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.


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.

A nerd’s-eye view on Die Barbaren – Bilingualism in Germania

The Romans announcing the arrival of Varus. To the left the standard bearer and to the right the centurion Metellus. © Netflix

By Pieter Houten

As a classicist I seem to have this nerd’s-eye view on all things related to our field. Yes, I will write about the Netflix-series ‘Die Barbaren’. But, no, I will not write about how it is not historically accurate enough. We can put salt on all snails, as we say in Dutch. They didn’t need to make the mistakes of having the Germanic warriors ride horses with stirrups (was it for insurance reasons?) and having a tiger skin, rather than a lion, in the military outfit of the eagle-bearer. Yes some of us notice these things, but we also realise it is a series created for entertainment. For me the interesting choices they have made about language have made the series even more entertaining and to explain why I will give you a peak into my nerd brain.

Looking closely at the Roman horses we see they are fitted with horseshoes. For a long time I thought this was incorrect. However, we have archaeological evidence for horseshoes. In the Thermenmuseum in Heerlen a few are on display. © P.H.A. Houten

The series starts with the Germanic people speaking modern German, no surprise there as it is a German series. But then the eagle-bearer and a small troop of Roman horsemen led by the centurion Metellus enter. And this is when the fun starts. Metellus rides to the Cherusci for an announcement: in Latin. That is when I realised that the modern German is supposed to represent the Germanic language of the Cherusci. We could start a debate about how far off modern German is from the language spoken 2000 years earlier. However, unlike Latin, the Germanic languages of the time have not been preserved beyond names. Unfortunately, the Germanic Batavian commanders at Vindolanda, for example, learned Latin so well that there is no obvious evidence, apart from the odd Germanic name, of Germanic in the reams of Latin they left behind. Admittedly, some bright people could have been hired to reconstruct a variety of Proto-Germanic from known early Germanic languages such as Gothic. However, that would open up new debates: for example, if you start going down that lane you should perhaps also consider the possible dialectal differences between the Germanic of the Cherusci and Bructeri. So we can easily forgive the use of Modern German.

The tombstone of Marcus Caelius who was the First centurion of the 18th Legion. His brother set up this monument to commemorate his death in the ‘bello Variano’.

The choice to have them speak different languages is a nice touch allowing viewers to understand a bit more of the difficulty of interactions in a new province. Metellus announces in Latin that there is a new legatus Augusti for Germania, the one and only Publius Quinctilius Varus. However, Metellus quickly realises that the Cherusci did not understand a word of the announcement. That is also when we get the next surprise: Segestes steps up as interpreter. Apparently, this Cheruscan elite member has learned Latin. Bilingualism in the northwest, in action – exactly the kind of thing we study in LatinNow!

Interestingly, Segestes’ role as the conniving-double-playing interpreter fits the classical idea of multilingual people that we sometimes see in elite literature. In antiquity, multilingual people were not always received with much laus and gloria. In Plautus’ play, Poenulus, the Carthaginian Hanno is portrayed as speaking all languages (Poen 112). When he switches from Punic to Latin, Milphio calls him a double-tongued snake (Poen 1029-34). Moreover, Livy recounts that the Carthaginians, the famous rivals of Rome, could not be trusted for their multilingual capabilities, they could write in Latin to mislead the Romans (Liv. 27.28.4). Back in Die Barbaren we also see that Roman officer Arminius uses his bilingualism to plot and scheme with the Germanic peoples. That Arminius was bilingual is also noted by Tacitus who records that Arminius spoke his Germanic language with Latin interference (Tac. Ann II.10). I will not go into this any further as that might entail spoilers for the next season…

Similarly in this season, we learn about Arminius’ bilingual background when he contacts the prefect Talio of the Germanic auxilia. We have to note here that the auxilia in the Roman army were drafted from the provinces. As Arminius leaves, Talio makes a joke in German. As it was about the Roman Empire and Arminius overheard it, he responds in German. Again the bilingual speaker is shown as something to fear, and unfortunate Talio is whipped for his insubordination. The ending of the first episode reinforces Arminius’ bilingualism with the code-switching cliff-hanger: “Salve Vater” “Greetings, Father” (Latin, German).

