VOCES POPVLI is on the road!

By Pieter Houten

Starting in Castilian

ZAR team Castilian
Team Castilian!

Last week we started the Touring Exhibition VOCES POPVLI. As always with these big events there are some hiccups to be expected. However, one does not expect people cutting their fingers whilst making bespoke barriers, last minute orders to be covered in oil or delayed flights leading to missing the train and then having to get a taxi for the last stretch of 270 kilometres.

PAM Curmi

Nonetheless, Monday September 16th 7h30 at the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona we (Alex Wallis the tour driver from Van Haulin’, María José Estarán and Pieter Houten) were ready for action. María José began with a talk on Latinization. During the talk Alex (the driver) and I were setting up the display. At the sound of applause, we were just finishing the last things. When the students poured out of the adjacent room the display looked almost as planned. Luckily, the students did not realise that some objects were not exactly where they were supposed to be: the eye of the creator (heavily pregnant and confined to the UK) was the only one to spot the switched tesserae, styli and that sort of thing via WhatsApp video. The students just enjoyed learning about Latinization and mostly cursing. It is great how the shrine draws in so many people and actually makes them happy when their curse falls to the right (which we think signifies that it worked). Cursing was so popular that a Professor in Pamplona had to call her students at least three times before they would get to class and still some of them took the curse tablets and styli into class to finish their curses.

ZAR full set up
Set-up at Zaragoza

After the experience in Pamplona we started the set up early in the Museo de Zaragoza. We knew that setting up took time and we wouldn’t be caught out by the applause again, we thought. Zaragoza had all the bells and whistles: display panels, object table, handling table, cursing and military table and obviously the ‘visitor book’ papyrus-roll. So again, the applause was a small surprise and just as people streamed out of the auditorium, we shoved the last boxes underneath the tables. This time all was where it should be. María José treated the excited audience to a second talk but this time with all the objects at hand. In addition to three large groups of enthusiast adults, we had one school group who particularly enjoyed the cursing activity.

ZAR cursing
Students cursing at Zaragoza

From Castilian to Catalan

BAR opening
Professor Velaza’s opening talk at Barcelona

As a tour on the effect of Latin on local languages, we had to make the tour multilingual (see Alex Mullen’s previous blog). As a result, we translated all our material from English into the five local languages of our tour. That means Catalan in the autonomous region of Catalunya, where we first halted at the Universitat de Barcelona. As Barcelona is one of these places in the world where it never seems to rain, Noemí Moncunill proposed to set out in the garden of the university. She also invited Professor Velaza to open our exhibition. This time we had everything set up well in time: partly due to our experience at the first two stops and the extra hand given by Victor Sabaté. During the day at Barcelona we had students dropping in to learn more on Latinization. Obviously, we also had passing expert Professors interested in our research and sharing their knowledge on our region. In addition to these students and scholars, we had one very keen local secondary school Latin teacher who actually used our exhibition to teach her four groups about Latinization. Noemí and I enjoyed the eager students reading and translating different objects and through questions learning how Latin spread.

BAR Pieter school
Pieter describing the objects

The last stop in Spain was Tarragona. With shame, I have to admit that I never visited the provincial capital of Hispania Citerior before, despite studying Roman urbanism of the peninsula. For those who have never been there, it is more than worth the one-hour train ride from Barcelona. The city is amazing: the amphitheatre overlooking the sea, the still standing city walls and the dots of Roman ruins all over the city make it a joy for anyone who loves Roman history. Certainly, one has to visit the Museu Nacional de Arqueològic de Tarragona (MNAT), so did we with our tour. Unfortunately, for us the MNAT in the centre was under reconstruction, luckily they have a good temporary location with the highlights of their collection. Here we had again four school groups visiting as part of their Latin curriculum. Noemí gave an introduction into our project and explained Latinization using our display. Thereafter the students were sent on a quest looking for objects related to all six social factors in the museum.

