my wall to prove it, since you need certain letter combinations like B.A, M.A, and PhD to be taken seriously in this world. At least as far as academia goes. I love history, and I particularly love Rome. And I love talking to people who love Rome as much as I do. I attended, a few months back, the best little gathering of Roman historians. No one sought to discuss and argue, we only sat around a table and read from the Aeneid in Latin.

      1. *laugh* You are cute! You really need that award stuff on your wall hmn?
        For me, I would lost the awards somewhere. Needless to say, I would appreciate it and the knowledge I get but my ego don´t need it to show anyone.
        And honestly, I would like and admire you in any case, with degrees on your wall or not. 🙂 And I´m sure many other people thinks that too.
        An award is a wonderful thing but if you’re not worthy without it you’re not worthy with it either.

        >No one sought to discuss and argue, we only sat around a table and read from the Aeneid in Latin.<

        Wow…THAT was a very special and unice time…thees are days or nights you will always remember…I know very well what that for a time for you was…I´m happy for you that you have such a great time!

        1. I don’t need them on my wall, but I like to have them there. I like tangible things, that way if someone should question what I say I can just point to the wall.

          Only joking.

  2. Rome is so full of worth-to-see sites that one could spend years to explore all of them. But yes, people get a better understanding and also a deeper interest in things if they understand what they see. A good guide can make a huge difference.
    I’m happy you wrote this elaborate post about Latin inscriptions. To me they always are a bit like half-solved cross-words and I cannot always solve them.
    But I really think inscriptions deserve attention: Obviously they want to tell us something someone thought to be important. Otherwise they would not have bought a stone slate and payed someone to put a text on it that was meant to last for a long, long time. It tell us more than just who build what in honour of whom, it tells us how much it meant to someone.

    Well, if you want my opinion: This is very entertaining. When I click this page that’s like the small but delicious cup of espresso that I prefer over litres of watery coffee.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    1. Have you ever been to a museum, walked into a showroom, and instead of seeing leagues of people marvelling at the beautiful art-work gracing the walls, instead you see them sitting on the provided benches on their phones? Absolutely disinterested. I don’t understand this. They could at least try to appreciate the centuries of culture that has been painstakingly preserved just for their benefit. Why even bother if you are only going to sit there and do what you could have done with less effort at home? The number of people who care about the past grow smaller by the generation.

      Yet who am I to talk about disgracing our relics of the past? I once put my hand to the wall of the Colosseum and broke it. An entire chunk went falling to the ground. I was minimally horrified. I could only shrug at my companion and remind him, “I am an historian, not an archaeologist.”

        1. It was quite terrible of me. But out of respect I let it stay there because archaeologists are always shouting at tourists to stop picking up pieces of landmarks and taking them home as they could one day be useful in historical reconstruction. It was most regrettable.

      1. Fortunately no, I haven’t seen such a sight yet. Unruly school classes yes, but there’s still hope that those kids are only going through the phase when they don’t like anything that’s forced on them.
        Sure, some museums are so big and overwhelming it’s impossible to give every object in it the attention it deserves. I’d still be walking through the Louvre otherwise. But coming to a museum to make calls is indeed a very strange habit.

        Oops…but don’t tell me the next thing you did was marking the spot with “Marius was here” 😉

    1. Oh most occasion, I would insist that you never, ever believe anything a smiling vampire says to you. But in my case, I am utterly harmless.

      1. *Laugh* Oh my love, be sure I have tears in my eyes. I adore your humor!! Well, now I´m very sceptical, almost shy. So you claim to be harmless. How can I believe that?

  3. XDDDDDD *laugh*
    Ohhh Marius, you sinful creature you! Understandable that many can not resist you and I really love that! I guess there is no other possible but trust you. Ummm …would you recognize it when my trust is just a fake? =^.^=

    1. Of course I would know if your trust is real or fake, though I hope knowing me as you do, and getting to know me better with each night, I could earn your very real trust. Unless I have, at least to some small measure. In that case, very good for me!

      1. We know already that you can seduce me quite well. So good that you would get another date!!! What would you do to get my full trust, and-the most important thing- to keep it?

        Unless I have, at least to some small measure. In that case, very good for me!

        * smile * Weeeell, perhaps a little tiny bit. ^///^ ( …yes, I allow you to grin…)

        1. Well I would show you with time and effort that I am to be trusted. We would be very good friends, and you would soon know that I am exactly as I appear with no pretense.

  4. That someone is trying to get my friend, and makes effort for me, is a wonderful thought. That is very rare in my life. Hmm I think you could manage it to get my trust. I don´t promise it would be to 100% but you have more as good chances that we would be very close friends. Here in any case you have my friendship already and I´m very glad that you catched me. Thanks =^.^=

    1. I never ask for 100 % from anyone except the person who is both my partner and lover. To be honest, I do not think I give can even 100 % of my anything to anyone. So I will not begrudge you some room for reserve.

