The epigraphy congress

Many of the extended LatinNow team reuniting at the FAIR epigraphy party. L to R Stoyanova, Vanderbilt, Masséglia, Houten, Mullen, Willi, Moncunill. Estarán, Herrera, Salomon

Now that the dust has settled after the international congress of Greek and Latin epigraphy (CIEGL) 2022 in Bordeaux here’s a report from a LatinNow perspective.  I sent a gushing tweet one evening stating that we ‘enjoyed every minute of it’. I admit that this was not entirely true…

We had been planning to bring our French version of the VOCES POPVLI tour for many months and the couriering arrangements had started in January. In the fortnight before the conference, everything fell apart. The carnet we needed thanks to Brexit would cost £400 + VAT, suddenly the air freight option was removed altogether due to a lack of airport handlers and the last ditch attempts to organize by-road courier went from looking plausible, if costly, to eye-wateringly expensive in a matter of 24 hours thanks to driver availability (or lack thereof) and fuel costs. So couriering 13 packages would have cost in the region of £4000, several times our budget. I apologised profusely to the organizers and instead packed a smaller display of our research outputs and with the help of the team managed to get this to Bordeaux in one piece.

Setting up our slimmed down offering in the publishers’ room
Janie’s talk explaning successes and lessons learned from the VOCES POPVLI tour

Handily Janie’s presentation of the tour in the outreach panel organized by Silvia Orlandi and Alison Cooley allowed those most interested in outreach attending the conference to get a taster. It was actually Janie’s last working day on LatinNow half-way through the conference and we are so grateful for her genius ideas, support and leadership, dating right back to the planning phase for the ERC grant submission. We’ll miss her, me especially.

Prof. Horster in her closing speech of the congress using Roman Inscriptions of Britain online as an example of best practice in digital epigraphy

At Bordeaux it quickly became clear that this smaller display of our outputs was in fact more appropriate: we had a stream of visitors who were interested in our ebooks, schools’ worksheets in six languages, replica writing equipment, Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online (given several shout outs in the plenaries) and, most importantly the beta version of our webGIS. The webGIS represents a Herculean team effort coordinating around 30 datasets from numerous digital humanities projects together with our own datasets on epigraphy (originally from EAGLE but augmented and enhanced) and writing equipment. The organizers had given us a projector and we demo-ed it to interested parties who wanted to see ‘all the Greek verse inscriptions in Britain’, or ‘defixiones across the west’. We had discussions about why certain objects with certain texts types were in certain locations – ‘perhaps there is a military settlement there?’ ‘Wait, let me just turn on the military layer – ooo, look, a fortlet’ etc…. We’ve been so nervous about launching the webGIS and it had only been delivered on the weekend at the start of the conference so it was a huge relief that it worked so reliably.

Showing our data and outputs to the delegates

Most colleagues just said how much they liked it and that they would show it to their students, a select few spent ages playing with it and giving copious bits of invaluable feedback: ‘would it be better to have this layer renamed’, ‘I don’t like this colour’, ‘could we search for bilinguals?’ and suggesting further data that could be added. All of this has gone into a 3 page document for our brilliant developer Bart Noordervliet. As a result we have password protected the site until we can release the final Open Access version.

Finally a peaceful moment at the end of the day to show Prof Fröhlich the webGIS
A fanastic evening reception inside the Vesunna Gallo-Roman museum

Just with this GIS dissemination the conference would have been exhausting, but we also had to try to attend as many talks as possible, catch up with all our colleagues, several of whom have been writing chapters for us, work to an unexpected deadline on the last day of the conference for final paperwork for Oxford University Press related to our trilogy, enjoy an excursion to beautiful Périgueux and stay up until at least 2 am everyday enjoying the company of friends. It was all wonderfully and tiringly multilingual. The congress proudly has 5 official languages, but there were many more languages represented by the delegates. At the end of the evening Anna Willi, who speaks at least six languages was mixing her Swiss German, French, English and Spanish and creating hybrid forms. At one point Pieter Houten remarked that she was now inadvertently speaking Limburgish (his home dialect). This embracing of multilingualism also carried over to the fascinating papers in the non-Latin and Greek epigraphies session, in which many of our friends were speaking.

But there were also some disappointing aspects too. There were incongruous and unpleasant outbursts of linguistic nationalism which left junior scholars with tears in their eyes. And I witnessed several examples of speakers and respondents using their platform to attack publicly other scholars and outputs. The worst of this involved the ganging up on a project led by a post-doc by professors in the field. By the end of the conference it felt as if a ‘Great Epigraphic Rift’, essentially about digital epigraphy, had formed. It was embarrassing and un-scholarly. A close friend and brilliant digital epigraphist has subsequently quietly remarked that perhaps after all he won’t consider getting into this academic side of things by doing a PhD. It would be great if the gate-keepers and belittlers (none of whom were in the hosting and organizing team I hasten to add) might pause for thought: in a few decades there might not be a field of epigraphy if people don’t feel comfortable entering it. The discipline is big enough for traditional methods and digital ones, and, perhaps most appealingly, a mix. Engagement, constructive criticism and respectfulness will get us much further as we continue to explore the wonderful world of inscriptions.

