LatinNow books!

Over the Christmas period we are celebrating the publication of two books in the LatinNow trilogy. The project has produced or supported the production of several books, including our Manual of Roman everyday writing (vol. 1 and vol. 2), but the three volumes which are being published in the Oxford Studies in Ancient Documents series by Oxford University Press represent, with our Open Access web GIS, the core research output of our project. They are the result of a huge effort of the LatinNow team but also the expertise of a wide network of colleagues across Europe and beyond.

The two appearing in December are the result of workshops held in Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019. Virtually none of the chapters look much like the papers delivered, since we used those thought-provoking workshops as the beginning of a long process of collaboration, which entailed debates, revisions, translations, and reworking. This required patience, especially through the pandemic, and we’re so grateful for the dedication of the contributors. We are delighted that all the books are Open Access, funded by the European Research Council.

The first to appear will be Social Factors in the Latinization of the Roman West. To our knowledge it is the first English-language edited volume devoted to Latinization, which, oddly enough, is a relatively overlooked topic. Historians have noted it has been ‘taken for granted’ and viewed as an unremarkable by-product of ‘Romanization’, despite its central importance for understanding the Roman provincial world, its life, and languages. This volume aims to fill the gap in our scholarship. We took a multi-disciplinary and thematic approach to the vast subject, tackling administration, army, economy, law, mobility, religion (local and imperial religions and Christianity), social status, and urbanism. The contributors situate the phenomena of Latinization, literacy, and bi- and multilingualism within local and broader social developments and draw together materials and arguments that have not before been coordinated in a single volume.

The result, we hope, is a comprehensive guide to the topic, which offers a mix of some more familiar syntheses and more experimental work. The sociolinguistic, historical, and archaeological contributions reinforce, expand, and sometimes challenge our vision of Latinization and lay the foundations for future explorations. We don’t agree with all of the arguments in the volume, notably that on the lack of influence of the auxiliaries of the Roman army in Latinization, but we present our different perspective in the introduction (and in much more detail in the final book of the trilogy). We hope that the volume will act as both a state-of-the-art of the subject and the starting point for further debate and research.

The next book to appear will be Languages and Communities in the Late-Roman and Post-Imperial Western Provinces. Our scoping of the international academic activity on later Roman and post-imperial sociolinguistic histories and our subsequent workshop demonstrated that the subject is still comparatively understudied and that there was even further potential for progress on sociolinguistics and interdisciplinary collaboration than we had assumed. A deeper understanding is crucial to any reconstruction of the broader story of linguistic continuity and change in Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as to the history of the communities who wrote, read, and spoke Latin and other languages, and it clearly had significance for the LatinNow project in terms of understanding the embeddedness, or not, of Latin socially and regionally. The volume offers a study of the main developments, key features and debates of the later-Roman and post-imperial linguistic environment, focusing on the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, Gaul, the Germanies, Britain and Ireland. The chapters collected in this volume help us to consider (socio)linguistic variegation, bi-/multi-lingualism, and attitudes towards languages, and to confront the complex role of language in the communities, identities, and cultures of the later- and post-imperial Roman western world.

Perhaps even more than the Social Factors volume, we see this volume as a starting point for further research. The introduction sets out some of the key areas on which we think there is scope for further developments and why we think the sociolinguistic and interdisciplinary analyses of the medieval period have not advanced quite as far as for ancient world studies. I couldn’t have brought this volume together without the erudition and support of my colleague at Nottingham, George Woudhuysen.

We will be bringing the third book of the LatinNow trilogy into the world next year. This final volume, co-edited with the wonderful Anna Willi, is more ‘team-written’ than a traditional edited volume and will encapsulate our thoughts on how we can best explore life and language in the Roman west and will present the latest research on Latinization, local languages, and literacies in the provinces in all their regional complexity. It was supposed to be the volume that appeared first, but various parts had to be put off until our data were ‘finalized’ and we have been battling our perfectionist tendencies… It will be last major publication of the LatinNow project, and we hope it will be worth the wait.  

