When you are visiting Rome city,
crossing those beautiful but crowded streets,
squeezing into the crowds and trying to take a photo of the famous Trevi Fountain,
or staying speechless in front of Colosseum,
do you notice some repeatedly-shown symbols, which are actually all round the city,
maybe right under your foot, in front of your eyes, or even showing on your Rome souvenir T-shirt or magnet?
When I was wandering and spending my after-class sunbath hours near Fountain Catechumens, I noticed those four abbreviation letters “SPQR” on the base of Fountain, and then I realized this term appears almost everywhere and even a book is named after that!
SPQR by Mary Beard. If you’re a Rome fan and you’ve not read this book, do have a try!
Pic from amazon.com
If you are walking in Rome now and reading my post, maybe this term shows right under your foot, on that bronze sewer cover. When I made the research for this topic, I realized “SQPR” even exists outside Rome, place like Hamburg Cityhall (Rathaus) has it too, well, probably it’s a culture-export by Roman Empire!
So, what is “SPQR”?
What are the other symbols in Rome?
When I was first backpacking from north to south in Italy, I see the she-wolf in Pisa, Florence and Rome. At that time, I was pretty confused about the origin of she-wolf, and I asked not only once time to Luigi, she-wolf is from which city？
Original Bronze Status on Lv1, Museo Capitoline
A Mythology of A She-wolf & Two Brothers?
She-wolf, in Italian language is, lupa. If you go to Piazza Campidoglio on Capitoline hill (yes, that one with emperor Marcus Aurelius status), you probably will find a small column with the famous status of the she-wolf and the two brothers (and probably a line of tourists waiting to take photos there).
No doubt, she-wolf belongs to Rome. The story of Rome’s birth is like a mythology to me. The brother, Romulus and Remus, as the unfortunate descenders of the escaped “refugee” from Trojan War, was adopted by a she-wolf at the riverbank of Tiber. Rome, as the name, probably comes from “Rom-ulus”, as we were told Romulus “cut” off Remus while two brothers fight for Rome’s ownership. The story binds much blood and violence, interestingly, the story is widely beloved by us even nowadays. (We just love mythology and every stories with sex and blood. Proof: Game Of Throne! Oops, here’s no sex)
The second version of this Lupa story tells more about its symbolized meaning for Rome, than the story itself. If you go into Museo Capitoline, you will find the original status there. The she-wolf looks really fierce as she’s bearing her teeth and twisting her mouth, meanwhile if you walk to the side, the she-wolf looks unhealthily skinny even a bit bony. It seems she’s starving by feeding the fast-growing brothers. This Lupa, is a sign for violence and protection, just like Romans’ entire history is never far away from blood and defence.
I was also told that, Lupa, in Italian, is also used as a metaphor for the prostitute. If you know the growth of Rome, it is born from simple cross-point between north and south, land and sea. 2000 years ago, a perfect location with everyday’s goods exchange, is the home of prostitution as well. People cannot trace back the origin of the funder of Rome, but the clue pointed to the zone where the most complicated life events happen every day.
Viola! How intelligent our ancestors are! A perfect game of words, makes a “no-born” to a “god-born”.
But we also know, this means, Rome is a place where anyone can become a hero, no matter his background ?
SPQR – Senātus Populusque Rōmānus
Look around, you will find as many as SPQR in Rome centre if you really search for it. It’s an abbreviation of Latin words, stands for Roman Senate and People.
Fountain of the catechumens at Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
When we talk about Rome, we think more about Roman Empire than whatever happens before that age, right? SPQR, was created exactly in the before-empire era, when Rome is not an empire but a republic (roughly from 509BC to 27BC)! Two senates elected every year by their people – Romans, and those two lead other capable people to manage the whole city – sounds pretty similar to most of countries in the world now. Yes, probably Rome’s SPQR is the first and the base of modern country nowadays.
Even when Rome goes into the great Roman Empire era, SPQR wasn’t wiped out, instead, it was used as a way to show emperor’s goodwish – serve his people instead of ruling. A hidden but maybe more real reason of keeping SPQR, might be the fact that Romans hated the absolute monarchy the most, and the empire doesn’t want to make trouble for his new-born empire. SPQR was restored in the medieval age, after hundred years of chaos after the empire collapse, by that time, it has been given a new and brighter meaning of, liberty and democracy – and we know, it is kept until now and that’s also the reason why you find it everywhere in Rome!
Little marble sign of Isula Romana (next to Campidoglio)
A random street little fountain (Nasone/Fontanella) in Rome centre
Eagle, or we should call it “Aquila”. This symbol is also essential to Italy, especially to something related military.
Aquila, belongs to Roman Empire and it is the symbol used widely by Roman army. The Aquila is the symbol of each legion, and “if you lose Aquila, you fail”. Meanwhile, Aquila is frequently shown together with SPQR, which we can guess easily now – The military fights for Senate and People of Rome.
Fontana di S. Maria Maggiore
Nowadays, we still see a lot of Eagle symbols or status on Rome’s major palaces and monuments, and the modern Italy military follows the ancient sign as well.
About this abbreviation, it’s a bit complicated. It was a motto of House of Savoy-Sardinia, which the former one is a royal family since 1003, and Savoy region covers the western Alps area – a bit of Italy, a bit of France and a bit of Switzerland nowadays. The House of Savoy grows its absolute power to the unification of Italy Kingdom. Kings, Victor Emmanuel II, Umberto I, Victor Emmanuel III, and Umberto II, are all from this big family tree.
On Via Imperiali
FERT, has a couple of different interpretations. In short, they’re all, somehow, talking about unified religion, strength & fighting, and protection of the Kingdom. Probably only a voice sounds a bit different – some said it’s not an abbreviation but a Latin word “fert”, which means “he suffers”. But if we considered the timing of House of Savoy, which falls into the early Medieval era while the start of “golden age” of Christian, it probably again goes back to the religion keyword, and refers to “Jesus bears the sins for all human”.
In Rome, there is more than many little secrets to explore and to dig deeper. You might feel a bit heavy from reading today’s post here, but I really hope every single visitor to Rome, could not only enjoy its amazing beauty, great food, but also bring some knowledge back.
If you are interested in or know about Rome’s story and hidden secrets, write to me freely.