VIVAT REGINA!

By Alex Mullen

Regina is one of the best known and loved characters from Roman Britain. She is a character in Minimus, had a replica of her tombstone in a South Shields’ carpark, appears in copies in the British Museum and the Great North Museum and features on the homepage of the Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online. She stars in the KS 2 materials we have been making with Classics for All in a new project to bring the Roman Inscriptions of Britain into Schools. She is indeed a ‘long-lived Queenie’.

Reconstructed gateway at the Roman fort in South Shields, photo by Chris McKenna, WikiCommons

And yet we only know her from her second-century CE tombstone found at South Shields, near Newcastle, with its carved image and four lines of text (https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/1065). We don’t even get to see her face as at some point someone deliberately erased it. Could it have been an angry ex-lover in the Roman period or vandalism in the post-Roman period? We’ll probably never know. Maybe this is one reason why we find her so appealing: we want to give her a face and a voice.

What do we know about Regina and her life? Regina sits in the centre of the large tombstone facing us in a wicker chair framed with a gabled structure and columns. She wears a long-sleeved robe over a tunic and jewellery, and around her head is depicted a large oval-shaped object, which has been called a ‘nimbus’. These are put around heads in images to indicate holiness and/or eminence, but we don’t really know what it signifies here. There’s a basket of wool on her left, she is opening a box with her right hand, and she holds a spindle and distaff in her other. This last feature is often found on the depictions of women from Roman Syria.

An engraving published in Lapidarium Septentrionale

So how might Syria fit into Regina’s story? We have to turn to the text to find out more. DM opens the three lines of Latin. DM stands for dis manibus and is extremely common in funerary texts, it means ‘to the spirits of the dead’. Then we find out that Regina is from the tribe of the Catuvellauni and is a freedwoman (liberta) and wife (coniunx) of Barates. She died when she was only 30 years old (an(norum) XXX). Why was a Catuvellaunian female enslaved and why was she freed? Sadly we know nothing of the background to her changing statuses.

The text section of Regina’s monument, drawing by R. G. Collingwood in RIB I

The monument was set up near the fort at South Shields, but neither of the two people mentioned are from north-eastern Britannia. Regina is from the tribe whose centre was at Verulamium, now St Albans, and Barates, her husband, describes himself as Palmyrenus ‘of Palmyra’. He has come all the way from Palmyra in Central Syria. He added something unique within the inscriptions from Roman Britain: a line of Palmyrene.  Palmyrene is the dialect of Aramaic spoken in central Syria. Aramaic was a Semitic language widely spoken in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and was the mother tongue of Christ.  It is written from right to left and says ‘Regina, the freedwoman of Barates, alas’. He perhaps felt that he had to express his grief in his first language. How did Barates find someone who could write Palmyrene so neatly onto stone? Did he add it himself or did an associate of his?

Palmyra, image by Quim Bahí, WikiCommons

We know that the Roman army was diverse and drawn from all over the Roman world. Indeed the Palmyrenes were one rare group that sometimes included their homeland’s language (in this case Palmyrene) in their inscriptions in the Western Empire (usually other groups would use Latin (and sometimes Greek), no matter what their traditional local language). At Carvoran, further along Hadrian’s Wall in the second century CE there was an auxiliary cohort of Hamian archers, from Roman Syria, these would also presumably have spoken dialects of Aramaic as well as Greek and some Latin. At Corbridge there is even another Latin inscription with a Barates, also referred to as a Palmyrene (https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/1171). This man died when he was 68 and is described as a vexillarius, which may mean he had been a flag-bearer in the auxiliaries or perhaps for a trading association. Barates is a common name in Syria so there is no certainty that this Barates is Regina’s husband, but the possibility is enticing!

Third-century bilingual Latin-Palmyrene inscription from Rome in the Capitoline Museum, photo by Scott Vanderbilt

To return to our text we can gather some more clues. The Latin isn’t quite as we expect it – and it looks as if interference from Greek may have caused the mistakes. So perhaps the first language of the writer was Palmyrene, then Greek, the lingua franca of the Roman East, then Latin. The Latin also exhibits something interesting in the term Catuallauna. This is not how we find the tribal name in Latin where it would be Catuvellauna. Interestingly the change in in the vowel from -a- to -e- in this linguistic context could be a Celtic sound change. So perhaps we have here a clue to the local pronunciation of Regina’s tribal name. Maybe she spoke British Celtic, perhaps alongside British Latin, and her pronunciation had passed on to Barates too.