TAR students on a quest
A tour around the MNAT based on our exhibition

It is great that the MNAT incorporated our display themes into a bespoke trail around their collection. After students located all six objects related to the social factors, they returned for the cursing workshop. One of the Tarraconese teachers shouted during the explanation of the “Curse like a Roman” workshop: “It is forbidden to curse the teacher!” The Tarraconese students are a friendly lot, they wrote curses upon we can hopefully all agree…

TAR make love less war
A cursive curse!

Since the Romans did not have all letters we now use, we have to be creative when writing using Old Roman Cursive, we can use letters that look similar or write it phonetically. This is an Catalan-speaking student’s rendition of English Make love, less war into ORC.

After the week in Spain it was time for our driver to continue to France and visit Millau, Nîmes and Vienne with Morgane Andrieu and Jane Masséglia. I had the joy to spend a few more days in Tarragona as I had a conference later that week in Pamplona. Luck had it that the feast of Santa Tecla was during my stay in Tarragona, the fun must go on!

TAR TEAM Catalan
Team Catalan!


FIEC-CA 2019 and the unveiling!

By Pieter Houten


Curmi in London
Curmisagios, our tour mascot

July started with a bang as the team met for FIEC-CA 2019 in London. Now teams meeting is not really a big thing, but the LatinNow team is spread across five countries on two continents. Moreover, the team has expanded rapidly this year: as you may have seen in the earlier blogs, five new members started earlier this year. And we’re not including Curmisagios as a team member, although we probably should. So London provided a great backdrop for introductions and research discussions.


UCL pic team
The LatinNow team at FIEC/CA 2019

In addition to the team meetings, London provided something else, the reason for gathering in London: FIEC-CA 2019. The LatinNow team organised a panel on Ancient Sociolinguistics: Exploring Latinization in the Roman West. Alex opened the panel with a paper introducing our project and then zooming in on the ways we can investigate Latinization and literacy in Britannia. Thereafter our collaborators from Spain, María José Estarán and Noemí Moncunill, explained the different processes of Latinization of the Palaeohispanic-speaking communities by looking into the history of literacy of the different regions and the uptake of Latin. Francesca Cotungo showed how to use theonyms and linguistic analysis of dedications to discern the origin of gods and dedicants. Morgane Andrieu argued that archaeologists are needed to add a whole new layer to understand literacy and Latinization in Gaul. By revisiting the boxes of ceramic in archives, she has found hundreds of new graffiti from Southern Gaul and is now working with LatinNow on the graffiti of Lugdunum (Lyon). All in all, we had an inspiring panel: after it was closed for a coffee break the discussions continued for quite some time in our coffee-less room.

caistor Mullen
Alex introduces the panel and then tackles Britannia
MJ Froehner
María José on one of the marvellous Celtiberian tesserae hospitales (tokens of guest friendship). This one, in the shape of a hand, is also in our tour display!

Last, but definitely not least, we had an unveiling of our Touring Exhibition. The process up to this unveiling has been a lengthy one: planning a European tour, thinking about the objects, creating the replicas and the display. But what must have been the most challenging is the fact that the display, labels and communications have been made in six different languages (English, Castilian, Catalan, Dutch, French, German). One cannot have a project on multilingualism and then tour Europe with all the information in English. Nonetheless, all came together for the first time in London.



Sunday morning at 9h00 all the items of the Touring Exhibition arrived at the Publishers and coffee corner in the Institute of Education. Despite never having done it before, the team had set up the 15m2 display (table, backdrop and ca. 60 objects) in merely half an hour. After this small feat it was time to step back and take a look. And it was rather exciting to see it for the first time and no one could quite believe it had all arrived in the back of Alex Mullen’s car. Quickly apprehension kicked in – ‘How would the audience respond?’. During the first coffee break it quickly became clear that the exhibition was well received. In no time we were having interesting discussions with people on the Latinization of the Northwestern provinces of the Roman Empire. But the cherry on the cake must have been the response of the only child present: ‘WOW, look at all the ancient things!’ We hope to hear this in six different languages this autumn.