Bilingualism in digital epigraphy

By Alex Mullen

The Gaulish inscription from Saint-Germain-Sources-Seine (France) is ‘biscriptal’. The language is Gaulish, with a change of script from Latin to Greek for the Gaulish artist’s signature. Musée archéologique de Dijon

One of the elements we needed to flag in the vast LatinNow epigraphic dataset were bilingual texts of all types, whether texts in two versions in different languages or texts in primarily one language but showing evidence of one or more others. I’ve been working on ancient bi- and multi-lingualism since I started my graduate work on Southern Gaul and since then I’ve collaborated with modern sociolinguists. The vast majority of the research on modern bilingualism has been based on oral evidence, though the relatively new field of linguistic landscapes has made steps to bring in writing. Since an established classification system for bilingualism in epigraphy was not available when I was writing my doctorate, I suspected one probably did not yet exist for digital epigraphy, Graeco-Roman or otherwise. Wide consultation during the opening phases of the LatinNow project confirmed my suspicions.

‘Partial bi-version bilingual text’, Latin and Punic, from Lepcis Magna (Libya) (IRT 321 and IPT 24a)

The messiness of the realities of spoken bilingualism and the creativity and range that one might see in written texts might seem to resist classification. Indeed for my thesis, I shrunk away from creating too elaborate a typology, simply producing what I needed for my immediate needs. But whilst there will always be ambiguous examples, edge-cases and epigraphic texts that resist categorization altogether, there are clearly recurrent features which make an attempt at a standardized and comprehensive typology of epigraphic bilingualism worthwhile, not least because we can then group similar types across time and space and link them to the research of modern sociolinguists who tend to have a lot more data and context to guide interpretations. It’s also handy for digital epigraphy to offer a scheme that researchers on different projects can start using as soon as possible, so that examples can be tagged and our datasets expanded.

The Velleron (France) stele. This can be tagged as Text with bilingual phenomena: code-switching and Text with biscriptal phenomena: transliteration since it is in Gaulish language with a code-switch into Latin at the end, VALETE, which is transliterated into Greek script.

The categorization and vocabulary that I have produced draws on our work in the LatinNow project, inspired by the late Jim Adams. It works well for western epigraphic remains and has been vetted by several colleagues. I’m particularly grateful to James Clackson and Alessandro Palumbo who gave insightful and constructive feedback. I’m even grateful to the colleague who told me she eschewed such categorizing work, because that made me think harder about why it is so important.

The team over at the FAIR project are using the schema I have devised as a test case for what they would eventually like to do for all epigraphic vocabularies – establishing URIs for the categories (‘attribute values’) and using RDF so that interconnection of data will be possible long-term. Since in that forum it will be hard to have extensive explanations and caveats, I present the detail in a pdf below and encourage criticism via email: This is an ideal opportunity to create a useful, copious and standardized approach to encoding bilingualism in epigraphy, that works for the whole community.

Traders in Britannia

By Dan Gray (University of Nottingham placement student)

Over the course of my placement with the Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools project I have been fascinated by the objects and texts we worked with extensively, for instance the tombstones of Insus and Regina and the ‘Vilbia’ curse tablet.  However, there were two inscriptions that intrigued me the most, namely, Vindolanda Tablet no. 185 and the Bloomberg Tablet no. 45. In the case of the Bloomberg tablet, found in the City of London, this showcases Roman life in Britain after conflict, namely Boudica’s revolt. Though it is not complete, it tells us about a trade deal involving provisions of food being transported from Verulamium (St Albans) to Londinium (London) in AD 62 (specifically: in the consulship of Publius Marius Celsus and Lucius Afinius Gallus, on the 12th day before the Kalends of November, i.e. 21 October AD 62).