The language of the monument, both the visual and the textual, can be deconstructed it into its elements: Roman Syrian, Palmyrene, British Celtic, Greek, Latin. But could people reading this in Roman South Shields pick these clues up? If only say 5% of the inhabitants of Roman Britain could read Latin, and the Palmyrene would have been read by many fewer, perhaps much of the message was lost. And what would Regina have felt about her monument and people scrutinizing it centuries after her death? Did she love Barates as much as he, apparently at least, loved her? Or was he her way out of slavery? Was the whole monument much more about Barates, and for his own flaunting of status? In the Palmyrene she is only referred to as a freedwoman and not Barates’ wife, why? And would she have appreciated being styled as a Roman Syrian woman who worked diligently with wool, as all good Roman women should?

Regina, or Queenie, a name that works in both Latin and Celtic, is a wonderful example of the diverse human history of Britannia. There is much more we wish we could know about her, but this eloquent monument is now all that remains of her short life.

The Girl with the Bronze Stylus

A guest blog by Josy Luginbühl

LatinNow relies on brilliant researchers around Europe for its collaborative work. In this blog, Josy Luginbühl (University of Bern, Switzerland) tells us about her fascinating PhD research on writing equipment in female graves. Her data forms part of our set on Roman-period literacy which will be made available in a webGIS later this year.

Whether you are reading this blog on the train, at your desk or in your dentist’s waiting area, take a look at the objects around you: which of your belongings do you think represent you best as a person? Your favourite shirt? A certain book? Perhaps a reusable coffee cup, or your iPhone? And would you choose to take them to your grave? What may seem like a strange question to us today was quite normal in Antiquity. Grave goods were carefully selected and accompanied the deceased on their last journey. Depending on the social status, they could include tableware and cutlery, elements of clothing, tools and weapons.

Reconstruction of the mid-first century CE ‘Doctor’s Grave’ at Stanway, UK, as displayed at Colchester Museum. The grave goods include a board game and surgical tools. © David Gill

As was pointed out by Janie in her recent blog about stationery, some people were buried with their writing equipment. Let’s for example have a look at the grave of a man from Roman Noviomagus, today Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He was buried around 90/95 CE with his spears and his shield and with a variety of writing implements: two styli, two wax spatulas, an inkwell and a ruler. In addition, there were numerous vessels made of valuable materials. He was probably a local aristocrat with a higher function in the local military camp. The connection between literacy and the military is well known and has been emphasised frequently: being able to read and write would have been an advantage for a military career and probably effectively a requirement for higher officers.

Perhaps more surprising is a grave from the second half of the second century CE from Aquileia (Italy). It contained a perfume bottle, a jewellery box, a fig, three chestnuts, four dates and four leaves, all made of amber, two hairpins and a distaff made of bone, as well as two bronze styli. The inscription on the corresponding sarcophagus tells us that this is the burial of Antestia Marciana, who died at the age of 12 and was buried by her loving parents. Small figurines such as the fruits were often given to children as lucky charms and dedicated to the gods when they reached adulthood. For girls this happened mostly on the eve of their wedding, as this event marked their passage from girl to woman. That the figurines were still in Marciana’s possession indicates that she was not married yet. While they are frequent grave goods for girls, the two bronze styli are remarkable because the written sources do not tell us much about the education or literacy of young girls.

Contents of Antestia Marciana’s grave, drawing by the author after Brusin 1937, 191 fig. 1.

While in modern Europe it would be unusual to be buried with a pen or a smartphone, writing equipment had a specific value in Roman antiquity. As an element of Roman culture, it was put in the graves of deceased individuals in the entire Latin-speaking West, and, as seen above, not only for men but also women and children. This fact was the basis of my doctoral thesis. I collected graves with writing equipment in Western Europe, that is the Latin-speaking part of the Roman empire (well, part of it, as Northern Africa was not included in my study). By analysing associated grave goods, the skeletal remains and the geographical and chronological pattern, I aimed to better understand who was in contact with literacy or aspired to an ideal of education. Our ideas of Roman literacy and education are mostly formed by the written sources and a focus on the city of Rome, and often the spotlight is on the male world. An analysis of burials with evidence related to literacy widens the focus and provides insights into life in the provinces and a social environment that is not imperatively the senatorial aristocracy.

Map of female burials with styli as grave goods, map by the author.

Would you believe that there are more female burials with writing equipment than there are male?! This is not what we would expect from reading the written sources. They rather link literacy to the army, the (provincial) administration, trade or leisure of the upper classes – and to the male part of society. While women did not obviously play an active role in the military or administrative service, they were nonetheless part of this social environment, for example through their husband’s occupation or the location of their family home. The distribution pattern for female and male graves shows an emphasis on these spheres. Many graves with writing equipment are from military sites that are part of the limes (the frontier zone in the Germanies) or at least nearby. Others are from administration centres or situated next to important roads.

