Claudian letters

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Claudian letters, with the ↃϹ variant of antisigma supported by manuscripts of Priscian.[1]
Claudian letters with the Ↄ variant of antisigma.

The Claudian letters were developed by, and named after, the Roman Emperor Claudius (reigned 41–54). He introduced three new letters to the Latin alphabet:

  • Ↄ or ↃϹ/X (antisigma) to replace BS and PS, much as X stood in for CS and GS. The shape of this letter is disputed, however, since no inscription bearing it has been found. Franz Bücheler identified it with the variant Roman numeral Ↄ, but 20th century philologists, working from copies of Priscian's books, believe it to instead resemble two linked Cs (Ↄ+Ϲ), which was a preexisting variant of Greek sigma, and easily mistaken for X by later writers. Revilo P. Oliver argued that Claudius would have based this letter upon the Arcadian variant of psi Greek Psi 01.svg or Greek Psi X-shaped.svg.[1]
  • Ⅎ, a turned F or digamma (digamma inversum) to represent consonantal U ([w]/v).
  • Ⱶ, a half H. The value of this letter is unclear, but perhaps it represented the so-called sonus medius, a short vowel sound (likely [ɨ] or [ʉ]) used before labial consonants in Latin words such as optumus/optimus. The letter was later used as a variant of y in inscriptions for short Greek upsilon (as in Olympicus). It disappeared because the sonus medius itself disappeared from spoken language.[1]

These letters were used to a small extent on public inscriptions dating from Claudius' reign, but their use was abandoned after his death.[2] Their forms were probably chosen to ease the transition, as they could be made from templates for existing letters. He may have been inspired by his ancestor Appius Claudius the Censor, who made earlier changes to the Latin alphabet.[3] Claudius did indeed introduce his letters during his own term as censor, using arguments preserved in the historian Tacitus's account of his reign, although the original proclamation is no longer extant.

Novas etiam commentus est litteras tres ac numero veterum quasi maxime necessarias addidit; de quarum ratione cum privatus adhuc volumen edidisset, mox princeps non difficulter optinuit ut in usu quoque promiscuo essent. Exstat talis scriptura in plerisque libris ac diurnis titulisque operum.[4]

Besides this he [Claudius] invented three new letters and added them to the alphabet, maintaining that they were greatly needed; he published a book on their theory when he was still in private life, and when he became emperor had no difficulty in bringing about their general use. These characters may still be seen in numerous books, in the [state] registers, and in inscriptions on public buildings.

Support for the letters was added in version 5.0.0 of Unicode. The letters are encoded as follows:

Description Letter Unicode HTML Script
TURNED CAPITAL F
TURNED SMALL F

U+2132
U+214E
Ⅎ
ⅎ
Latin
ROMAN NUMERAL REVERSED ONE HUNDRED
LATIN SMALL LETTER REVERSED C

U+2183
U+2184
Ↄ
ↄ
Latin
LATIN CAPITAL LETTER HALF H
LATIN SMALL LETTER HALF H

U+2C75
U+2C76
Ⱶ
ⱶ
Latin

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Oliver, Revilo P. (1949). "The Claudian Letter ". American Journal of Archaeology (American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 53, No. 3) 53 (3): 249–257. doi:10.2307/500662. JSTOR 500662. 
  2. ^ Tacitus, Annals 11[10]:14
  3. ^ Ryan, F. X. (1993). "Some Observations on the Censorship of Claudius and Vitellius, A.D. 47-48". American Journal of Philology (The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 114, No. 4) 114 (4): 611–618. doi:10.2307/295428. JSTOR 295428. 
  4. ^ Suetonius. "Divus Claudius". Perseus Project. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Suetonius pass, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1913‑1914, English translation is by J. C. Rolfe. Page 77, paragraph 41. (From LacusCurtius)