In the consulship of Publius Marius Celsus and Lucius Afinius Gallus, on the 12th day before the Kalends of November (21 October AD 62). I, Marcus Rennius Venustus, (have written and say that) I have contracted with Gaius Valerius Proculus that he bring from Verulamium by the Ides of November (13 November) 20 loads of provisions at a transport-charge of one-quarter denarius for each, on condition that … one as … to London; but if … the whole …’

Boudica’s revolt was quelled with Boudica’s death in only AD 61 therefore it seems significant that traders thought it was safe enough to transport a big cargo of provisions so soon after widespread revolt. This could show how quickly everyday life for an average trader in a frontier province might resume after conflict. Perhaps Britannia was not as destroyed as badly as we sometimes imagine or perhaps the inhabitants were used to recovering quickly from conflicts?

                         Bloomberg Tablet No. 45 ‘ Stylus Tablet’ © MOLA

Vindolanda Tablet no. 185, from the Roman fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall, is somewhat similar to the Bloomberg Tablet, and although in this case we do not have a precise date in the text itself, the object can be dated to AD 92-97. The text is laid out in a format like a ledger of goods payments (for barley, wagon axles, wine, fodder, salt, vests etc.).

For lees of wine (?), denarii ½
July (8-13), at Isurium (?)
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
July (9-14), …
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
July (10-14), …
(lines 17-29) … 8 ..
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼,
of barley, modius 1, denarii ½, as 1
two, for a carriage, denarii 3½
salt and fodder (?) …, denarius 1
at Isurium, for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
at Cataractonium, for accommodation (?), denarii ½
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
at Vinovia, for vests (?), denarii ¼
of wheat, …
total, denarii 78¾
grand total, denarii 94¾.

What is usual about this account is that it mentions a series of place names: Isurium (Aldborough), Cataractonium (Catterick) and Vinovia (Binchester). The editors of the text wondered whether it was an account of expenditure incurred on a journey. The order in which Isurium, Cataractonium and Vinovia occur is the order in which they would be reached by a traveller coming from York to Vindolanda via Corbridge. This again reminds us that both people and these kinds of goods would be travelling constantly across the country. Who the travel was undertaken by in this text not clear, but the text gives us an insight into normal life and provisioning: the army, but also the local population, would need food and to fix their vehicles. This shines a light on the everyday life of the people living in Roman Britain, rather than the focus being on the battles that we tend to see in the Roman historical texts for the province. There would have been so many people involved across the province, and beyond, to keep the military garrison well provisioned with such a range of food and other goods. They especially liked the orangey-red pottery we call samian ware.

Vindolanda Tablet No 185, ink on wood © The Trustees of the British Museum

Another interesting point to consider is the mode of transport and the time it would have taken to move goods like this around. I would have thought with big quantities of goods that the transportation would have been quite slow. For instance, with the Bloomberg Tablet we know that they are heading from Verulamium to Londinium which according to the Orbis stanford site, ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, is about 35 kilometres and for which the transport of the twenty provisions suggested would take approximately 2.9 days in the Autumn using an ox-cart. With regards to the Vindolanda tablet, the journey between Vindolanda and York would have taken perhaps as many as 15 or so days. (You can choose various major Roman places on the ORBIS website and select mode of travel, time of year etc. I had to find the nearest big place and extrapolate to Vindolanda…) And en route, over long distances and at a slow pace, the traders would have been vunlerable, so might at some times an din some areas have needed military protection.

The objects we have focused on for the RIB in Schools project have been interesting in how they make us think outside the traditional militaristic narratives and focus instead on the range of different experiences and voices within the Roman Empire. For instance, the two tablets discussed here provide an insight into the life of traders and how they go about making their living through trading with the civilian and military populations.

Experiencing The Roman Inscriptions Of Britain in Schools

By Dan Gray 

The internship placement at the The Roman Inscriptions Of Britain in Schools (RIB) project through the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Arts Summer Research Programme has been an amazing, eye-opening experience for me that has allowed me to see behind the scenes of an interesting ongoing project. I’ve been able to see the impact that an academic resource such as the Roman Inscriptions of Britain online (part of the LatinNow project) can have on various sectors of society such as the education sector, the museum and heritage sector and the general public.

