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There is a Latin inscription on the Old Town Square in Prague. It is located on a copy of the Marian Column. Photo:

enter image description here (click to enlarge)

Every letter there has black color except for the Latin numerals I,V,X,L,C,D,M, which have greater size and also are in red color.

Is there:

a) a reason for doing that?

b) a name of doing that?

EDIT: Roman numerals extracted: VIII IICI I IIIL CC V LI VI C IVIVV CVM I

or all on one line with no spaces: VIIIIICIIIIILCCVLIVICIVIVVCVMI

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    For what it's worth, the Google Translate translation of the inscription is, Defended by a virgin who was conceived without the stain of origin [sin] and liberated from the city, therefore, the pious and just Caesar [king at the time of original erection 1650] presents this statue.
    – Fred
    Jul 12, 2022 at 8:42
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    Given that this is a recent modern reconstruction, do we know if the lettering and colouring are based on the original or are a modern styling?
    – Steve Bird
    Jul 12, 2022 at 8:43
  • For a great list of chronograms, with photos, see SAXA LOQVVNTVR.
    – Edheldil
    Jul 14, 2022 at 11:26
  • @Fred That just shows, once again, how garbage Google Translate is for Latin :-) Jul 14, 2022 at 21:28

2 Answers 2

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The present day structure (Marian column (Prague)) is intended to be a very precise reconstruction of the original one built in 1650 that was torn down in 1918, when the original inscription was destroyed.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marian_column_Prague_(4827).jpg
The Maria column replica, Prague, Old Town Square, plinth detail.

The inscription was and is in the form of an eteostichon or Chronogram:

A chronogram is a sentence or inscription in which specific letters, interpreted as numerals (such as Roman numerals), stand for a particular date when rearranged. The word, meaning "time writing", derives from the Greek words chronos (χρόνος "time") and gramma (γράμμα, "letter"). In the pure chronogram, each word contains a numeral; the natural chronogram shows all numerals in the correct numerical order, e.g. AMORE MATVRITAS = MMVI = 2006. Chronograms in versification are referred to as chronosticha if they are written in hexameter and chronodisticha if they are written in distich.

The text reads as:

VIRGINI GENITRICI SINE ORIGINIS LABE CONCEPTÆ, PROPVGNATÆ AC LIBERATÆ VRBIS ERGO, CAESAR PIVS ET IVSTVS HANC STATVAM PONIT

~ The Emperor erected this statue of the Virgin Mother of God, conceived without the stain of original sin, out of pious and just thanks for the defense and liberation of the city.

And as Czech Wikipedia details, the numerals on this one are meant to encode the year 1650, referencing

— TEIGE, Josef ; HERAIN, Jan. Old Town Market in Prague . Prague: Society of Friends of Czech Antiquities, 1908. 430 pp. Available online . pp. 241–249.

Note that this is classified as:

Long Description:

The Marian Columns were built in Bohemia and Moravia often as commemorative columns, as a reminder of the tragic events, especially the wars and the plague epidemics.

The chronogram is located on the sandstone pedestal. The Roman numerals of chronogram are larger than the other letters and are red color-coded from the rest of the text.

The year 1650 from the chronogram referring to erection of original Baroq column.

Type of numerals used: Roman

Text of the original chronogram: VIrgInI genItrICI sIne orIgInIs Labe ConCeptæ propVgnatæ et LIberatæ VrbIs ergo Cæsar pIVs et IVstVs hanC statVaM ponIt

Pure chronogram?: no

Natural chronogram?: no

For a deeper 'reason(s) for doing so':

The embedding of coded dates (chronograms) in religious and secular memorial inscriptions became something of an obsession in the early 1700s, especially in the Czech lands.

— Alex Went: "Digital Signatures of the Baroque. The Cult of the Chronogram in 18th Century Bohemia", CRIS Bulletin, 01, 2016. doi

The Roman numeral code:

VI + I + I + I + ICI + I + III + L + CC + V + LI + V + I + IV + IV + V + C + V + M + I

might be rearranged in big endian MSB order as

M CCCCC LL VVVVVVV IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

which is in Arabic decimal addition

 M               =      1000 = 1000
 CCCCC           =  5 x  100 =  500 
 LL              =  2 x   50 =  100 
 VVVVVVV         =  7 x    5 =   35
 IIIIIIIIIIIIIII = 15 x    1 =   15
————————————————————————————————————
                             = 1650

So, for a much shorter and natural chronogram that would match our expected notation: ~Maria Defenditur, Cæsar Liberatur? But I guess that would be less baroque and more laconic/bauhaus.

Other examples for coding that specific date/number, with perhaps better Latin and even more fitting content for such a column might be:

Me Do CeLo. or: Magnas ferte Deo grates pro paCe reLata. or: CeDant arMa togæ toto toga fLoreat orbe. Which are all found in the following collection, which lists many decoded examples, although not the Prague one:

— James Hilton: "Chronograms, 5000 and more in number, excerpted out of various authors and collected at many places", E. Stock: London, 1882. archive.org

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    Yeah, but your shorter example has several non-capitalized Roman numerals in it, while the original one uses all of them - probably took some serious working out to come up with a phrase that works that way. (Reminds me of the "Barney the Dinosaur is the Devil" meme from back in the day because the numerals in "CVte pVrpLe DInosaVr" (rendering U's as V's as the Romans often did) add up to 666.) Jul 12, 2022 at 19:38
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    @DarrelHoffman The shorter example also suffers from dependence of really carving U and not V, using initial capitalisation plus lower case… If someone has a better idea for MDCL, please suggest one, am all ears ;) Jul 12, 2022 at 20:00
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Roman classical inscriptions had a tradition of using black and red paint, for instance, in wall calendars. This is not however a classical Roman inscription, but a late (modern) religious inscription using latin.

The inscription uses classic Roman square capitals. Yet, I see no criteria used for choosing the Small Caps or the standard Roman capital font. Neither I see any criteria for the red color, except for decoration. I don't think the large caps are selected because they are numerals. This looks like a stylish inscription designed in an antiquarian-ish baroque fashion. That certainly made happy whoever comissioned the statue in 1650.

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    added clarification
    – James
    Jul 13, 2022 at 9:31

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