Only rarely have writing media such as (fragments of) papyrus scrolls or wax writing tablets survived in graves. Much more common are the actual writing implements, such as a stylus, inkwell or wax spatula. It is not always possible to say beyond doubt whether the buried person was actually able to write themselves, and if so, at what level. Sometimes, short inscriptions on grave goods, like a name scratched into a ceramic cup, suggest some degree of literacy of the deceased or a person close to them. Labelling one’s possession is not only useful in a modern flat share…

Graffito from a burial at Stanway, UK (c. 35–45/50 CE), possibly reflecting very early literacy in restricted contexts in the latest phase of the Iron Age. From Sealey (2007), 309.

But even without clear proof for actual literacy, the selection of grave goods shows that this ability, or in a broader sense education, was an important and desirable ideal. This ideal is not only visible in the grave goods (and therefore no longer on display after the burial ceremony) but, as Anna has shown in her Halloween-blog, was sometimes part of the commemoration of the deceased for eternity on sarcophagi and tombstones, too!

Close-up on the upper left part of the front face of the so-called Portonaccio sarcophagus decorated with scenes of battles between Romans, Sarmatians and Germans carved in marble. On the right hand side is a girl writing onto a tablet. Roman work, 180-190 AD from the vicinity of Via Tiburtina – Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (Rome).

Further Reading:

Brusin, G. (1937). ‘Regione X (Venetia et Histria). III. Aquileia. Ritrovamenti occasionali.’ Notizie degli scavi di antichità, 190–196.

Fünfschilling, S. (2012). ‘Schreibgeräte und Schreibzubehör aus Augusta Raurica. Mit einem Beitrag von C. Ebnöther.’ JberAugst 33, 163–236. <https://artefacts.mom.fr/Publis/F%C3%BCnfschilling_2012_[Schreibger%C3%A4t_Augusta_Raurica].pdf> (09.06.2022)

Koster, A. (2013). The Cemetery of Noviomagus and the Wealthy Burials of the Municipal Elite. Nijmegen.

Luginbühl, J. (2017). ‘Salve Domina. Hinweise auf lesende und schreibende Frauen im Römischen Reich.’ HASBonline 22, 49–72, <http://dx.doi.org/10.22013/HASBonline/2017/3> (09.06.2022)

Martin-Kilcher, S. (2000). ‘Mors immatura in the Roman world. A Mirror of Society and Tradition’, in: Pearce, J., Millett, M. and Struck, M. (eds), Burial, Society and Context in the Roman World. Oxford, 63–77.

Sealey, P. R. (2007). ‘The graffiti from Chamber BF6’, in: Crummy, N., Shimmin, D., Crummy, P., Rigby, V. and Benfield, S. F. (eds), Stanway: an Elite Burial Site at Camulodunum. London, 307–314. <https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-3299-1/dissemination/brit_24/06stanway5.pdf> (13.06.2022)

The Reunion: GIS and BES

By Anna Willi

Simona, Anna, Pieter and pizza in March 2020

In March 2020, Simona, Pieter and I met in London for one of our team meetings, with Alex joining us on video call because she had a baby and there was talk of a new virus. The three of us went for dinner and drinks at the end of the day, and we vividly remember the moment we said goodbye because we laughed about our silly ‘COVID handshakes’. Little did we know… Since then I have bumped into Simona in the courtyard of the Senate House, each clutching to our laptops, during a fire alarm that forced us to go for a coffee and a catch-up. Alex and I also met Scott to shoot our conversation about Roman writing equipment, and I have seen Pieter on screen for coffees, team meetings and study sessions. But in March 2020 we never thought it would be so long before we were, as an extended team, all in the same place.

Now we are adapting to a less restricted lifestyle and this month marked a very special occasion indeed, as we all met up together in Oxford for the first time in years, including extended team members that flew in from Spain, the Netherlands and the US.

Group selfie at a really big breakfast table at All Souls

Having updated each other about the numerous LatinNow babies, and grand-babies, we all immediately realised how helpful it is to be working together in the same room, to have time to mull over things and dip in and out of conversations over the course of hours and days. The main reason for the meeting was the joint volume we are currently working on, with each of us writing chapters on Latinization, local languages and literacies in our respective geographical areas of research. It has been really useful to discuss our draft chapters to identify common themes, bounce problems off each other and make sure we cover important aspects without overlapping too much – linguistic developments did not stick to Roman province boundaries and historic periods, after all! This was particularly important for Pieter, Noemi, Maria José and Javier, who are all writing about the Iberian Peninsula, an area with multiple pre-Roman local epigraphies.