The homepage of Roman Inscriptions of Britain online

This experience has allowed me to make contact with pedagogy and heritage experts and institutions, helping me to learn key communication skills such as emailing in a formal manner and constantly reporting my finds to the team. Everyone I have interacted with through email and in-person has been extremely helpful in answering my questions, and in encouraging my interest in the ancient world. I have had a brief experience of some of the work that museum staff have to do and have been made to feel like an important part of the RIB in Schools project.

RIB 1319 Altar of Neptune from Newcastle: my favourite object so far!

I have been doing a wide variety of tasks in this placement, given to me by my supervisor Professor Mullen. These have included: helping sort out the respective handling boxes and their objects that will go to local schools for exciting lessons; finding colour images of various prescribed source objects, and emailing the various institutions that hold these objects for permission to use the images for RIB online; creating worksheets for lessons to go with our handling kit; collecting facts for the prescribed sources used by the OCR Ancient History exam board; coming up with ideas for new prescribed sources. Each of these tasks has the goal of encouraging more students and teachers, at all key stages, to take advantage of RIB Online and to explore the diverse and multilingual world of Roman Britain beyond the traditional militaristic narrative we are often taught. 

This opportunity has also helped me learn technical skills as well, for example learning how to use different image editing software, and using excel spreadsheets to keep on top of the status of permission requests for the images to be used in the website. I also got to experience teaching. One of the most exciting parts of the placement was when we tried out our handling box materials out on a group of sixth formers from the Sutton Trust Summer school. It was a bit nerve wracking but really fun in the end and I was really pleased with the positive feedback.

The Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools project has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about the world of research and its impact, while also helping to expand my own knowledge of the Roman World and transferable skills that I can take with me for when I properly enter the job market after finishing my University Degree.    

Visiting Vindolanda

By Alex Mullen

A view of the Roman fort of Vindolanda in the evening

I think Vindolanda has to be one of my favourite places. Several things combine in that special part of Northumberland: spectacular countryside, phenomenal archaeology, and wonderful people.

Some of the most recently found tablets
Anna, Alex and Alex Meyer working closely with some artefacts

Anna Willi and I were lucky enough to spend the last week at the Roman fort, staying with views of the fort walls from our bedroom windows and just a few metres from the excellent Vindolanda Museum. As always I learnt so much on our visit and saw some fabulous material. Most intriguing were the ancient puffballs which look to the untrained eye like the finds of Roman leather!

We were there primarily for a meeting of the Vindolanda tablets group – a team of around a dozen colleagues which meets twice a year in person and whose raison d’être is to pursue research on the hundreds of precious wooden writing tablets and stylus tablets from the site and to disseminate this knowledge. Our work is never completed of course, because, excitingly, new finds come out of the anaerobic layers of the excavations pretty regularly.

Possible evidence of shackles

One of the week’s jobs was to assess the recent finds and in particular to take detailed images with a macro-lens of the most promising of the stylus tablets which we think may offer a new type of evidence for slavery at Vindolanda. It’s a grim subject and as part of drawing together material for the article we are preparing we are also studying the evidence of shackles. It was an unsettling experience trying to work out what size of neck might fit. We also explored the site for possible locations for the containment of slaves and/or prisoners.

