By this term are meant, notes, breviatures, letters set for words, characters, short hand.
We find sigla in the most ancient MSS.: some specimens of such as were used in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, are here given. Some of these sigla were made by the Antiquarians who wrote the book, and others afterwards for the illustration of the text. The annexed sigla may be explained thus: —
Many writers have employed their pens in elucidating the sigla on coins and medals; among others, Octavius de Strada in Aurea Numismata &c. where we read C. Cæsar. Divi. F. IMP. Cos. III. Vir R. P. C. that is, Caii Cæsaris Divi filius imperator consul Triumvir reipublicæ constituencæ. A number of similar examples may be found in the same author, and in Æneas Vicus Parmensis de Augustarum.
As to epitaphs or sepulchral inscriptions, it was common to begin them with these literary signs, D.M.S. signifying Diis Manibus Sacrum, and, as still is customary with us, on such occasions, the glorious actions, praises, origin, age, and rank of the deceased, with the time of his death, were set forth.
It is a fact too well known to require any particular elucidation, that it was customary with the ancients to burn the bodies of the dead, and to deposit the remains in urns or vessels, as appears from the funeral Obsequies of Patroclus and Achilles in Homer.
Altars erected to the Supreme Being are of the highest antiquity, but by the ambition and corruption of mankind were afterwards prostituted to flatter both the living and the dead. Inscriptions, or literary signs, frequently appeared on those altars; as Ar. Don. D. that is, Aram dono dedit, and such like.
Public Statues were erected to Kings, Emperors, and others, both before and after their death, on which the names of the dedicators were frequently inscribed in literary signs. As in this inscription, Civ. Interamnanæ Civ. Utriusque Sex. Aer. Coll. Post Ob. H. P. D. that is, Cives Interamnanæ civitatis uiriusque sexus are collato post obitum hujus patronæ dedicarunt.
The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans used forms of saluting or complimentary expressions at the beginning of their letters, and then proceeded to the subject of the letters themselves.
The Latin method was to place the name of the writer first, afterwards that of the person to whom the letter was addressed. The names were either put simply without any epithet in literary signs, as C. Att. S. that is Cicero Attico Salutem; or the dignity or rank of the person was added, as, C. S. D. Plane. Imp. Cos. Des. that is, Cicero Salutem dicit Planeo Imperatori Consuli designato. The epistolary writings of the Romans abound with examples of this kind.
The Military Sigla amongst the Romans are treated of by Vegetius and Frontinus.
See John Nicholaus, who hath written professedly upon the Sigla of the Ancients; — J. Nicolai Tractatus de Siglis Veterum. Lugd. Bat. 1703, 4to,
A competent knowledge of these literary signs, or verbal contractions used by the ancients, is of the utmost importance to those who wish to be familiarly acquainted with ancient history. These Sigla or Signs frequently appear on marbles, coins, and medals, and occur in those inestimable volumes of antiquity, which have transmitted to us the most important truths relative to the religion, manners, customs, arts and sciences, of ancient nations. These are keys, as it were, to unlock the most precious volumes of antiquity; they introduce us to a more speedy acquaintance with all the various works of ancient artists and writers. The instruction to be derived from this branch of polite learning is of itself a sufficient spur to stimulate attention and industry; but its utility, which is no less obvious, is an additional incentive to augment our application and desires, when we consider, that there are no ancient documents, either on metals, marbles, precious stones, bark, parchment, paper, or other materials, which do not abound with these literary contractions, and that it will be very difficult to understand them without this necessary knowledge. — Astle. See Records.