An epigraphic mission to Illiberis (Elne), crossroad of cultures at the foot of the Pyrenees

By Noemí Moncunill Martí

In December I had the chance to travel to the beautiful town of Elne, in southern France, in order to study its interesting corpus of inscriptions, together with Jérôme Bénézet, archaeologist in the «Service Archéologique du Département des Pyrénées-Orientales».

Elne museum warehouses

Research work carried out at the museum and archaeological warehouses of Elne.

Located between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea, on the Roussillon plain, Elne has been a land of passage and meeting point for different cultures since ancient times. Proof of this is the variety of its epigraphic record, including some inscriptions in Greek and Latin, but especially in the local language(s), Iberian and maybe as well Gaulish. As a matter of fact, the local identity of the ancient inhabitants of this area has long been discussed and it is still the subject of controversy among specialists: while some scholars think that Iberian was the vernacular language of this region –and Iberians its peoples–, others consider this language was merely used as a lingua franca to facilitate commercial interactions with the Iberian Peninsula. Be it as it may, the study of the sources directly written by the inhabitants of Elne from the 4th century BC till the Roman period remains an essential element in order to understand the cultural and linguistic substrate of the region along with its evolution till the final Latinization.

elne elerbasElne Gaulish

Pictures showing two different graffiti from Elne, both of them written in Iberian script. Whereas the first bears an Iberian name, Elerbas, the second, which reads ]nuetiri, might be interpreted as the Iberian adaptation of a Gaulish anthroponym Con-uectirix.

The epigraphic mission is part of one of the main Work Packages of the LatinNow project, “Documenting the Provinces”, aimed at gathering data and materials which are relevant for the study of Latinization in the north-western provinces. In this case, we have carried out the revision of the whole corpus of inscriptions of the site and we are currently working on the interpretation of these texts, with a special focus on the cultural environment in which they were produced. To this end, the linguistic analysis will be put together with the archaeological contextualization of the finds and the study of the writing materials, which will allow us to progress on the dating of the inscriptions and the social contextualization of the writing practices in ancient Elne.


Praying to the Lusitanian goddesses and gods

By Noemí Moncunill Martí

In 2009 one of the nicest inscriptions showing the multilinguistic situation of the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of our era was found in Viseu, in the province of Lusitania (in modern-day Portugal). The text was carved in elegant capital letters on an altar and, at first sight, and without paying close attention to its specific content, one would say this is just another Latin votive inscription concluding with the formula V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito). However, any Latinist who tries to read and understand the text will immediately become aware of its exceptionality: as a matter of fact, the inscription is not entirely in Latin, but half of it has been written in an indigenous language, Lusitanian. The inscription reads as follows:











Viseu image

Fig. 1. Votive inscription from Viseu (HEp, 17, 255). Image in Creative Commons, taken from Banco de Datos Hesperia (Palaeohispanica 2009).

The first part of the text, Deibabor igo deibobor Vissaieigobor, has been interpreted as an address, in dative plural, ‘to the goddesses and gods of Visseu’, which would be the indigenous adaptation of the common Latin formula Diis deabusque. Linguists actually consider that this indigenous declination in -BOR is likely to be a rhotacized form of an ancient ending *-bos (which would be much closer to the Latin –bus); note that Latin and Lusitanian show actually some resemblances, due, of course, to the fact that they are both Indo-European languages. What interests us more here is that, after this invocation to the divinity, the text suddenly switches to Latin in order to express the naming formula of the commissioner –Albinus Chaereae filius–, and the final formula: V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito).


Hesperia LusitanianFig. 2. Map of the Lusitanian inscriptions according to Hesperia Database.