Little and large styluses
Seal boxes

Anna Willi took on a much more cheery task as she set about assessing the evidence for literacy and related activities at Vindolanda by matching hundreds of styluses, ink-pen nibs, wax spatulae, ink pots and seal boxes (amongst others) to their contexts with our colleague from Canada Alex Meyer (Western University). There’s a lot of work still to be done but it was a huge pleasure for Anna to have boxes of fabulous material on her desk to examine. The most cooed over object was a beautiful seal-box with enamelled flowers, but she really enjoyed finding some tiny styluses too. For more on writing equipment, Anna’s ebook is a great place to start:

Alex Meyer and Anna hard at work
Anna checking 100s of styluses

I took the opportunity to autopsy an inscribed stone that Alex Meyer, Joonas Vanhala (Turku University, Finland) and I are about to publish in the journal Britannia. Up until last week I’d only seen it via numerous images, scans and drawings. It was good to reassure ourselves that we didn’t need to add anything to our analysis. A blog about the carved stone is available here and it is about to be ‘unveiled’ in the case of new finds in the museum. It’s quite a rude one.

The main event, the meeting of the tablets group itself, was really enjoyable: we agreed on a publication strategy, received updates on the conservation and display of the tablets, found out about the work at the British Museum as part of the Writing History project which is looking at the wood, inks and wax used, and heard about the new excavations at Magna, a fort close to Vindolanda, which begin this summer. We can’t wait to find out whether there are more writing tablets there too – perhaps even with links to Vindolanda!

Huge thanks as always to Andy and Barbara Birley and all the staff at Vindolanda.

Augustus and the Power of Inscriptions

A guest blog by Marie Sk?odowska-Curie Fellow Dr Sergio España-Chamorro

Augustus from Via Labicana, Rome, as pontifex maximus, c. 20 BC (Public domain)

Zanker’s Augustus und die Macht der Bilder (translated into English as The power of images in the Age of Augustus) is a very important book for all interested in the early Roman Empire. This book is not only about art and iconography, but also provides a clear idea about the importance of images in the creation of Augustan propaganda. This was, of course, a long lasting process that started in the Late Republic. But what about text? If the iconography was very important for Augustan propaganda, texts, and particularly inscriptions, were also a crucial element. The use of different materials, certain words, new uses in the public domain and new relationships with buildings, statues and landscapes initiated a new period of the development of Latin epigraphy.

Cover of Paul Zanker’s book

This process not only affected Rome or Italy, but the provinces too. The creation of dozens of Augustan colonies helped to spread the Roman way of life, and also the Latin language and writing across Europe, Africa and Asia. The new fashions in self-representation motivated the exportation of this new epigraphic habit to each place in which these veterans were located. However the geographic and linguistic contexts were very different and this raises a lot of questions. How did this process take place? How was Latin and epigraphy spread through these military communities across the Roman world? What was its impact? Who exactly promoted this change? Who did not? To what extent did it affect local communities?

Theatre of Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain) WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0

Research has been undertaken on the development of the Augustan epigraphic habit in individual provinces. However, a wide-scale analysis which takes in East and West has not been attempted until now. The Marie Sk?odowska-Curie project IMPACTVM (Mapping the impact of the Augustan colonies on the Early Roman Empire, Grant Agreement nº 101025799) funded by the European Commission, with secondment supervisor Professor Alex Mullen, tries to answer to these questions. The scope of IMPACTVM is to analyse the developments in five triumviral or Augustan colonies along the Mediterranean as case studies:

  • Colonia Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain), capital of Lusitania.
  • Colonia Augusta Lugdunum (Lyon, France), capital of Gallia Lugdunensis.
  • Colonia Iulia Carthago (Carthage, Tunisia), capital of Africa Proconsularis.
  • Colonia Iulia Corinthus and colonia Augusta Archaica Patrensis (Corinth and Patras, Greece) in Achaea.
  • Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis (Filippoi, Greece) in Macedonia.
Monumental inscription from the baths of Antoninus in Cartago (photo by S. España-Chamorro, December 2022)

These colonies have been selected for geographical breadth and for their political role in the regions in which they were founded. The analysis of their epigraphic habit has complex social dimensions which must be considered using a sociolinguistic approach. From J. N. Adam’s work to the more recent analyses taken by LatinNow team, we have a clear idea how important this approach is for understanding the diversity of the ancient world, the multicultural way to deal with writing and the multilingualism of the Roman empire. For this reason, a multi-comparative and multi-disciplinary analysis of IMPACTVM will try to define the differences of the spread of Latin epigraphy in provincial colonial environments in this particular period of change. My visit this month to the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford University has allowed me to work with the ERC-funded LatinNow and Crossreads teams and to establish the base for this sociolinguistic analysis. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learnt and seeing the results!

Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools

A guest blog by Classics For All’s Jane Ainsworth and Hannah Walsh introduces the new project Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools, a collaboration between LatinNow and CfA.

During lockdown, pupils became accustomed to the view of their class on a zoom screen; a gallery of faces, or sometimes blank boxes when internet connections were struggling! The aim of Classics for All’s partnership with LatinNow, Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools, is to give pupils the skills and information to unlock the stories behind the gallery of individuals from Roman Britain which the Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online contains.

Our first task, then, was to think about how we could guide pupils and their teachers around the content of a website originally designed by Scott Vanderbilt nearly a decade ago for people who already used the RIB volumes, without sacrificing the quality and depth of information it contains. We needed to explain why someone would want to look at an inscription in the first place and then how and where that information can be found on the website.  The videos we developed, which use accessible examples such as the Insus tombstone from Lancaster, provide an introduction to Roman inscriptions, guidance on how to read a record of an inscription and how to use RIB Online.  Given the wealth of material on the site, we also needed to highlight examples from the gallery of RIB individuals whose inscriptions are content-rich and relevant to the topics from the classroom.

Insus monument (RIB 3185), image of reconstruction by Simon James, used with permission

To support busy teachers, some of whom may have no prior experience of studying the ancient world, we knew that it would be important to provide clear lesson plans and a teaching guide to accompany our resources. Although there is enormous potential for the RIB Online corpus to enhance learning across all age groups, we decided to start our work at Key Stage 2 (ages 7–11) with lesson plans and a teacher’s guide. The ‘Romans in Britain’ forms a core part of the National Curriculum for History in England and Wales and there is also a requirement to teach local history, so these resources have been specially tailored to meet teachers’ requests for bespoke resources.

Our lesson plans start by encouraging pupils to think about the art of writing itself, and its value as evidence for a particular historical period. One task is to collect objects from around their classroom with writing on them and Alex, LatinNow’s PI, had enormous fun finding some ancient equivalents within the corpus, such as Hector’s shoe. Regina’s tombstone from South Shields then provides an ideal introduction to the rich and complex lives of people living in Roman Britain. Just like the objects they collected, pupils are encouraged to ask and answer questions about the information coming both from the text of her tombstone and from the object itself, including its production process and decoration. 

Two Roman shoes from the Museum of London, the top belonging to Hector (RIB 2445.27), used with permission

The lesson plans also allow pupils to study their local history, a core part of the current National Curriculum requirements for History. There are ‘Local Lives’ lessons (powerpoints and handouts) for North, South, East, and West, where pupils use the skills they’ve learned in the introductory lessons to look in more detail at inscriptions such as Cornelius Castus and Julia Belismicus’ altar from Caerleon and follow a framework of questions to investigate the story behind the inscription. The questions made us wonder whether this altar was unveiled as a marketing opportunity as Cornelius and Julia opened a new establishment near the baths at Caerleon. Pupils then go on to investigate inscriptions from their own area, thinking about how topics such as the landscape, employment, and religion have affected, and continue to affect, local lives. Teachers can celebrate the work their pupils produce by entering it for a Young Historians Award or for accreditation in the new ‘Exploring the Ancient World’  Independent Project Qualification.

Pipes (RIB 2457.1) being studied at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, used with permission

We’ve also provided a range of examples designed for any KS which support thematic teaching – have a look at our favourite examples of migration, such as Iunius Dubitatus’ shield, and evidence for children’s lives, including the pipes belonging to Catavacus and Bellicia. You can even listen to the Roman pipes being played! Next up we will be constructing resources for ‘education’ and ‘language’, which is part of Phase 2 of the Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools project, during which we skip to work on KS5 materials.

