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Almost everyone who has ever seen a Roman grave inscription has seen the phrase Dis Manibus or its abbreviation DM. It starts almost every Roman tombstone I have seen. I know it means "to/for the Manes", but I am not sure how to parse it syntactically as a part of the inscription.

Should I parse D[is] M[anibus] as a separate idiom that is not syntactically tied to the rest of the text? What exactly is given or dedicated to the Manes? Is it the tomb, the deceased, or something else? Is the text perhaps addressed to the Manes?

I would be grateful if someone could show an example or two and explain how the phrase Dis Manibus works as a part of the whole text in an epitaph.

Here are some example inscriptions from this CIL page ("Section: Sepulchrales"):

15128
DIS MANIBVS
TI CLAVDIO ISSO
FIL DVLCISSIMO
VIX ANN XII D XXXV
IVLIA SEVERA
MATER FECIT

15130
DIS MANIBVS
TI CLAVDIVS
IVCVNDVS AVG
L FEC FAVSTO
ALVMNO SVO

15134
D M
BENE MERENTI FILIO
CLAVDIO LICINIO
QVI VIXIT ANNO
VNO MESIBUS VIIII
FECIT PATER LICINIVS
EVTHYCIVS

I can understand these inscriptions otherwise, but I don't see the exact role played by the first lines. This may or may not be a representative sample. I lack the expertise to judge that, but the ubiquity of the phrase is evident from what I have seen.

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In each example you give, there is the word fecit or its abbreviation fec. I believe this goes along with Dis Manibus to mean "made to the Manes". In this way, it resembles the style of Roman letters, in which the recipient is placed up top in the dative case, and "salutem" or "S.D." often follows. Since epitaphs are short, it makes sense to place fecit near the end, using SOV order.

To demonstrate this theory, let's try translating each one. I wasn't able to translate each one fully, but I think I got the gist. The translations serve to illustrate how fecit goes hand in hand with DM.

Also, please feel free to improve my translations in the comments.

15128 DIS MANIBVS
TI CLAVDIO ISSO
FIL DVLCISSIMO
VIX ANN XII D XXXV
IVLIA SEVERA
MATER FECIT

To the spirits of the dead,
For Tiberius Claudius (of Issus? Issus?),
most sweet son,
lived ——
Iulia Severa,
his mother, made.

15130 DIS MANIBVS
TI CLAVDIVS
IVCVNDVS AVG
L FEC FAVSTO
ALVMNO SVO

To the ghost-gods,
Tiberius Claudius, agreeable,
made for his favorable foster son,
Lucius Augustus.

N.B. I am really unsure of this translation.

15134 D M
BENE MERENTI FILIO
CLAVDIO LICINIO
QVI VIXIT ANNO
VNO MESIBUS VIIII
FECIT PATER LICINIVS
EVTHYCIVS

To the Manes,
For the well-deserving son
Claudius Licinius
who lived for one year nine months,
his father Licinius Euthycius made.

  • Thanks! To clarify: Are you saying that the text on the tombstone is addressed to the Manes? It looks reasonable to me, but it is worth noting that the name of the deceased is also in dative. – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 17 '17 at 19:05
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    I think the double dative might be understood as a dativus finalis and a dativus commodi. I'm inclined to say that "Dis Manibus" would be the dativus commodi. – ktm5124 Nov 17 '17 at 19:26
  • Hmm... So it would be something like "This person made for that person for the benefit of the Manes"? The L is probably the name Lucius, and I think it's the name of the alumnus (probably foster son rather than student). – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 17 '17 at 19:42
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    Sandys, Latin epigraphy, takes the dative DM to be in apposition to the dative name of the deceased. Another, more general-interest book that I looked in, Keppie's Understanding Latin inscriptions, says we're meant to understand 'et' between the 2 datives. Cooley, The Cambridge manual of Latin epigraphy, always treats DM as a separate, standalone invocation. There's also the fact that sometimes DM = DMS (dis manibus sacrum), where the dative is dependent on the adj. Plus, sometimes the person's name isn't dative at all, though DM still is. The matter is, in short, very complicated. – cnread Nov 17 '17 at 20:11
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    I should also add that the 3 examples given here aren't necessarily very representative. Not all have the verb fecit and, as I indicate in my previous comment, the person's name isn't always in the dative. In some, it's in the genitive and depends on DM ('to the spirits of the departed of so-and-so'), in others it's nominative, and I'm sure I've seen accusatives too. So, either the meaning/syntax of DM is highly flexible (a definite possibility) or Cooley is right always to take it as a standalone invocation (though there may well be instances where that approach doesn't work). – cnread Nov 17 '17 at 20:24

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