epigraphicae Latinae, 1895). The forms of the single letters vary not inconsiderably according to the material of the monuments, their age and their origin. Carefully cut letters, especially when on a large scale, naturally differ from those scratched or painted on walls by non-professional hands, or hewn on rocks by soldiers; and small incised (or dotted) letters on metal or ivory and bone, and those painted on earthenware, or impressed on it or on glass before burning, are also necessarily of a different character. The letters, ordinarily drawn with minium on the monument before being cut (and also often painted, after having been cut, with the same colour), sometimes have been painted with a brush, and thence receive a peculiar form. To save space, on coins first and afterwards in inscriptions also, two or three or even more letters were joined, especially at the end of the lines, to a nexus or a ligatura. This system of compendious writing, very rare in the republican epoch, and slowly extending itself during the 1st century, became rather frequent in the 2nd and 3rd, especially in Spain and Africa. There is no constant system in these nexus litterarum, but generally the rule is observed that no substantial element of a single letter is to be counted for twice (thus e.g. is it or ti, not Titi). Numerals are usually distinguished from letters in the ancient period, down to the end of the republic, by a stroke drawn through them, as in ++VIR, duo(m) vir(om) ++S duo semis (sestertius), 500; it was afterwards put above them, as in ĪĪVIR, XVIR, IĪĪĪĪIVIR, duovir, decemvir, sevir.
The direction of the writing is in the very oldest inscriptions from right to left and from left to right in alternate lines, an arrangement technically called βουστροφηδόν (D. Comparetti, Iscrizione arcaica del Foro Romano, Florence, 1900; H. Jordan, Hermes, vol. xv. p. 5, 1880), and in the Sabellic inscriptions similar arrangements are not infrequent. In all others it is from left to right. Each word is separated from the other by a sign of interpunction, which is not wanted, therefore, at the end of lines or of the whole text. Exceptions to this rule occur only in the later period (from the 2nd century downwards), and sometimes under special conditions, as when abridged words form the end of the line. Here and there even the different syllables of each word are separated by interpunction. The interpunction is formed by a single dot (except in some very ancient inscriptions, such as the recently found Forum inscription of the regal period and those of Pisaurum, where, as in Greek and other Italian monuments, three dots are used). According to the technical skill of the different periods in stone-cutting this dot is in some very ancient inscriptions quadrangular, or similar to an oblique cross (×), or oblong (as a bold stroke), but, as a rule, triangular, and never circular. This triangular dot changes, by ornamentation, into a hook () or a leaf (); the ivy-leaf-shaped dot is especially frequent in inscriptions from about the 2nd century downwards. The dot is always placed at the middle height of the letters, not, as now, at the foot of the line. In large texts of instruments the interpunction is often omitted; in the later period it is often entirely wanting; and in short texts, in the disposition of the lines, in the varying sizes of the letters employed, in the division of words at the end of the lines, &c., certain rules are observed, which cannot be detailed here. In some instances older inscriptions have been cancelled and more recent ones substituted (e.g. on milestones), especially in the case of the damnatio memoriae (in cases of high treason), in consequence of which the names of consuls and emperors are often cancelled; but in modern times also inscriptions have been deliberately destroyed or lost ones restored.
For understanding the texts of the inscriptions an accurate knowledge of the system of abbreviations used in them is necessary (see Cagnat, Cours d’épigraphie latine, 3rd ed., 1898). These are almost invariably litterae singulares; that is to say, the initial letter is employed for the entire word (in all its grammatical forms), or if one initial, as belonging to more than one word, is not sufficiently clear, the first two or even the first three letters are employed; rarely more than three. Abbreviations in the true sense of the word (by dropping some letters at the end) are to be found, in the older period, only at the end of lines, and not frequently. In the later period some instances of them have been observed. The litterae singulares, as Valerius Probus taught, are either generally employed (usus generalis) in all classes of written documents (and so in literature also), as, for instance, those of the individual names (the praenomina), the names of days and feasts (kal. for kalendae), and those of the chief magistrates (cos. for consul) and the like; or they belong chiefly (but not exclusively) to certain classes of documents, such as those used in juridical acts (l. for lex, h. for heres, s. d. m. for sine dolo malo, and so on), in sepulchral inscriptions (h. s. e., hic situs est) or in dedicatory inscriptions (v. s. l. m., votum solvit libens merito), &c.