We don’t always have all the information about an inscription (another useful lesson for pupils – and academics! – to learn), sometimes there’s a blank screen on the zoom gallery of Roman Britain, but the hope is that this ongoing partnership between Classics for All and the LatinNow team will introduce a new audience to the different lives and stories that the Roman inscriptions of Britain contain.

One term to rule them all? Small finds epigraphy deserves better

by Anna Willi

Fig. 1: Examples of metal small finds with texts: a copper-alloy stylus from Augusta Raurica (© Augusta Raurica, ‘amica dulcis lasciva Venus’ / ‘my/your sweet girlfriend is a playful Venus’), a bracelet from the Hoxne Hoard (© British Museum, ‘utere felix domina Iuliane’ / ‘use happily, lady Iuliana’), a bronze signaculum (stamp), unknown provenance, probably Italy (© British Museum, ‘tutela’ / ‘guardianship’)

LatinNow is an interdisciplinary project, which means that we take a holistic approach to epigraphy. We think it is essential to look beyond the text and consider the inscribed object along with it: without it, an inscription can lose not only its sense but also its visual and physical impact. We try to follow this approach when working on our epigraphic dataset as much as possible, but we have had to accept that it can sometimes conflict with the more traditional epigraphic categories that were established, often during the 19th century, with a focus on monumental and mostly lapidary inscriptions. Older epigraphic editions often make no mention of the inscribed monument at all, or only in a very vague manner; epigraphers only saw the texts as their remit, and since research at the time was focused on political and institutional history, lapidary inscriptions were considered to be of particular interest. One epigraphic category in particular has suffered from such pronounced priorities, that of inscribed instrumentum, or instrumentum domesticum, as it is often called – with significant consequences for Digital Epigraphy.

The term instrumentum requires some explanation. The Latin word first of all means ‘tool’, but it can be used as a collective term, a singular for plural, to describe ‘equipment’ more generally. Instrumentum domesticum can thus be understood to encompass all kinds of utensils, tools, and smaller objects that are used in a domestic environment. However, while in some languages, such as French, instrumentum can be used for small finds in general, including the uninscribed, it is mainly used as an epigraphic category in English, to describe stamps, graffiti and other texts found on small finds. To the epigrapher trained on monumental stone inscriptions, which is still how epigraphy is usually taught, the vast range of objects, materials, text types and execution techniques involved can be confusing at first: to understand them, some knowledge about the inscribed objects themselves is required, and small finds archaeology is itself a specialized skill.

The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum provided one of the earliest systematic approaches to inscribed small finds, by dedicating specific sections entitled ‘instrumentum’ or ‘instrumentum domesticum’ to them (e.g. CIL I.2 1491–1499, CIL XII section XXIII), and then with CIL XV a whole volume (Rome). They contain inscriptions on portable objects such as bricks, tiles, vessels made of ceramic and glass, lamps, metal ingots, finger-rings, and various objects made of silver or bronze. Over time, however, the term has become more and more vague and its use more and more inclusive, with the most comprehensive approach perhaps being that of Roman Inscriptions in Britain vol. II: under the title ‘Instrumentum domesticum (personal belongings and the like)’ it also includes non-monumental inscriptions on non-portable support such as wall graffiti and mosaic inscriptions. Based on the fact that numerically the vast majority of inscriptions on small finds are related to production and commerce, attempts have been made to claim the term instrumentum solely for the epigraphy of production and economy, but in reality, makers’ marks, religious dedications, declarations of love and accounting notes have all found a home in the instrumentum category. It has become a catch-all for all the ‘small stuff’.

