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Bill Thayer

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Decentius, Age Five and a Half


[image ALT: A Roman inscription, transcribed, translated and commented and this webpage.]
Transcribed, expanded, and spelling standardized to classical Latin:
1
2
3
DECENTIVS IN PACEM
QVI VIXIT · ANNIS · V · MENSES · VI · DEPOSITVS
DIE · XIIII · KAL
endas · APRILES ·
Translated:
Decentius, in peace
who lived 5 years 6 months. Laid to rest
on the 14th of the Kalends of April (i.e., March 19th).

1087 × 183 mm
4th century A.D.?
narthex of S. Sabina, Rome

The B of BIXIT is not good Latin, whether classical or any other period. It is, however, an indication of how V was pronounced; and a similar situation prevails today in Spanish, where in spelling a word out, one is often asked, "B de Vaca o B de Burro?".

The M of PACEM is more interesting. Every first-year Latin student knows that where there is no movement, the preposition in takes the ablative; so here we expect in pace, which is in fact the standard phrase in tomb inscriptions (see for example this one in S. Maria in Trastevere). We might parse the sentence as in pacem . . . depositus, but that seems very unlikely to me, at least in any formal structure. So either we have an outright mistake — or something more intriguing: that in the minds of the Christian parents who commissioned this stone or of the man who cut it, the peace of death is not a state, but a process towards which we move.


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Page updated: 28 Feb 03