The signum manus (Latin for “hand sign”) was an early medieval practice where decrees, charters, letters, and other important documents were signed using a special monogram. These monograms sometimes used royal ciphers with initialisms based on Latin titles and numbers.

These signatures often took a diamond or square-like shape, incorporating letters or shapes based on letter combinations representing the signer’s names, titles, or realms. The practice began with the Chi Rho, an early Christian symbol used during the Roman Empire to signify Christ. This monogram was adapted into similarly shaped “cross signatures” during the Merovingian dynasty.

Signum Manus

Most Signi manus take the shape of either a cross (cruciform monograms) or a square (box monograms). The first cruciform monogram was used by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century AD, and box monograms appear on minted coins dating back to the fifth century AD.

Depicted below is the cruciform signum manus of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. The sign incorporates the letters of his Latin name: KAROLVS.

Popular Interpretations of The Signum Manus

  • The signum manus is derived from early Christian iconography used for signing documents.
  • Its earliest predecessor, the Chi Rho, represents the first two letters of the Greek Word Christo, meaning “Christ.”
  • Many Signi incorporate initialisms based on Latin royal titles and numbers.
  • These elements show the relationship between medieval European feudalism and the divine right of kings, as well as the roots of medieval Europe in the late Roman Empire.

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