      1. There are a few people who have my trust to 100%. One of them you know, it’s Michelle.

        Hihi. Thanks, I´m glad you are not upset. But…well, who knows my dear vampire, perhaps you would get me with neck and crop. 😉

        You can’t give 100 % to your partner and lover?

        By the way, I visit my doc today, she checkt my whole body and said then: My dear, your pale body is a perfect menu card for any vampire in this world. 😀 Laertis: =.= Oh why, thank you…
        lol

        1. I do not get upset about things like that. Very few things will you find me take offence to. Obviously one of my trigger points is Santino. Other than that, you haven’t much to fear.

          You can’t give 100 % to your partner and lover?

          Unfortunately I cannot, but they forgive me for it because I make no promises that I can or will be otherwise, and so they are not caught by surprise by my natural reserve.

          By the way, I visit my doc today, she checkt my whole body and said then: My dear, your pale body is a perfect menu card for any vampire in this world.

          Well that is quite a compliment. I hope that you indeed said “thank you” with a smile.

  5. Ummm but you ask for 100 % from your partner and lover? Or have I get that wrong?

    Not really with a smile…In my mind I saw a few vampires who ​ retrace my veins with their fingers, and discuss which vein belongs to whom. Somehow I felt like a gas pump.

    1. I ask for more than 100 % from my partner or lover, which makes me unfathomably demanding.

      A gas pump? Now that is quite a mental image, and certainly not a nice thing to be likened to. A cruel objectification, for sure. I do hope should you ever meet the vampire of your dreams, he would think you more than a gas pump.

  6. That is really very demanding. Well my partner would have my trust to 100%. Otherwise would be the relationship very difficult. And I guess never really stress-free. But of course, my parnter should trust me as well. I am a loyal, trustworthy soul and my boyfriend should know that and love me for that as well. Why is it so hard for you to give your 100% ? “Only” bad experience?

    Vampire of my dreams, … do you think Armand would be that nice??? Ha.

    1. My reserve is never meant as insult to anyone I am with, it is simply who I am. I think that in any partnership, a pair must recognise each other for who and what they are, not what it is they wish each other to be. Aside from that I have always been this way, even as a child (my oldest of younger sisters used to remark that I was an odd child because I was impenetrable). When the life you have lived for so long requires you to be secretive, to keep others at arm’s length for their safety, you must keep yourself at a bit of distance. But I love, I protect, and I have no short measure of flowery words and proclamations to give.

      Armand rarely does anything for anyone that can termed “nice,” not if it isn’t adventitious to him. But he may surprise us both.

      1. My reserve is never meant as insult to anyone I am with, it is simply who I am. I think that in any partnership, a pair must recognise each other for who and what they are, not what it is they wish each other to be. Aside from that I have always been this way, even as a child (my oldest of younger sisters used to remark that I was an odd child because I was impenetrable). When the life you have lived for so long requires you to be secretive, to keep others at arm’s length for their safety, you must keep yourself at a bit of distance. But I love, I protect, and I have no short measure of flowery words and proclamations to give.
        Armand rarely does anything for anyone that can termed “nice,” not if it isn’t adventitious to him. But he may surprise us both.

        I dont think reserve is something bad, but I think it’s a positive change to learning to get fullest confidence in the partner. Of course this needs time. And just because as a child you had certain characteristics you still have as an adult that does not mean that you have to keep these traits. You could not walk at first, but you leanrd it. 😀

        He surprised me already, In a very nice way. He was really adorable. And I believe that will make me smile for a long time. But not “only” Armand, it is true for you as well.

        1. I dont think reserve is something bad, but I think it’s a positive change to learning to get fullest confidence in the partner.

          I think I will instead choose partners who favour a reserved and serious other partner. Instead of trying to change, which I’ve no desire whatsoever to do, I will market myself to those who would appreciate my personality. After all, if someone cannot accept me for who I am, but rather see me as someone to “improve,” then I have no interest because they are not truly interested in me.

          And just because as a child you had certain characteristics you still have as an adult that does not mean that you have to keep these traits. You could not walk at first, but you leanrd it.

          I suppose this could have been nurtured out of me through the patient guidance of family, but they saw no reason to. It was very Roman. Most of all, though, they knew this was me. I was not harming myself, I was not harming anyone. I was just being the person I had been from birth. You wouldn’t look at a child and say, “they laugh too much,” or “they like flowers too much,” or even “he is too dedicated to reading.” So why should the way I developed as a child be a reason to change me? I was quite perfect as I was then. It is as if saying that I was “wrong” as a child and needed my personality corrected, which I do not believe to be so.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.