The inscription recording the career of Atilius including his function of interpreter for the Legio XV © EDCS AE 1978, 0635

When Arminius and Thusnelda visit the legionary camp Arminius’ forked tongue is clear. He is not literally translating what is being said. But that might have been a wise choice. Thusnelda is not inclined to be friendly to the Romans and insults them in Germanic. However, this is a dangerous game, as there is an interpreter on the Roman side: Pelagios. We know from inscriptions the Roman army had interpreters. In the Germanic area of the Marcomanni there is an inscription from Boldog (Senec, Slovakia) mentioning the centurion Atilius who also served as inter(p)rex.

Looking for these linguistic references in the series is quite fun. They are a nice touch for a series in the sword-and-sandal genre which focuses on the warlike interactions. The series could even have stretched the story to show more aspects of the Roman and Germanic interactions – for example the development of cities and trade in the new province and how interpreters like Segestes might have fitted into this too. The interactions in the new province were not only of war-like nature, it was all a bit more complex. Die Barbaren is a great watch though and hunting down these linguistic features is a fun activity diverting my mind, at least, from the problems of our own time.

HEY SISTER! Translingual messages on spindle whorls from Autun

By Alex Mullen

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Replica spindle whorls used in our 2019 Touring Exhibition (photo: LatinNow; replicas: Potted History)

Over the past few weeks I’ve returned to some of my favourite inscribed small objects from the Roman world, and have been finishing a chapter for a volume edited by Eleri Cousins (Lancaster). It’s on new approaches to epigraphy and is a result of the panel Eleri ran at the Celtic Conference in Classics at St Andrews in summer 2018. I talked about my experience at the conference here. I’m excited about finally committing my thoughts on these items to print, having spoken about them numerous times now, not least because I’m offering a new concept from modern sociolinguistics to think about the linguistic phenomenon we see in them: translingualism.

The replica spindle whorls in the yellow ‘economy’ section of our touring exhibition (LatinNow). Note that the replicas are double size.

First things first, what are these objects? For a time there was a bit of uncertainty. Some early commentators thought they could be beads for jewellery. In 1914 the French scholar Héron de Villefosse published a little corpus of them and correctly identified them as spindle whorls – the small weights placed at the end of the spindle to help regulate the speed of the spin. Wool is spun before being woven and huge numbers of these items were used across the provinces in the Roman period. This inscribed collection of whorls, now numbering two dozen, is unusual in that whorls are not otherwise, to our knowledge, inscribed in Latin in the Roman period (there are a few examples in Palaeohispanic and other non-Latin languages). The other unusual thing is that this set is made from the same material – namely the bituminous schist from the quarries of Autun in France. Half the known examples were found in that major Roman centre (then called Augustodunum), the rest in eastern France, with a couple of outliers in Trier (Germany) and Nyon (Switzerland). It seems very likely that these inscribed objects were made in Autun.

The ramparts of Autun (Wikimedia – Christophe Finot)

The messages carved in capitals and showing knowledge of monumental stone epigraphy make the objects ‘speaking’ ones, usually, it seems, addressing the spinner, though some could plausibly be the whorl addressing the spindle. Some are in Latin AVE DOMINA SITIIO ‘greetings lady, I’m thirsty’, SALVE SOROR ‘hey sister’, some in Gaulish, the Celtic language of Gaul, GENETTA IMI DAGA VIMPI ‘I’m a good, pretty girl’, and some are a mixture of languages NATA VIMPI VI(nu?)M POTA ‘pretty girl drink wine’. A few of the messages are overtly amatory/erotic, for example the Gaulish MONI GNATHA GABI BUÐÐUTON IMON ‘Come girl, take my kiss/cock’. As a result commentators have tried to find salacious subtext in all the examples and have said that they are all gifts of men to women.

spindle whorl
Spindle whorl from Autun (fig. 10, Mullen & Darasse 2018 Gaulish: Language, writing, epigraphy)

