An old list of abbreviations used in Latin inscriptions

Today I saw an inscription on Twitter (posted by Gareth Harney), and part of it left me baffled.  Here it is:

T. Flavius Athenaeus, funerary altar. Uffizi galleries, Florence. Early 2nd century.

This funerary altar was erected to the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, by his freedman Nicostratus, and records that he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days and 3 hours:

Memoriae T. Flavi. T. F. Fab. Athenaei vixit annis XXII menses III dies V horas III Nicostratus. lib.

To the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days, 3 hours.  Nicostratus (his) freedman (libertus) (set this up).

But one bit gave me pause: “T.F.Fab.”?  Obviously it is a genetive, positioned before the noun “Athenaei” as is normal.

Latin inscriptions are full of abbreviations, and I never know most of them.  But Google can surprise you sometimes, and I tried googling T. F. Fab.

What I got back did indeed surprise me.  My first result was to a “Collection of pamphlets on the Latin language, volume 10”, page 84 (link).  This seems to be some university library’s collection, and the item is actually an article by C. F. Liebtreu, “Onomastici Romani Specimen”, Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädagogik, Berlin (1843), p.20.

This showed that in T.F.Fab, we should understand “Fabia tribu”, “from the Fabian tribe”.  This was one of the thirty-five voting tribes into which the Roman people was divided.

My next result was more interesting still: to Robert Ainsworth, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Compendiarus.  At the back of this volume is a series of unnumbered pages containing… Latin inscription abbreviations!  (Link)

“Fab” was confirmed.  Naturally I scrolled down.  And … there was T.F. –

T.F. – meaning

In this context, obviously “Titi filius”, “son of Titus”.  So T. Flavii T.F.Fab. Athenaeii was in fact “of Titus Flavius Athenaeus, son of Titus, from the Fabian voting tribe”.

These few pages must be very useful.  In fact I was rather surprised, on doing a quick Google search, to draw blank for any modern web page.  This does not mean that one does not exist; only that I did not see it.  (Please add any suggestions in the comments)  I was not surprised.

Google is really becoming rather poor as a search engine, rather than a commercial portal.  This was driven home to me last night when I did a vanity search on my own name.  Over the last 23 years I have uploaded thousands of pages to the web which contain my name on them somewhere.  All Google gave me was 8 pages of results, and then finished!  Bing was somewhat better.  But the casual searcher will gain no real idea of the activity I have undertaken.  This is ridiculous.

But at least these older volumes are becoming searchable on Google.  That is indeed a blessing!


9 thoughts on “An old list of abbreviations used in Latin inscriptions

  1. Here is a big list of abbreviations compiled by T. Elliott:

    Ch. Bruun & J. Edmondson, “The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy” p. 787 include a list of frequent abbreviations and note that that an exhaustive list doesn’t exist yet:

    “This list of some common epigraphic abbreviations used in Latin inscriptions lays no claim to completeness. A work of a different magnitude would be required for such an ambition. In J.-M. Lassère’s Manuel d’épigraphie romaine (2nd ed., Paris 2007) the list comprises thirty-nine pages; in R. Cagnat’s Cours d’épigraphie latine (4th ed., Paris 1914) it runs to sixty-four pages. Yet, a reader of epigraphic texts will discover that the ingenuity of the Roman stonecutter and/or his clients surpassed what modern compilers of wordlists have accomplished. Even with the help of an extensive list some puzzles will remain.”

    On a side note: this inscription is an example of an odd construction that has puzzled grammarians: the use of ablative ‘annis’ juxtaposed with accusative ‘menses’, ‘dies’, ‘horas’. A comprehensive study of the issue is P. M. Suárez Martínez, “Vixit annis XXX menses XXX dies XXX” in J. Herman (ed.), “Linguistic Studies in Latin: Selected Papers from the 6th International Colloquium on Latin Linguistics (Budapest, 23-27 March 1991)”. S.M. includes statistics and attempts a linguistic explanation. He has a sense of humor: “lorsque l’accusatif suit l’ablatif nous nous trouvons tout d’abord face a une promiscuité quasi scandaleuse dans l’usage des cas”.

  2. When I studied Latin palaeography we used Cappelli’s Lexicon abbreviaturarum.

  3. @Diego – thank you so much! I must look at those resources. Very interesting too about that Latin construction! I must look at that article.

    @Michael I remember buying a copy of Capelli what seems like a lifetime ago in Heffers in Cambridge. These days it’s on (although correct me if I’m wrong but I think it’s manuscript abbreviations, rather than epigraphic ones?)

  4. I expect that the exactness of age is not just about devotion to the young man’s memory, and sadness over his untimely death. There is probably some astrological significance, if we only knew his birthdate.

  5. Apparently the expression of the exact age is more common in the case of children and young people (as here), which is natural since those dictating the inscription would be more likely to have the dates in their memories. From this and from the fact that the epitaphs of married women often include the number of years their marriage lasted, Bruun & Edmonson conclude that probably “the precise length of time recorded was supposed to convey the sorrow of the mourner, as the latter seemingly remembered every moment of what had been” (p. 637).

    But it’s true that the fact that parents recorded the day and hour of birth must be related to an astrological interest. However, I wonder: would people be thinking of horoscopes when they were inscribing an epitaph? It’s not as if the subject’s fate was a matter of speculation by then. (Just my joke.)

  6. I have the same experience with google lately… When I search for my name in google, it appears I am a photographer (it’s my hobby), but in duckduckgo I appear as a scientist (which I am).

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