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I have looked a bit around, and was wondering if there was any information about which could be the earliest still surviving and accessible (for public) inscriptions which included the Latin initialism SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus)? By inscription I mean something carved/engraved on a permanent stationary object, such as on all kinds of architectural objects and elements, versus, eg. writings/engravings on coins, equipment, weapons, armour and other items.

As I understand, inscriptions were commonplace throughout the history of Rome, and a score of them still survive. Wikipedia says that "The title's date of establishment is unknown, but it first appears in inscriptions of the Late Republic, from c. 80 BCE onwards. Previously, the official name of the Roman state, as evidenced on coins, was simply ROMA."

As SPQR has been used since then throughout history and is still used, it is a bit hard to discern which of them are "very old", which "merely old" and which new from the looks of the items inscribed (except for the very obviously modern ones).

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Whether or not there are any surviving SPQR initials inscriptions from the time of the Roman Republic is unclear. For inscriptions, the earliest use of these initials seems to have been on coins from the reign of Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD). Given the limited space on a coin compared to, for example, a public building or a monument, it would not be surprising if the short form for Senatus Populusque Romanus, SPQR, did in fact appear on coins first and only later on 'permanent stationary' objects where previously the full form had been used.

After extensive searching online and a thorough checking of Lawrence Keppie's Understanding Roman Inscriptions, the earliest SPQR initials inscription I've been able to find is on the Arch of Trajan in Benevento, built between 114 and 117 AD (see bottom right of the inscription, at the end of the text).

enter image description here Image Source By Geniuss86 at Italian Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As the OP noted, it is difficult at times to be sure what is an original inscription, especially as most images on the internet give very little information. This SPQR example with Nerva (ruled 96 to 98) looks too new to be true. The fact that Mussolini had SPQR inscribed all over Rome adds to the problem (though spotting the manhole covers is easy enough).

An earlier example of SPQR I found does not use the initials but rather the full text Senatus Populusque Romanus. This can be seen on the Arch of Titus in Rome, built around 82 AD by the emperor Domitian in honour of his brother and predecessor Titus' victories.

enter image description here Image source. By Rabax63 (Diskussion) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons


Note:

There is a map which apparently shows all the surviving SPQR inscriptions which have been discovered from the Imperial period. However, the source of this information may well be mistaken; the map may actually be showing all inscriptions (not just ones with SPQR). For the curious, a zoom version can be found here.

  • I guess the map includes inscriptions on coins. The one in Samarkand in impressive, but I cannot understand the one in the Atlantic ocean hundreds of miles west of Ireland. Is there a website explaining how this map was built ? – Evargalo Jun 20 '18 at 7:25
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    @Evargalo I haven't yet been able to track down the details of this map but I haven't given up yet. The dot to the west of Ireland is just be a glitch I think because I noticed it comes and goes when you zoom, and if you zoom enough times it stops appearing. – Lars Bosteen Jun 20 '18 at 9:26
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Here is a link to a picture of the Arch of Septimius Severus, showing S P Q R in the lower right corner. The inscription is dated to the 11th year of Septimius Severus and the 6th year of Caracalla, and thus to AD 204.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPQR#/media/File:Arch_of_Septimius_Severus_Top_Inscription.JPG1

So AD 204 would be about 284 years after the adoption of S P Q R about 80 BC, and about 80 BC is about 2,098 years before AD 2018. So the inscription on the Arch of Septimius Severus is about 0.1353 of the way from about 80 BC to AD 2018.

So obviously the earliest surviving inscription with the initials S P Q R, instead of the full phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus, would be earlier than AD 204 and dated to the 2nd century AD, the First century AD, or even to sometime in the first century BC.

  • I cant understand why you need to do some math to convince people that the example from Arch of Septimius Severus is the earliest sign of SPQR abbreviation, which is not true! I will not down vote this answer cause I don't wanna lose reputation for this worthless answer. – Alone Programmer Oct 17 '18 at 13:48

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