In my chapter I assess what we know, and don’t know, about these objects, considering the contextual and other clues and unpicking the assumptions (about literacy, gender stereotypes, cultural environments, language…) underlying our scholarship over the decades. I use a sociolinguistic and archaeological approach to the epigraphy to try to reconstruct a series of plausible scenarios for the creation and use of these items. For example, there’s no clear reason to assume a male author/commissioner in all the cases. If we are willing to consider the possibility that some of these texts are used by women who may be working in groups in workshops, we might wonder whether some of these messages may have been created by women for other members of the group, and themselves, to enjoy. The black schist whorl with white lettering would have created a striking party piece, spinning so that the object becomes a blur and then gently slowing to reveal the inscribed message. Co-workers in close quarters working on relatively monotonous tasks will often create distractions for themselves, for example work songs and in-group stories, language and humour.

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The three spindle whorl replicas used in our touring exhibition display (LatinNow).

So far these texts have been analysed in terms of distinct languages, Latin and Gaulish, and of the way in which those languages combine to produce a mixed language (Meid) or code-switching, where the language switches mid-utterance (Adams). However, some of these texts can be read simultaneously as both Latin and Gaulish, due to the use of words which work in both languages. The terminology of bilingualism currently used in Classics does not cope well with such flexible ‘homophonic’ use of linguistic resources. At a conference of modern sociolinguistics I encountered a concept which could be useful to us: translingualism. This can refer to the flexibility of multilingual linguistic repertoires: speakers can switch, merge, and choose to use language which simultaneously works for more than one speech community. Translingualism reminds us that standard languages do not necessarily mean much when it comes to the realities of fluid linguistic communication in highly multilingual environments. In a pre-nation state context such as Roman Gaul perhaps the creators of the spindle whorls did not see language in such black and white terms.


Adams, J. 2003 Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge)

Meid, W. 1983 ‘Gallisch oder Lateinisch? Soziolinguistische und andere Bemerkungen zu populären gallo-lateinischen Inschriften’ ANRW II.29.2, 1019-1044

Video showing the spindle whorls made for the exhibition by Graham Taylor (Potted History)

“Excuse me sir, do you want to put a curse on someone?”

By Francesca Cotugno

Obsecro, domne, nonne tua interest aliquem defigere? This was probably a sentence which might have been said multiple times, all around the Roman Empire. In order to curse someone in the Roman Empire a curse table was probably a quick and readily available option.

Curse tablets are inscribed pieces of metal, usually in the form of small, thin sheets, intended to influence, by supernatural means, the actions or welfare of persons or animals against their will (Jordan 1985: 151). This might mean subjecting a thief to a nasty fate or making someone fall in love with you. As Roger Tomlin put it in his presentation of the Bath curse tablets they were the “loser’s last resort” (Tomlin 1988: 60).

But not all the surviving curse tablets are similar and this is one of the things that intrigues the LatinNow team. We are trying to understand these documents, which sometimes contain the innermost desires of people: how are they differently distributed around the provinces and how did they adapt the feature of cursing someone with a lead tablet to their own culture and language, often creating something new and unique?

These curses are usually called lead tablets but, actually, this is not the only metal that was used for this purpose, as we also find other soft metals like pewter and tin. In general, the tablets are rectangular sheets which were 6-12cm long and 4-8cm wide when unrolled in order to provide a writing surface which was inscribed with a sharp point like a stylus. As you can see from the picture (figure 1), the LatinNow team is producing replicas of these tablets for the forthcoming Touring Exhibition in September and October 2019 (

Figure 1. The Vilbia curse tablet replica in progress.

Curse tablets have been found in different provinces of the Roman Empire, but they belong to different periods and to different linguistic areas and backgrounds. Whereas the Romans spread the habit of written curses, indigenous communities coloured them with their own distinctive features, which may reflect, in some cases, ancient oral practices. This is perhaps evident in the case of the curse tablets from Roman Britain, where the writers adopted the practice of the curses with special concern for theft. In Britain, the richest site for curse tablets is Bath, ancient Aquae Sulis, where they were deposited in the hot spring between the second and fourth centuries AD. Here the writers used a lot of formulaic language, like the form si mulier, si baro (e.g. Tab. Sulis 44), which appears to indicate Germanic influence.

