Claudian Letters

The Claudian letters were developed by, and named after, the Roman Emperor Claudius (reigned 41–54). He introduced three new letters:

  • Ↄ, a reversed C (antisigma) to replace BS and PS, much like X stood in for CS and GS. The appearance of this letter is disputed, however, since no inscription bearing it has been found.
  • Ⅎ, a turned F (digamma inversum) to represent consonantal U (W/V).
  • Ⱶ, a half H to represent the so-called sonus medius, a short vowel sound between U and I before labial consonants in Latin words such as optumus/optimus, later used as a variant of y in inscriptions for Greek upsilon (as in Olympicus).

These letters were used to a small extent on public inscriptions dating from Claudius' reign, but their use was abandoned after his death. Their forms were probably chosen to ease the transition, as they could be made from templates for existing letters. He may have been inspired by his ancestor Appius Claudius the Censor, who made earlier changes to the Latin alphabet. Claudius did indeed introduce his letters during his own term as censor, using arguments preserved in the historian Tacitus's account of his reign. In time, the letter Y was added to the Latin alphabet, filling the role of the broken "H" which Claudius had promulgated.

Novas etiam commentus est litteras tres ac numero veterum quasi maxime necessarias addidit; de quarum ratione cum privatus adhuc volumen edidisset, mox princeps non difficulter optinuit ut in usu quoque promiscuo essent. Exstat talis scriptura in plerisque libris ac diurnis titulisque operum.

Besides this he invented three new letters and added them to the alphabet, maintaining that they were greatly needed; he published a book on their theory when he was still in private life, and when he became emperor had no difficulty in bringing about their general use. These characters may still be seen in numerous books, in the daily gazette, and in inscriptions on public buildings.

—Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, xli.3

The reversed C is also used as a variant Roman numeral.

Support for the letters was added in version 5.0.0 of Unicode. The letters are encoded as follows:

Description Letter Unicode HTML Script
TURNED CAPITAL F
TURNED SMALL F

U+2132
U+214E
Ⅎ
ⅎ
Latin
ROMAN NUMERAL REVERSED ONE HUNDRED
LATIN SMALL LETTER REVERSED C

U+2183
U+2184
Ↄ
ↄ
Latin
LATIN CAPITAL LETTER HALF H
LATIN SMALL LETTER HALF H

U+2C75
U+2C76
Ⱶ
ⱶ
Latin

Read more about Claudian Letters:  Further Reading

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