pont max tr pot lol

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You might have thought that the Roman empire was doomed by barbarian invasions, lead poisoning, the loss of masculine values, or climate change. But Jim Bisso at Epea Pteroenta has pointed out that at the very height of the empire's power, in the reign of Trajan, Roman culture had already been compromised by an insidious agent that you probably have never considered, though it's obvious in retrospect.

The villain was none other than txting, that widely-feared destroyer of civilizations. While IM and SMS had not yet been invented, the Romans used a medium that motivates textual concision even more strongly: marble.

Jim draws our attention to this milestone from the Via Trajana:


Expanding all the inscriptional txting, we get:

Imperator Caesar
divi Nervae filius
Nerva Trajanus
Augustus Germanicus Dacicus
pontifex maximus tribunitia potestate
XIII imperator VI consul V
pater patriae
viam a Benevento
Brundisium pecunia
sua fecit.

And in English:

The emperor Caesar,
son of the deified Nerva,
Nerva Trajanus
Augustus, victor over the Germans and the Dacians,
chief priest,
holder of the tribunician power 13 times, saluted emperor 6 times, consul 5 times,
father of his country,
made the road from Beneventum
to Brindisium
at his own expense.

Woozy from vowel deprivation, I'm puzzled about the route of this Via Trajana. If you ask Google Maps how to get from Benevento to Brindisi today, this is the route that's recommended:

But according to William Latham Bevan, The Student's Manual of Ancient Geography (1875), p. 527:

Samnium was traversed by several high-roads. The Via Appia entered it from Capua, and passed through the S. part of the province, by Beneventum and the valley of the calor, to Venusia in Apulia. A branch-road struck off from this at Beneventum, which joined the Via Egnatia at Æcæ in Apulia: this was named Via Trajāna, having been constructed by the Emperor Trajan.

Æcæ is modern Troia, so on this account the route of the Via Trajana is here:

But the Wikipedia article on the Via Egnatia places it in the Balkans, not in Apulia.

There's a lesson here, kids. See what happens when you get all whateverist about spelling? Legions sent to keep order in Illyria wind up wandering around Foggia.


  1. Nathan Myers said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 6:28 am


  2. GAC said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 6:52 am

    Haha. Next maybe someone should argue that the Egyptians fell because they had no vowels. :P

  3. PauAmma said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 7:07 am

    LXXIX is 79, not 75.

  4. Craig Russell said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 7:15 am

    Nathan Myers:

    This inscription is made on a mile marker, so the 75 means that this is the 75th mile from the beginning of the road (just like a modern highway mile marker indicates).

    As for the path of the Via Traiana, Wikipedia shows its course here:


    I have no idea what that Bevan quote means about the Via Egnatia–but then again, my knowledge of Roman roads is hardly my strong suit.

  5. Craig Russell said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 7:17 am

    And, thank you PauAmma, replace '75' in my comment with '79'.

  6. Mark Liberman said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 7:44 am

    "75" for "LXXIX" is apparently a mistake; but whether it was a scribal error on Jim's part, or from Lawrence Keppie (1991) Understanding Roman Inscriptions, pp.65-6, where he got the example, I don't know. In either case, I should have recalculated it, and didn't.


    indeed shows the Via Trajana connecting Benevento to Brindisi by way of Troia, so it seems to be Bevan who was confused, perhaps by the strain of deciphering too many disemvoweled inscriptions. The students of 1875 would have been better off with Wikipedia.

  7. Dan Diffendale said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 9:04 am

    The solution is that there are two Viae Egnatiae. The Balkan one was constructed by (and took its name from) Gn. Egnatius, proconsul of Macedonia. The south Italian one was a branch of the Via Appia that passed through (and took its name from) Egnatia, modern Egnazia.

  8. John Cowan said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 10:30 am

    Roman roads are named after the gens (patriclan, roughly) of the person who ordered them built, and there just weren't that many gentes with the power and money to manage such things, so road names wind up getting repeated all over the Empire. Wikipedia lists the Via Clodia, the Via Claudia Augusta, the Via Augusta, the Via Augusta Praetoria, the Via Julia Augusta, to pick just one intermarried extended family.

  9. zmjezhd said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    Sorry about the mistake; LXXIX is indeed 79. Here's the map of the area around link) Benevento from the Tabula Peutingeriana.

  10. Peter said,

    April 24, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

    The brother of Somerset Maugham was a judge who apparently believed (according to Gore Vidal) that the cause of the downfall of the Roman Empire was due to an obsession with cleanliness. When the barbarians knocked on the gates of Rome, the Romans were in the bath, and unable to respond.

  11. marie-lucie said,

    April 27, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

    Abbreviations are very common in older texts, including inscriptions on stone monuments, anywhere where space and labour were at a premium. Medieval manuscripts are full of them, both for entire words and for common letter combinations. The Spanish tilde is a version of the letter n, the n + ~ originating from the combination nn as in Latin annus 'year'. Closer to our own time, old-fashioned manuscript correspondence before the invention of the typewriter also used many abbreviations, for instance the still-used business abbreviations Ltd and in French Cie (< Compagnie).

  12. Daniel said,

    April 27, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

    Just as we still use plc and Inc. today. Or even email rather than electronic mail.

  13. Martyn Cornell said,

    May 5, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

    … and, of course, pre-decimal British coinage declared that the monarch was, among other things, DG Ind Imp Fid Def …so maybe txt spk brought about the fall of the British Empire as well ..

  14. Tal said,

    April 24, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    "75″ instead of "LXXIX" must be a mistake…

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