The Identification of Early Roman Emoticons

Familiar Roman numerals include I,V,X,L,C,D,M and are often seen engraved in stone or featured on buildings and sculptures as in this magnificent facade found in Vienna. However, a closer look reveals usage that is not so obvious such as the unusual backwards C as highlighted here:


The backwards C is generally seen together with I as in the above example, dating from 1783. Other symbol combinations less commonly seen include C, I, backwards C and rarely I,C. The origin of these special symbols is shrouded in mystery yet their usage has become clear after examination of hundreds of examples found throughout Europe and carved in many cases over 1000 years ago.


Early stone carvers recognized that inscriptions being read many years later would lack the context with which to interpret the intended meaning and nuances. The I backwards C was introduced in the mid 12th century to denote humorous intent on the part of the sculptor and to avoid confusion where the accompanying text might otherwise be misconstrued. In this case of a simple date as seen above, its use indicates commemoration of a particularly happy event or the completion of an especially well executed sculpture.

sad face

Even today, carving epitaths represents an unpleasant reality of a stone mason's work. The I forward C was developed to convey sadness, primarily on tombs and crypts; however, its use also extended to the statues of unpopular public figures.


Kings and Emperors often chose most beautiful wives and the royal sculptors took great pride in creating statues of these regal figures. The forward C I backwards C soon emerged as a way of describing the voluptuous form of these most desireable women.

It would not be unusual to find more than one of the above symbols on the same carving. For example, the tomb of an especially well-loved and beautiful princess could easily have all three symbols in succession.