SPQR stands for "Senātus Populusque Rōmānus". It would be logical (at least in English or Spanish) to expect the initialism or acronym to be SPR. However, the first letter of the conjunction "-que" is also added to the acronym, forming the well-known SPQR.

Why is the Q added to the acronym? Is it to differentiate it from "Senātus Populus Rōmānus"? Or is a common practice to add the first letter of conjunctions (or at least the "-que" conjunction) into acronyms?

My search on the latter has not given me any meaningful result. Perhaps surprisingly, the Wikipedia entry does not comment on this issue. There is a helpless forum thread here too.

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    It would be just as logical for the acronym to be S&PR in English, which is exactly equivalent to the Latin, allowing for the different word order. – alephzero Aug 11 '17 at 14:11
  • @alephzero It is an interesting hypothesis, but I think the evidence is very much in favour of English acronyms omitting the & (I can only think of S&P and AT&T). The key evidence would be to find other examples using the same approach but Joonas's answer might indicate there is not another. – luchonacho Aug 11 '17 at 14:18
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    @luchonacho check out historic British railway companies - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_early_British_railway_companies A quick skim of just the Caledonian railway artices for "&" gives: A&FR B&EDR C&DJR C&OR D&AR DD&CR D&PR E&GR F&BR G&AR G&DJR G&GR G&SWR GB&KJR GBH&CR GD&HR GG&CR GP&GR GPK&AR GY&CR L&DR M&GN M&KR R&CR W&CR – Mark Aug 12 '17 at 15:42
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    Spanish is a dialect of Latin. SPR: senado popular revolucionario. – user26732 Aug 14 '17 at 9:46
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    @user26732 Senado Popular Quasi Revolucionario? – luchonacho Aug 14 '17 at 9:54
up vote 40 down vote accepted

It appears that -que was treated much like a word. Especially Ovidius does not treat it as an enclitic, but more as an independent word. This becomes evident in quotes, where -que is outside the quote but the word it is attached to is inside. Take a look at this question on a specific instance of this (for the version -c) and this list for a number of similar occurrences in Ovidius.

I am not sure how the Romans understood or defined a word. Word spacing as we know it — including our editions of ancient texts — was not an ancient phenomenon. Spelling conventions have evolved over time, also during the Roman era.

I don't know of any other ancient abbreviations where the "word" -que is given its own letter. But I didn't manage to find any other abbreviations containing -que either. In the absence of examples in either direction, it is hard to draw very strong conclusions. Modern abbreviations can be quite liberal, but arguing by modern analogies is dangerous.

One question worth asking is whether we really know what all the letters in SPQR stand for. The fact that the Temple of Saturn in the Forum Romanum has Senatus populusque Romanus spelled out in full (and so does the arch of Titus as luchonacho pointed out) is evidence in support of the standard reading, but it does not strictly rule out other options. However, I do find it most likely that the Q is -que and the standard reading is correct.

We can only guess why there is a Q, unless some ancient author discusses this very point. Perhaps it was to emphasize the "and". Perhaps -que was considered a separate word. Perhaps whoever came up with it didn't give it much thought and his decision stuck. Perhaps it was to differentiate it from Suomen Punainen Risti (The Finnish Red Cross). The last guess is probably bad, though.

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    +1 for the Finnish comment (joke). (Cannot find a proper match in Spanish) – luchonacho Aug 11 '17 at 11:53
  • There are plenty of modern examples of acronyms or initialisms where letters are included from the inner part of a word, although usually this is in the case of acronyms for the sake of pronunciation or making a better pun. I also can't come up with a single example at the moment. – Darren Aug 11 '17 at 13:41
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    @Darren I can't imagine how pronouncing SPQR is easier than SPR, but I do not know enough Latin to say so. – luchonacho Aug 11 '17 at 14:02
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    @luchonacho at my grandparets' home there was a picture of Romulus, Remus and the wolf with SPQR on it. The joke was it meant SPera Que Ruja (wait till the wolf roars). I was like 5 y/o and couldn't stop laughing – Rafael Aug 14 '17 at 7:15
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    @luchonacho sí. I can't find a match in Spanish either, but you just made me remember that joke. The initial e in espera is omitted to force the joke. – Rafael Aug 14 '17 at 8:00

The consensus seems to be that SPQR means Senatus Populusque Romanus, but there is also the theory that SPQR did not mean Senatus Populusque Romanus.