Pieter, Noemí, Javier and MJ data wrangling at the CSAD

Getting together also had the advantage that we could all sit around a big screen and have a play with our data. We are also currently working on a WebGIS that will be made publicly accessible later this year. It will allow users to visualise our epigraphic dataset against the backdrop of a map and to add other features such as roads, production centres, settlements and province boundaries, to contextualise it with factors that played a role in the spread of Latin. It will also be possible to filter our epigraphic dataset and for example display inscriptions on stone, non-Latin inscriptions or only funerary inscriptions together with these different factors. Scott, Simona and Pieter in particular have worked hard on our data and we have refined it to the point where it might even allow us to rethink our knowledge about Latin stone inscriptions more generally, but that is a topic for another blog… All of us are making use of the epigraphic dataset for our chapters, so it was really helpful to display on a large screen what we have been turning around in our heads, to play with different sets and to identify data we can improve or would like to add: why are there several lapidary inscriptions in Brittany? Isn’t that a really anepigraphic zone? Zoom in, add the layer for Roman roads, boom: they’re all milestones! Can we add the locations of mints/mining? As it turns out, coin legends are amongst the earliest evidence for Latin literacy in many of our areas. Which of the existing datasets has the most accurate information on settlements? And what are those dots in the ocean? Careful not to dismiss them as dump sites for inscriptions without coordinates (we’ve been very careful to consider that throughout the data cleaning process), Porcupine Bank is real! Discussion often started at the breakfast table and continued all day and into the evening as we wanted to make the most of our time together. It was hard to get a break in! (Shout out to the staff at a certain Pizza restaurant that let three of us hold down a table for eight for almost an hour whilst half the group couldn’t tear themselves away from the mapping! We did order olives, though…)

Scott and Alex cramming in more work just before the British Epigraphy Society meeting began

After three days of intense teamwork, the week ended with the Spring colloquium of the British Epigraphy Society, which was held in memory of Jim Adams, one of our project Special Advisors, at the CSAD. The speakers (including our own Alex and MJ) took us on a tour of exciting projects that were inspired by Adams’ ground-breaking work, from Spain and the northwestern Roman provinces to Illinois, Egypt and Pompeii, exploring regional and social linguistic diversity, translation techniques and even the vocabulary of bodily functions. It was wonderful to see how Adams’ work is being developed further and taken in new directions; his legacy truly lives on, and LatinNow is proof of it.

A Bouquet of Freshly-Sharpened Styluses

By Janie Masséglia

There is a wonderful podcast for those who find it hard to sleep called Nothing Much Happens, where the soft-voiced author talks about pleasingly cosy things until you drop off – making coffee, working in the allotment, closing up at a bookshop. I love the series and have found the episodes all very soothing – all except one, about preparing stationery for the new school year. By the end of it, my heart was pounding in my chest as I was wide awake, too excited to sleep. And why was this? Because I love stationery. Nora Ephron knew what she was doing when she had Joe Fox offer his mystery penpal a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils. Do you, dear reader, have fond memories of WH Smiths in late August? Did you spend half an hour choosing the right hardback notebook from Paperchase to be your teenage journal? Do you now have to pretend it’s your children who make you go into Smiggle?

I make these confessions because I’ve just been watching a draft of Anna Willi and Alex Mullen’s terrific new short film on Roman writing equipment. If you’ve ever wondered what tools the Romans used to write, and what they wrote on, this is for you:

What really struck me during Alex and Anna’s conversation were the kinds of associations a Roman might have had with writing and writing equipment: ancient images of individuals with writing equipment convey messages about status, education, literacy, and even, specifically, the ability to understand Latin since in some provinces, the art of writing and Latin Language were intertwined. These implications of writing equipment were so positive than some people were buried with it, while others had it depicted on their funerary markers:

Relief from a scribe’s tomb found in Flavia Solva. Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria. Photo: Hermann Muck. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

This got me thinking about the associations of writing material today. Stationery isn’t something many people ask to be buried with (although I’d certainly consider it), and it’s not a strong theme in adult self-representation. Posing with notebooks and pens is not a mainstream choice for selfies.

Instead, stationery seems now to carry two potent associations and to be aimed (in marketing terms) at three distinct demographics: the first is the association with creativity. Perhaps the most visible group of users are school children, with greater apparent emphasis on girls. The marketplace is awash with pens, pencils, rubbers, pencil cases, notebooks and folders aimed at school children who are encouraged to prioritise writing by hand, and old enough to have an opinion about how they want to express their identity. The second group of “creative” stationery users prioritised in modern marketing are artists, using pens and paper as their preferred medium for illustration rather than text.

The second association is with an old-world sophistication. Fountain pens in particular, have taken on a special connotation as “special” writing implements, packaged and priced like lifestyle accessories such as expensive watches or jewellery. Here, the use of the pen seems to take on a more symbolic meaning: it adds formality and gravitas to the process of signing contracts, cards and letters. Likewise, the hidebound notebook has become a statement of vintage charm and expense in the age of the mobile phone and laptop. We all know people who love stationery, especially in the academic community. One of my undergraduate recently pointed to my own pen and whispered “Cool. Old school.”  I hadn’t realised that my leaky, plastic, short-cartridge fountain pen could be seen as intentional retro styling.