It may be observed here that the praenomina are, as a rule, always written in the universally known abbreviations (in the few instances where they are written in full it is a consequence of Greek influence or of peculiar circumstances). The gentilicia in -ius are abridged, in the republican period, in -i (in the nominative, perhaps for -is). In the always abbreviated indications of ancestors or patrons (in the case of slaves and freedmen), as C.f., Gai filius, M.l., Marci libertus (s. for servus is not frequent), the feminine gender is sometimes indicated by inversion of the letters. Thus Ɔ . l. (or lib.) or W (an inverted M) l. designates a mulieris libertus; and are used for filia, pupilla. On the tribus and their abbreviations, and on the so-called military tribus (which are names of colonies collocated, for the sake of symmetry, at the place usually occupied, in the nomenclature, by the tribus), and on the other indications of origin used in the designation of individuals, the indexes to the above-named works give sufficient information; on the geographical distribution of the tribus see Grotefend’s Imperium Romanum tributim descriptum (Hanover, 1863). For the abbreviations of official charges, urban and municipal, and, in the imperial period, civil and military (to which, beginning with the 4th century, some Christian designations are to be added), see also the explanations given in the indexes. Among these abbreviations the first instances are to be found of the indication of the plural number by doubling the last letter; thus Augg., Caess., coss., dd. nn. (domini nostri), are used from the 3rd century downwards (see De Rossi’s preface to the Inscriptiones Christ. urbis Romae) to distinguish them from Aug., Caes., as designating the singular. In the later period, a dot or a stroke over the abridged word, like that upon numerals, here and there indicates the abbreviation.
III.—1. Among the inscriptions in the stricter sense (the tituli), perhaps the oldest, and certainly the most frequent, are the sepulchral inscriptions (tituli sepulcrales). Of the different forms of Roman tombs, partly depending upon the difference between burial and cremation, which were in use side by side, a very complete account is given in Marquardt’s Handbuch der römischen Altertümer (vol. vii. part i., Leipzig, 1879, p. 330 seq.). The most ancient examples are those of a sepulcretum at Praeneste (C.I.L. i. 74, 165, 1501 a-d; Ephem. epigr. i. 25-131; Wil. 153); the oldest of these contain nothing but the name of the deceased in the nominative; those of more recent date give it in the genitive. The oldest and simplest form remained always in use down to Christian times; it is that used on the large tectonic monuments of the Augustan age (e.g. that of Caecilia Metella, C.I.L. vi. 1274) and in the mausolea of most of the emperors, and is still frequent in the tituli of the large columbaria of the same age (C.I.L. vi. part ii.). It was early succeeded by the lists of names, given also in the nominative, when more than one individual, either dead or alive, were to be indicated as sharers of a tomb. To distinguish the members still alive, a v (vivit, vivos, vivi) was prefixed to their names (e.g. C.I.L. i. 1020, 1195, 1271); the deceased were sometimes marked by the θῆτα nigrum (C.I.L. i. 1032; Wil. 158; see also C.I.L. vi. 10251 seq.). Only the names in the nominative are shown, too, on the sarcophagi of the Turpleii and Fourii at
- For other details of numerical notation, fractions, &c., see the manuals of metrology.
- On the system of Roman nomenclature and the abbreviations employed in it see Cagnat’s textbook, and for more detail Mommsen in Römische Forschungen, i. 1 seq., and in Hermes, iii. (1869), p. 70, W. Schulze, Zur Geschichte lateinischen Eigennamen (Berlin, 1904); on the cognomina (but only those occurring in ancient literature), Ellendt, De cognomine et agnomine Romano (Königsberg, 1853), and on the local cognomina of the Roman patriciate, Mommsen, Röm. Forsch, ii. 290 seq.; on the nomina gentilicia, Hübner (Ephem. epigr. ii. 25 seq.). The indexes to Orelli, Wilmanns, and the volumes of the Corpus may also be consulted.