It could also may have been Senatus Populus Quirites Romani.

I've read this in the entry for Quirites in the dictionary Langenscheidt Großes Schulwörterbuch Lateinisch-Deutsch which I unfortunately don't have access to right now.

[1] Quiritesque (Pons)

[2] Quiriti (Treccani)

  • Welcome to the site! Should it be Senatus Populus Quiritesque Romani? It would make sense to have an et or -que, although asyndeton is not unheard of. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 11 '17 at 21:03
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    The only problem I see with this answer is that the only inscription I have found that has the expression written in full is the Arch of Titus (@JoonasIlmavirta maybe you know of more?). And that inscription uses the "populusque" version. However, that arch was built around 82 AD, which is when there was already the Roman Empire (it seems the SPQR expression referred to the Roman Republic, which ended in 27 BC). So if the Q has a different meaning, it might need to imply the Arch of Titus did not meant to use SPQR as used earlier. – luchonacho Aug 12 '17 at 18:59

The source referenced in a Wikipedia-entry:

SPQR är en förkortning för Senatus Populusque Romanus, [se'na:tus popu'luskwe ro'ma:nus], vilket betyder "senaten och det romerska folket". Eller Senatus Populus Quiritium Romanus Romerska riket, senaten och det kviritisk-romerska folket.[1]

Where the reference [1] refers to a blog post by "maximuxz" in 4th of june, 2007. Who copied a piece of text from here. Where we find the following explanation below in quoted text. I have structured it with some captions.

Edit: I traced the source back to an earlier version of the Wikipedia entry. You can find more information on SPQR in the discussion on Wikipedia of SPQR, right here. But the following text (originally from an older version of the SPQR Wikipedia entry) should still offer a good summary:

"S.P.Q.R. is an initialism in Latin that be emblazoned on the standards of the Roman legions and be used by the Roman republic and the Roman empire. It currently appears in the modern coat of arms of the city of Rome, as capably as on many of the city's civic buildings and manhole covers. (The latter be originally placed by order of Mussolini, who frequently used SPQR as propaganda for his regime.)

The initialism itself is subject to ongoing debate, beside divergent phrases and translations offered as explanations. (Like any translation, initialisms are of debatable importance and accuracy, as the meaning of words are subject to both change and complexity.) Its aim was probably of archaic cause even during ancient Roman times.

S most assuredly stood for Senatus - "Senate".

P is disputed, some see in it Populus or Populusque, "the people" and "and the people", respectively.

Q is disputed, it stood any for que ("and"), or Quirites or Quiritium (both of which mean "spearmen". Originally adjectives Roman citizens had be soldiers.)

R probably stood for Romae, Romanus or Romanorum, translated into "of Rome", "Roman" or "of the Romans", respectively. All this leads to divergent phrases:

Possible interpretations

  • Senatus Populus Quiritium Romanus

Senatus Populus Quiritium Romanus The Senate and the citizens' Roman associates, Quiritium being the genitive plural of Quiris, "citizen". This initialism is given by Castiglioni and Mariotti, authors of a renowned Latin dictionary, among other scholar.

  • Senatus Populus Quiritium Romanorum

Senatus Populusque Quiritium Romanorum This version is remarkably similar to the journal above and follows the same logic, self translated as the "Senate and people of the Roman citizens."

  • Senatus Populus Quirites Romanus

Senatus Populus Quirites Romanus This is another revision and also follows the same logic.

  • Senatus Populusque Romanus

Senatus Populusque Romanus The Senate and the Roman family This version started to be used since a completely early stage of the Roman republic, and subsequently continued to be used during the Roman empire. As such, it appears in most of the top monuments and documents. A fine example of this is the Arch of Titus built around 81 AD to honor Titus and his father the Emperor Vespasian. It is also used in Trajan's Column which be built in 113 AD to salary homage to Emperor Trajan.