Why is stationery now a niche interest among adults? Perhaps the presumption that everyone is literate precludes the need to prove it. Perhaps the rise of the keyboard has made stationery look out-dated. Perhaps the age distinction between those who write by hand and those who use a keyboard has, in effect, rendered cheap, practical stationery “kid’s stuff” for many people. In any event, the significance of stationery isn’t what it was… ahem… 30 years ago, and certainly not what it was 2000 years ago. Just because an object looks familiar, doesn’t mean it has the same social meaning. Join Anna and Alex to find out more!

If you’ve not already seen our open access ebook on the subject, do take a look at Anna’s magnificent work in full.  

Remembering Jim Adams: a personal perspective

By Alex Mullen

I finished editing our Social Factors in Latinization volume recently and I keep coming back to the beginning:

This book is dedicated, with the greatest respect and affection, to J. N. Adams (1943–2021), a giant in the field of Latin studies, and beyond. Jim’s influence can be witnessed in every chapter of this book and in our broader research. We shall miss deeply his friendship and mentorship and cherish his scholarship.

It makes me feel simultaneously a tremendous sense of loss and sadness, but also thankfulness for having known Jim. The book wouldn’t have existed without him and he was at the workshop to prepare it. In academia often one has several guiding lights and inspirations. It is less common to be able to call them also both your mentor and friend. Jim was all of these to so many of us.

Jim in 2010 at a party to celebrate his Festschift edited by Anna Chahoud and Eleanor Dickey. Image: Anna Chahoud, used with kind permission.

My first ‘encounter’ with Jim was in 2004 in a garden in Gower, Wales. It was the summer holidays and I’d taken his Bilingualism and the Latin Language as my ‘light’ reading. (Ha – the physical book weighs 1.25 kg!) The breath-taking journey through the Roman world, stopping at Regina’s Latin–Greek–Palmyrene epitaph from Britain, the Gaulish–Latin potters’ records of south-western Gaul, code-switching in Cicero’s letters and the Roman army in Egypt, had me hooked and thinking hard. Since then all of these have provided stimulus for my own research and teaching.

All Souls College, Oxford, where Jim was a Senior Research Fellow. Image: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

I first met Jim in person for a brief meeting at All Souls a couple of years later. I’d sat on the X5 (the less-than-pleasant bus option westwards to Oxford) for hours and was seriously nervous. I was met with a barrage of evidence and ideas for things I could do with it – it felt a bit like being in one of his books. Subsequently I moved to Oxford and we continued our conversations, we shared a book launch and he handed over the reins of his fantastically rich course on Imperial Latin for Greats (which came with literally hundreds of pages of notes which he turned into his Social Variation and the Latin language and his Anthology of Informal Latin). I was able to take advantage of some of his numerous invitations to conferences across Europe as he wouldn’t travel (he was Australian, he’d made one massive trip and had not enjoyed it). If he could have travelled he would have done: his support for other Classicists was at times overwhelmingly generous. For my PhD viva, he had prepared two reports: one for the authorities to approve the thesis, the other 20-odd pages of advice on how to turn it into a book.

Some of Jim’s ‘big books’, including, second from left, my barely intact copy of Bilingualism and the Latin Language

His influence was, and will continue to be, phenomenal. As the dedication indicates he is cited in every chapter of our Social Factors volume. It is hard to find much now on the Latin language which doesn’t cite from his oeuvre and he is one of a select few Classicists widely cited beyond our field. His breadth and depth of knowledge of Latin were spectacular and his ability to open new fields striking. Sociolinguistics of the ancient world arguably only started as a field thanks to his impetus. And for me his work unlocked all kinds of doors for interdisciplinary research.

For the last two decades the ground-breaking ‘big-books’ have been coming thick and fast, and he was not letting up on the productivity: he had sent me a huge draft article on the standardization of Latin only in the summer. His loss was a painful shock. I’m reminded of it every day, but also of his wonderful legacy, as I reach for my well-thumbed several kgs of inspiration.

LatinNow flips the script!

To celebrate the launch of our new multi-media ebook Scripts and Texts (Vol. 1 of the Manual of Roman Everyday Writing), we’re delighted to welcome Prof. Alan Bowman with a guest blog this month.

The volume is co-authored by Prof. Bowman and LatinNow’s Principal Investigator, Alex Mullen, and complements Anna Willi’s volume Writing Equipment, to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how the Romans wrote in their daily lives. Both volumes are Open Access, and completely free to use and ideally viewed in their Flip-book format. Static PDFs are also available to download from our Publications page. If you like the manual and use it, please drop us a tweet @LatinNowERC – we’d love to hear from you!

This article first appeared in Newsletter 26 (pages 17-18) of the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, University of Oxford (Autumn 2021). Many thanks to CSAD for allowing us to reproduce it.

Illuminating the Vindolanda Tablets

A guest blog by Alex Meyer

In this blog Alex Meyer (Western University, Ontario) tells us about his project Illuminating the Vindolanda Tablets which started last year and in which the LatinNow team is involved: Alex Mullen is a Co-Investigator and Anna Willi has been writing messages on replica tablets made by Roy Lawson to put in the CT scanner… For RTI work in 2019 on the Vindolanda tablets led by LatinNow at Blythe House, see our video.