This inscription from Viseu is the last find of a very small corpus of texts in Lusitanian language, which comprises, in total, only 6 inscriptions, all of them having a votive or sacrificial character. In addition to the direct sources, we also have access to a large number of place names, personal names and divinity names which survived in Latin epigraphy, and also to some other hybrid or mixed inscriptions, in which, interestingly, there is also a retention of the local declination to mention the indigenous gods, whereas the names of the commissioners and the votive formulae are, again, in perfect Latin. For instance: Deibabo Nemucelaegabo Fuscinus Fusci f(ilius) v(otum) l(ibens) a(nimo) s(olvit) (AE 1987, 562g). As for the inscription of Viseu, this could correspond to a residual or fossilized use of the indigenous language for religious purposes.

CIL Lusitanian

Fig. 3. One of the first known Lusitanian inscriptions as published in the first edition of Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum devoted to Hispania (CIL II 738). E. Hübner, the editor of the corpus, considers that the inscription is not a fake, as it had been judged before, but a corrupt or barbarian text in Latin letters: « portentose corrupta an barbara habenda sint Latinis litteris scripta ».

Until the late 20th century the only two known Lusitanian inscriptions had been considered as local inventions, texts in bad Latin or just as fake documents. The latter discoveries, although scarce in number, have been of great importance in order to progress in the typological classification of this language and to recognize some of its specific features. Thanks to these new discoveries Lusitanian has aroused interest between linguists and historians and its documentation is today considered as a key element for the understanding of the very different ways in which the local populations integrated themselves into the Roman world.


Further reading :

D’Encarnação and A. Guerra, 2010: “The current state of research on local deities in Portugal”, in: J. A. Arenas (ed.), Celtic religion across space and time, Toledo 2010, pp. 95-112.

M. J. Estarán, Epigrafía bilingüe del Occidente romano. El latín y las lenguas locales en las inscriptionces bilingües y mixtas, Zaragoza 2016, pp. 250-281.

Hesperia Databank (Lusitanian): http://hesperia.ucm.es/en/presentacion_lusitano.php

J. Untermann, Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum Monumenta, vol. IV, Wiesbaden 1997.

M. Vallejo Ruiz, Antroponimia indígena de la Lusitania romana, Vitoria 2005.

M. Vallejo, “Hacia una definición del lusitano”, Palaeohispanica 13, 2013, pp. 273-291.

D. Wodko, Lusitanian. Language, writing, epigraphy, Zaragoza 2017.


A whistle-stop tour of LatinNow!

By María José Estarán Tolosa

Last monday I had the great opportunity of sharing a part of my research with some members of the Faculty of Classics of the University of Oxford, in the presentation of LatinNow in the Epigraphy Seminar organized at the Ioannou Centre. The room was crowded, and I think that the point that we wanted to adress was clear: the questions we want to answer in the next five years were posed, the method we want to follow was described, the sociolinguistical contexts of each region were explained, and the members of the team were introduced to the academic community… In less than an hour!

My contribution to the project, as a research affiliate of LatinNow, is to produce research on Latinization of the Iberian Peninsula, together with Noemí Moncunill, who is leading the work on that region as a research fellow of the project. I am focusing on sociolinguistical issues, carrying out a comparative study of the Latinization of the texts on coins and on epigraphy, taking into account the political context and the historical events.

My presentation for the Epigraphy Seminar consisted of Saguntum, an amazing case study given the rich epigraphic and archaeological materials preserved. The siege of Saguntum and its strong loyalty to Rome (see the dedicatory inscription to Scipio for the liberation and reconstruction of the city, inscribed in early Imperial times! Fig.1) derived in the landing of the Roman army in 218 BC in Spain.

Fig. 1: Inscription CIL II/14 327 (early Imperial times). Honorific inscription dedicated to Publio Scipio for the liberation of Saguntum. Picture: http://www3.uah.es/imagines_cilii/CILII/tarrac2.htm


In order to show outwardly this strong link to Rome, Saguntum produced bilingual coins, in Latin and Iberian, with the type of the prow between 130 and 72 BC.

cabeza galeada


Fig. 2: Bilingual coin from Saguntum (130-72 BC). Picture: http://rgonzalez.blogspot.es/1261559340/monedas-arse-sagunto-descripcion-imagenes/

The interesting point is that, although Saguntum produced many lapidary inscriptions in Republican times, all them are written in in Iberian language and script. These documents indicate that Saguntum lived a situation of societal bilingualism in Republican times, and that their elites likely chose Latin to perform their Romanitas outwardly, since coins obviously circulated more widely than inscriptions on stone.


