Chronogram

From Academic Kids

A chronogram is a sentence or inscription in which the capital letters, interpreted in Roman numerals, stand for a particular date if rearranged. The word, meaning "time writing" derives from the Greek words chronos ("time") and gramma ("letter"). Longer chronograms are referred to as chronostichons, if they are a hexameter, and chronodistichons if they are a distichon.

The practice originated in the late Roman Empire and was particularly popular during the Renaissance, when chronograms were often used on tombstones and foundation stones to mark the date of the event being commemorated. For instance:

  • My Day Is Closed In Immortality is a chronogram commemorating the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The capitals read MDCIII when rearranged, which corresponds to 1603, the year of Elizabeth's death.
  • ChrIstVs DuX ergo triVMphVs ("Christ the Leader, therefore triumphant"), on a coin struck by Gustavus Adolphus in 1627, gives MDCXVVVII or 1627.
  • In a work entitled Hugo Grotius his Sophompaneas, published in 1652, the date is indicated by the author's name: FranCIs GoLDsMIth. This gives MDCLII or 1652.

Many lengthy examples of chronograms can be found in Germany, notably in and around the town of Bad Salzuflen. These commemorate the building of houses in the form of prayers or quotations from the Bible. For instance, SVRGE O IEHOVA ATQVE DISPERGE INIMICOS TVOS ("Rise, oh Jehovah, and destroy your enemies", a slightly altered version of Psalm 68:2) gives 1625 as the year of building.

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