  • Senatus Populusque Romae

Senatus Populusque Romae. This version translates into the currently fêted The Senate and the people of Rome. Populus purpose "people", the suffix que meaning "and", and Romae characterization "of Rome". This version have the great merit that its English translation is simply the better sounding one, but its historical accuracy is notably dubious. The english translation is used in masses movies and TV series about ancient Rome.

About Quiris

One have to realize that a citizen of Rome was expected to come to blows for the Roman republic. The people of Rome would include women, children, and probably even slaves. All these classes were a member of the Roman people but not citizens of the Roman republic. A free Roman manly who had adjectives the rights and fulfilled his duties, who was competent and willing to be at odds for the republic and the people be a citizen, a member of an restricted, in effect a subgroup inwardly the people . Therefore, a citizen would originally be call a Quiris - a "spearman".

About Quirities

This can also be seen contained by the original denomination of the citizens right: "Ius civile Quiritium". On a trustworthy occasion Julius Caesar subdued a insurrectionary legion by apparently accepting adjectives their demands and then famously address them with: "Quirites" - "citizens" Suetonius: Divus Julius 70. The shocked legionaries cried out, reaffirming their loyalty towards their beloved common.

About SQPR vs SPQR

Perhaps a more accurate modern translation of the original target would be: "The Senate and the Citizens of the People of Rome." - "Senatus Quiritesque Populi Romae", which regrettably would change the initialism into "SQPR". However, since word instruct is secondary to conjugation within Latin, one could rearrange it to "Senatus Populique Quirites Romae" or "Senatus Populi Quiritesque Romae" for "SPQR". It wouldn't be chic Latin, but understood.

Disclaimer: I never studied any Latin.

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    The only problem I see with this answer is that the only inscription I have found that has the expression written in full is the Arch of Titus (@JoonasIlmavirta maybe you know of more?). And that inscription uses the "populusque" version. However, that arch was built around 82 AD, which is when there was already the Roman Empire (it seems the SPQR expression referred to the Roman Republic, which ended in 27 BC). So if the Q has a different meaning, it might need to imply the Arch of Titus did not meant to use SPQR as used earlier. – luchonacho Aug 12 '17 at 19:00
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    @luchonacho I'm not familiar enough with the Roman inscriptions to say which readings of SPQR have been found in full and which have not. I mentioned the temple of Saturn in my answer, so with that triumph arch it makes a score 2 for Senatus populusque Romanus. It is of course good to be aware that this reading might not be the only one, but attestations of any alternative in literature or inscriptions would make the point far stronger. (Still, this answer got my upvote for presenting numerous options.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 12 '17 at 19:06
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Mmm, interesting to see that apparently the final version of the inscription in the Temple of Saturn dates from around the 3rd century, which is also after the Roman Republic. It would be very interesting to find such inscription dating from the actual Roman Republic. This must have been studied by someone! Maybe there is somewhere an explanation in a book or paper. – luchonacho Aug 12 '17 at 19:25
  • The original source was said to come from ""Geschichte der Römer" - (eng. tranlation: History of the Romans) by Oskar Jäger", and the Wikipedia user said about him: "and he is very thourough in his facts". You can read the discussion yourself, but due to lack of clear evidence the theory was removed from Wikipedia. – Yeti Aug 12 '17 at 23:08
  • @Yeti Är du möjligen intresserad av att delta i Swedish Language SE? (This comment is mostly irrelevant here, but I thought I'd mention in case someone is interested now that Swedish came up.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 13 '17 at 7:44

As for what I can remember of my Latin and Roman History studies (some time ago) the Q (standing for que = and, as already explained in other answers and comments) was specifically introduced exactly to stress the union of the Senate and the People, but I cannot remember the occasion, or indicate a source for that.