Aerial image of Vindolanda. © The Vindolanda Trust, Adam Stanford and Aerial-Cam.

The pandemic hasn’t been great for research that seeks to generate new evidence based on physical artefacts. It has been hard or impossible to travel and many libraries and museums have limited access to or closed their collections. Fortunately, digital technologies are making artefacts more and more accessible to scholars around world. For example, while I haven’t been able to travel outside of North America in the last seventeen months, work on Illuminating the Vindolanda Stylus Tablets has resumed in my absence and is producing new high-resolution 3D images of stylus tablets from Vindolanda. Vindolanda is most famous for its extensive collection of ink tablets, but excavations on the site have also produced over 300 stylus tablets. Although about a quarter of those stylus tablets have visible writing on them, none of them have yet been published, because the writing that remains is illegible using current techniques.

The ink-written tablet display at Vindolanda. © The Vindolanda Trust.

This past month the Illuminating the Vindolanda Writing Tablets project, with the assistance of James Miles from Archaeovision, was able to use a state-of-the-art 3D laser scanner to examine some of the unpublished stylus tablets from Vindolanda Roman Fort now on loan to the Vindolanda Trust from the British Museum. These scans are accurate to approximately 30 microns (.03 mm). We hope that scans of this accuracy along with new image manipulation techniques will allow us to read previously illegible tablets.

James Miles of Archaeovision scanning a fragmentary tablet at the Vindolanda Museum.

Over the last century several large collections of stylus tablets have been published from places like Pompeii, Vindonissa and London, but the vast majority of tablets remain unpublished. Some of these tablets are apparently blank, while others have writing that can’t be made out. This is largely because what writing is preserved on stylus tablets is the result of inadvertent incisions that were made through the wax that once covered the tablets but is now almost always lost. To make matters worse, stylus tablets were generally reused. This means that stylus tablets often have overlapping, fragmentary texts that are difficult to interpret in the best of circumstances.

In order to read the tablets, scholars traditionally depend on their naked eyes, assisted by raking light which serves to highlight the texture of the incisions left behind by over-zealous writers. In the past 25 years, this technique has been augmented by the advent of Reflection Transformation Imaging (RTI), which produces composite digital images of tablets with a virtual, movable light source. This technique has done wonders to help read problematic texts. However, it has its limitations. Color and shading can be misleading and some marks are still too shallow or faint to make out.

Illuminating the Vindolanda Stylus Tablets is a collaboration between me, Alex Mullen of Latin Now, Roger Tomlin of Oxford and Barbara Birley of the Vindolanda Trust, and is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We’re exploring new methods by which we might be able to recover texts preserved on these tablets. High-resolution 3D scanning is just the first step. There are many technologies to apply to this problem. For example, in the coming months we’ll be running a replica tablet through a CT scanner and trying various methods of manipulating the results of the 3D scanning and the CT scan to recover and read texts that have so-far eluded interpretation.

The applications of this research are extensive. Not only may this process represent a significant advance in our knowledge of Vindolanda and the Roman empire’s northern frontier, but these same techniques could be applied to previously illegible stylus tablets from other sites, of which there are hundreds. Similarly, these techniques could be applied to other media, including other types of wooden artefacts, bronze tablets, inscriptions on stone and almost any other inscribed or incised material. Most excitingly, these technologies improve everyday and promise to continue revealing new evidence of the ancient world.

Dead man writing

By Anna Willi

Do we think that the Roman dead might be perceptive to a message from the living today? Because I think some of them may be interested in this…

Fig. 1: Can anyone else hear the opening theme of HBO’s ‘Rome’? Roman mosaic at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (inv. 109982, Wikimedia Commons).

It has always struck me how much the Romans thought of their dead as being part of their living world, and how they included them in that living world by honouring their memory through rituals. You may have heard that the dead were fed milk and wine on certain days of the year, sometimes through holes or pipes in their graves. You may also know, and have chuckled at, Ovid’s description of night-time bean throwing to appease unfriendly spirits that appeared during the Roman version of Halloween, the festival of the Lemuria in May (Ovid, Fasti, 5.421ff.). You may even have raised an eyebrow or two in appreciation of the trusts that were set up to guarantee the maintenance of burials and yearly gifts to the dead in eternity (see e.g. CIL III 703 from Philippi, Macedonia). The perhaps most touching result of this interactive approach to the afterlife is the way in which the Roman dead seem to talk to us from their grave, through the inscriptions on their tombstones: ‘stop here, traveller, and read about me and my life!’ (see e.g. CIL XIII 7070 from Mainz, Germania superior, where the deceased laments that he was killed by a slave).

It was very important to the Romans that their memory was kept alive, and inscriptions and imagery on funerary monuments was used to express or shape this memory. I think of depictions on funerary monuments as a kind of iconographic blurb about the deceased, one that was also ‘legible’ for those that were unable to read. In most cases, there was little space for images and the scenes and items featured must have been chosen carefully. Interestingly, some of the dead seemingly wanted to tell us: ‘look, I had writing equipment!’