Fig. 3: Languages timeline, Saguntum (MJET).

After that, I explained a completely different case study from the other side of the Iberian peninsula, so I could illustrate the linguistic and epigraphic heterogeneity of Hispania: the case of linguistic retention in the religious inscriptions of Lusitania. This hypothesis is based only on epigraphy, not in coins. We can infer that there was a sort of linguistic retention of the local language for religious matters thanks to two mixed inscriptions (heading in latin mentioning the author of the inscription, then commemoration of sacrifices / offerings in Lusitanian) and also thanks to c. 20 Latin dedicatory inscriptions where the theonym has Lusitanian morphology.

insc lusitana 2

Fig. 4: Lusitanian inscription from Lamas de Moledo, Sabugal (Portugal). Picture: Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum IV L.2.1.

My stay in Oxford was more than a presentation of this promising project: teamworking with LatinNow members (Alex, Francesca and Noemí) and preparing the next events of the project was really exciting and constructive!

The spin-doctor of Caesar, or, the Gaditanus who changed the history of Rome

By Noemí Moncunill Martí

One bit of evidence that in the late republic the south of the Iberian Peninsula was strongly Romanized is that some relevant figures of this period come from this region. This is the case of the wealthy family of the Balbii from Gades, in modern Andalusia.

balbus maior
Inscription from Capua mentioning Lucius Cornelius Balbus Maior (CIL X 3854; ILS 888)

One of them, Lucius Cornelius Balbus Maior, played a crucial role in the politics of the Roman republic. He was granted Roman citizenship by Pompey the Great as a reward for his collaboration in the Sertorian War, in Hispania. Once a Roman citizen, he also managed to meet Julius Caesar, with whom he would become a close friend, as well as counsellor, secretary and, thanks to his great fortune, even the financier. The Gaditanus became so well-connected and influential that he has been considered as the principal intermediary between the two most prominent politicians of that time, Caesar and Pompey, and one of the shadowy ideologists of the first triumvirate, to the extent that some voices have considered his activity as one of the main causes that led to the irreversible erosion and fall of the old republican system.

Balbus’s biography shows a man of extraordinary political agility, able to remain in the political forefront without ever being damaged, in spite of the great instability dominating the social and political scene. He was a man who, despite being directly involved in the first triumvirate, was also involved in the second triumvirate, during which he reached the peak of his political career: in 40 BC he was elected consul, becoming the first non-Italian to hold the highest office.

Balbus minor

Honorific inscription to Lucius Cornelius Balbus Minor found in Cáceres, Extremadura (AE 1962, 71).

One of Balbus’ nephews, Lucius Cornelius Balbus Minor, followed in the steps of his uncle attaining notorious political and military success. In 19 BC, he became the first non-Italian to celebrate a triumph in Rome. He is also well known for promoting an urban renovation of his native Gades and for funding some important buildings in Rome, including a theatre.


Model of Rome showing the Theatre of Marcellus in the foreground and the Theatre of Balbus in the background (Wikimedia Commons)

Further reading:

Espluga, X. and Moncunill, N. 2013.  «Introduction to Pro Balbo», in Cicero, Discursos XVI, Fundació Bernat Metge, Barcelona.

Pina, F. 2011. «Los Cornelio Balbo: clientes en Roma, patronos en Gades», in A. Sartori and A. Valvo (coord.), Identità e autonomie nel mondo romano occidentale: Iberia-Italia Italia-Iberia. III Convegno Internazionale di Epigrafia e Storia Antica (Epigrafia e Antichità, 29), Faenza, 335-353.

Rodríguez Neila, J. F. 1996. Confidentes de César. Los Balbos de Cádiz, Madrid, Sílex ediciones.