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    Welcome to the site! If you (or anyone else) happen to recall details on this, that would be very interesting to see. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 11 '17 at 19:27
  • @JoonasIlmavirta: thanks for the welcome! I saw a link to this post and was curious to see what the question was about (.. I am living in the old Sabines' land..). – G Cab Aug 11 '17 at 21:54

Interestingly, the 1895 (or 1896) book Latin Inscriptions by James Egbert Jr. provides a through study of, well, Latin inscriptions, including acronyms. An online version of the book can be found here.

A relevant quote, in my opinion (pages 415-6):

Certain general principles will be found of advantage in the interpretation of abbreviations.

  1. Words written in abbreviated form consist either of the initial letter (si(n)g(u)la) or of a continuous group of letters more or less restricted in number. In the latter case the final letter of the abbreviation is the first consonant of a syllable, but this is not an exact rule. T= Titus; TIB = Tiberius; CLAVD, CLAV, CLA = Claudia; QVIR, QVI, Q = Quirina.

  2. If a word is composed of several members, the above rule applies either to the word treated as a whole or to each of the component parts regarded as individual words. Thus signifer may be abbreviated synthetically SIG or SIGN, or analytically SIGF for signum and fer, so BENEFlC, BENEF, B, or again B F = beneficiarius, DVMTAX or D T = dum taxat, Q Q V = quoquoversus, P Q = populusque.

This in theory is the system of abbreviations up to the end of the third century A.D.

When a disregard of these principles first made itself felt in the formation of abbreviations cannot be exactly determined, but it is probable that ignorance or a misunderstanding of the second rule, combined with a lack of knowledge of the component parts of words as determining the abbreviated forms, led to the violation of the principle of continuity of the letters....

Pages 417 to 460 provide a list of acronyms, where we can see several adding the Q when the word includes a que suffix, albeit this is not a universal rule. Examples include:

  • D.N.M.Q.E: devotus numini maiestatique eius
  • E.Q.D.D: eademque dedicavit
  • F.Q.E.E.V: fideque el esse videbitur
  • H.H.Q: heres heredesque
  • IMP.P.Q.R: imperium populusque Romanus
  • L.L.Q: liberis liberabusque
  • P.Q.S: posterisque suis
  • S.ET S.L.P.Q.E: sibi et suis libertis, libertabus posterisque eorum

Interestingly, SPQR was not the only SPQ-based abbreviation. The book above lists also several SPQ+X, where X includes: A (Albensis), C (Corsiolanus), L (Lavininus), T (Tiburs).

Maybe there are some further analysis in the book relevant for the question at hand, but don't have the time at the moment. All I can conclude from this however is that "in theory", up until the third century AD the rule was to add Q for que in an acronym. Hence the SPQR, which predates third century AD.

Or is a common practice to add the first letter of conjunctions (or at least the "-que" conjunction) into acronyms?

You are looking at this from the modern English tradition of omitting articles like "and" or "of" from acronyms. The Romans did not necessarily follow the same aesthetics.

Ostensibly the Romans considered the "que" as a separate word, & abbreviated it separately.

One reason for this may have been the actual pronunciation of the phrase at the time. They may have emphasized the -que when speaking, perhaps. Plus there is the fact that they did not space their words out separately as we do today. Maybe the -que suffix started as a separate word but became considered a suffix much later.

  • Welcome to the site! Latin originally developed as an oral language, so I'm not sure what it would mean that -que started as a separate word as opposed to a suffix. However, drawing attention to the Roman definition of a word (or lack thereof!) is a good point to make. The effect of enclitics on stress was mentioned in an older question if you are interested. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 13 '17 at 19:54

The suffix -que means "and", but it jumps before the word it is attached to. Like Jim and Fred could be Jim Fredque in Latin. Similarly here this means the "Senate and People of Rome" (technically Roman People, but I chose to keep the Latin ordering). So they must be looking at Que like its another word.

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    The question is not about the role or meaning of que in the expression, but why it is added to the acronym. – luchonacho Aug 11 '17 at 14:11
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    If anything, -que “jumps” after the words it refers to. – DaG Aug 14 '17 at 11:55

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