Fig. 2: Examples of ceramic small finds with texts of different execution types: a stamped Samian vessel from London (© British Museum, ‘Draucus f(ecit)’ / ‘Draucus made (this)’), a painted fineware cup from Libya (© British Museum, ‘EVTYXIA’ / ‘good luck’), an incised bowl from Housesteads (© English Heritage, ‘Beliciani’ / ‘(property of) Belicianus’).

Because of its diverse nature, inscribed instrumentum is often neglected and under-published, in turn making it difficult for researchers to include this material in projects and studies as it often involves painstakingly searching e.g. AE and CIL. This neglect stands in stark contrast with the potential of inscribed small finds for numerous research questions, as demonstrated by the work made possible thanks to the herculean effort of recording and digitizing of stamps on Gaulish terra sigillata ( We want to be able to study the distribution of the goods from a specific workshop, for example, or the production process in workshops of different sizes, or the social status of those involved in certain branches of production and commerce, which can be studied through onomastics. We might use this evidence to think about levels and types of literacy in different social contexts. Non-monumental inscriptions can give us a peek beyond the ostentatious and often ambitious sphere of stone inscriptions, which are frequently related to the higher echelons of society and have the distinctive purpose of displaying something to a wide audience or the public. Instrumentum allows us to see the same part of society expressing themselves in a more intimate way and environment, and even more often it tells us about those parts of society that are less likely to feature in stone inscriptions, such as those involved in production and trade, or those living in more rural areas. I’m currently working with Michel Feugère, French small finds expert, to think through some of these issues via the inscribed examples on his Artefacts database.

Inscribed small finds have received more attention over the past decades, amongst other things because of an increased interest in the material aspects of literacy, and efforts have been made to pull them into the spotlight, e.g. through the publication of the Instrumenta inscripta volumes. But with Epigraphy moving on from a focus on stone inscriptions to including more diverse categories, and from producing print corpora to putting digital tools to use, the old category of instrumentum has produced its own set of challenges, and projects striving to make it more accessible online are taking them on, including our own.

A particular challenge for Digital Epigraphy is the categorization of inscriptions in a way that works across different projects and datasets, and bringing together existing datasets, and the FAIR Epigraphy project led by Marietta Horster and Jonathan Prag and the ongoing efforts of are tackling exactly this problem. But as far as instrumentum is concerned, the sheer number of diverse object- and text-types involved means that the researchers populating the existing databases often lacked the terminology (or the inclination) to take care over its classification. Accordingly, instrumentum can be found as a category of objects in many databases, rendering it impossible to, for example, search for stamped plates or inscribed spoons, and leaving us with a huge job to do.

Fig. 3: Examples of small finds with texts made of other materials: a glass beaker from Colchester (© British Museum, ‘Hierax va(le) Olympe va(le) Antiloce va(le) Cresce(n)s av(e)’ / ‘Hierax farewell, Olympus farewell, Antilocus farewell, hail Crescens’), stamp on the outside of a wooden stylus tablet from London (© British Museum, ‘Proc(uratores) Aug(usti) dederunt Brit(anniae) prov(inciae)’ / ‘issued by the imperial procurators of the province of Britain), oculist’s stamp made of stone (© British Museum, ‘M(arci) Iul(ii) Satyri dia/lepidos ad asp(ritudines)’ / ‘M. Julius Satyrus’s Dialepidos for granulations’).

In a print edition it can be difficult to do justice to both the archaeological and textual nature of inscribed instrumentum – a decision has to be made how to structure the publication, according to object type or text type, for example, and for each inscription, a decision has to be made as to which category it belongs to. Digital editions are not bound to such linear structure and there is theoretically no limit to what can be encoded, for example in EpiDoc. But we need to put in the effort and avoid catch-all categories such as instrumentum. Digital Epigraphy means that we have tools to manage much more copious and detailed information than is the case with the index of a print edition, and that we can combine the existing criteria in innumerable ways when searching databases and exporting datasets from them. We should make use of this opportunity.

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.


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 ( 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 ( 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.