It is impossible to walk through the streets of Rome without noticing the four letters 'S P Q R'. The letters appear on everything from dustbins and drains to fountains and manhole covers.
Standing for SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANUS (the Senate and the Roman people), the letters refer to the government of the ancient Roman Republic. The abbreviation first appeared at the beginning of the first century BCE. Nowadays, the four letters form part of the official emblem of the city of Rome.
During the Fascist period (1922-1943) the letters were often accompanied by the fasces (from which the Fascist party drew its name), a bundle of wooden rods and an axe, which symbolised a magistrate's power and jurisdiction. In the days of ancient Rome the fasces were carried by lictors, the figures who escorted magistrates through the streets of the city.
Over time, the four letters have been given other meanings. To non-Romans, they became Sono Porchi Questi Romani (These Romans are Pigs). To anti-clerics, they became Sono Preti Regnano Qui (Only the Priests Reign Here).
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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