Fig. 2: A ghostly appearance: drawing of a fresco in the tomb of the aedile C. Vestorius Priscus in Pompeii showing him as he enters a room with lots of writing equipment in it (from G. Spano, La tomba dell’edile C. Vestorio Prisco in Pompei, Atti della reale accademia d’Italia. Memorie della classe die scienze morali e storiche, ser. VII vol. III.6, 1943, 237–315).

This week I attended an online conference at the University of Pécs, Hungary, that was all about the depiction of writing equipment on Roman funerary monuments (check out their ‘Scroll in Hand’ project here). Funerary depictions of writing equipment are particularly well (but not exclusively) known from the Danube provinces and the Greek East. Writing tablets, scrolls and writing sets containing pens and inkwells are particularly common, and they are sometimes shown on their own and sometimes in use. This is great news for us researchers working on Roman everyday writing because it gives the objects we know through archaeological finds some context and we can learn a lot from such depictions about how these objects may have been used (e.g., no tables, and no quills either!). But can we also learn something about the significance of writing for the representation of the dead?

Sometimes there is a clear professional connection, for example when people are shown or described as teachers or as accountants (this applies to both men and women), or if they were officials or magistrates who would have dealt with a lot of ‘paper’-work. But in some cases, the inscription does not mention the deceased’s occupation, or no inscription is preserved at all. In such cases it is difficult to know if writing equipment was in fact used by the deceased during their life time, or whether its depiction had a symbolic function. Literacy and writing represented education but also more generally social and professional status. The symbolic function can be even more abstract, with a scroll representing a legal document or act such as the manumission of a slave and thus the free status of the person shown holding it.

Fig. 3: A relief from Maria Saal (Austria) showing a man holding a writing set tucked under his left arm while writing on his knee, his foot resting on scrinium, a bucket for storing and transporting scrolls (© Ortolf Harl / lupa.at).

Where detailed writing sets or individual writing implements are shown, or where people are shown in the act of writing, we can at least assume that it somehow related to the identity of the deceased. It was clearly important to them, whether they were literate or not, whether they used writing for their occupation or not. It was so important that they wanted to be remembered as writing in eternity. It has not been an eternity yet, but I think those writing dead men and women would be pleased to know that we’ve seen their writing equipment – and took a long hard look at it, too!

Reading texts with Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)

By Alex Mullen

The LatinNow team has been busy putting together the Manual of Roman Everyday Writing on and off over the past few months. Volume 2, on writing equipment, written by Anna Willi and turned into an eBook by Janie Masseglia, jumped the queue and came out earlier this summer. We’re hoping Volume 1, Scripts and Texts, co-written by Alan Bowman and me, will generate similar interest. Just one of its figures, a table of cursive scripts from corpora ranging from first-century Pompeii to sixth-century Ravenna, has taken me days to create: I wrote out the cursive letter forms in the cells literally 5,000 times before getting it right. The thought that someone, one day, might possibly find it useful inspired me to keep going!

One of the reasons for choosing the eBook format was the fact that we could use as many images as we liked and could even embed videos. We’ve made three new videos for Volume 1, which you can watch now as a kind of sneak-preview trailer for the book, which is coming out in a couple of weeks. They are designed for people new to RTI.

The first is a feat of multitasking skill. Our senior scientist Janie, from the University of Leicester wrote it, starred in it, shot it and produced it all on her own. All in a day. I’m in awe. In the video she explains how we can use RTI to help us to read worn inscriptions – in this case the epitaph of a Victorian couple on a tombstone from a Leicestershire village.

Video 2 is more of a team effort. Scott Vanderbilt shot the footage in Blythe House in London in summer 2019 when we were capturing the unpublished stylus tablets from Vindolanda with the superdome RTI machine. It features a noisy RTI dome, me (out of breath because I’m pretty pregnant with LatinNow baby #7), Richard Hobbs from the British Museum, and some rather special tablets. The legible marks on the stylus tablets are exceptionally hard to read and work is still underway to try to decipher their texts. It’s a case of ‘watch this space’…

The third video is about deciphering a tricky-to-read text on the base of a pot from East Farleigh in Kent and it accompanies the section on ‘How to read cursive texts’ in the manual. It shows how we can use the RTI technique demonstrated in the other two videos to read a text that hasn’t been read for 1800 or so years.

The LatinNow team has been doing quite a bit of RTI over the course of the project: training others to use it and getting involved in some new adventures imaging understudied collections in museums. We’ll blog about some of these soon.

If you are interested in fuller details about how RTI works, these can be found in chapter 8 ‘Modern technologies for reading everyday texts’ in the Manual (we’ll let you know when it is published online), including how you can do it yourself without the expense of a dome. Do contact us if you know of a Roman collection that needs deciphering!