In places such as Germania Superior, among others, theft, as far as we can tell, was not such a major topic for cursing someone. In Mainz, people were cursed in the first and second century AD at the sanctuary of Isis and Magna Mater because the writer was holding a personal grudge and not necessarily because he or she was asking revenge for a stolen good. DTM 1 is one of the few curses in which the curser is asking for a punishment against a thief (in this case, a certain Gemella allegedly stole a fibula). The majority of curses here are invocations expressed in a quite plain language which did not have to be learnt by heart or copied from magic books, but they also include some more formal terminology, and stylistic elements of artificial or popular rhetoric.

Taking into account two different curses, one from Bath, and another one from Mainz, it is possible to note some similarities and divergences.

Tab. Sulis 4 is also known as the theft of Vilbiam. Whether this curse was about a kidnap or a robbery has been discussed by Paul Russell (2006).

Latin – transposed version Translation
ELL[…] M[. 2-3.]TA QVI EAM [……-]
May he who has stolen Vilbia become as liquid as water ..who has stolen it (or her) Velvinna, Exsupereus, Verianus, Severinus, Augustalis, Comitianus, Minianus, Catus, Germanilla, Jovina.


Why is Vilbia not a woman? It is difficult to understand this word as a personal name: firstly, it is not attested elsewhere, and no other British curse tablet is prompted by the theft of a woman. We have curses prompted, for example, by the theft of silver coins (Tab. Sulis 4) or for the theft of a pan (Tab. Sulis 60). I agree with Paul Russell that it is not really likely that it refers to a woman. He suggests that the form may be related to Middle Welsh gwlf, and may refer to some sort of pointed object. Tomlin suggested that Vilbia was perhaps a form of fibula (“a brooch”). In the curse tablets from Bath we have also other curses concerning this kind of item, such as Tab. Sul. 15 made for the theft of a bracelet.

One of the most interesting curses from Mainz is DTM 15: the curse of Aemilia Prima, where this woman is doomed to never bloom again like the sheet (charta) used for cursing her. This curse is probably against Narcissus’ lover, but like in other curses from Mainz, the real motive of the curse is not explicit.

Latin – transposed version Translation (Blänsdorf)
Prima Aemilia Narcissi agat, quidquid conabitur, quidquid aget, omnia illi inversum sit.

Amentita surgat amentita suas res agat.

Quidquid surget omnia interversum surgat Prima Narcissi aga<t>: como haec carta nuncquam florescet sic illa nuncquam quicquam florescat

(Whatever) Aemilia Prima, (the lover?) of Narcissus may do, whatever she attempts, whatever she does, let it all go wrong. May she get up (out of bed) out of her senses, may she go about her work out of her senses. Whatever she strives after, may her striving in all things be reversed. May this befall Prima, (the lover?) of Narcissus: just as this letter never shall bloom, so she shall never bloom in any way

An interesting feature of this curse is that the text uses a magical orientation of the script since it is partially written in a spiral counter-clockwise, creating a “verbal box”.


Figure 2. DTM 15 (from Blänsdorf et al. 2012)

We must take into account the converging and diverging features of so-called ‘curse tablets’. On the one hand, both of these two documents share an grudge towards someone, expressed through formulae that echoed the juridical style, as if the writer were making a contract with some superior being, in order to curse someone. On the other, the details are quite different: the one who stole vilbia is doomed to become liquid as water while Prima Aemilia will wither and never bloom. In one case we are dealing with a theft, in the second perhaps a bitter lover. Also, there are linguistic features which are rare and we must try to interpret, like the use of amentita that appears as a neologism, in Mainz, or vilbiam, in Roman Britain.


Blänsdorf, J., Lambert, P., & Witteyer, M. (2012). Die defixionum tabellae des Mainzer Isis- und Mater Magna-Heiligtums: Defixionum tabellae Mogontiacenses (DTM). Mainz.

Tomlin, R. S. O. in Cunliffe, B., Davenport, P., Care, V., & Tomlin, R. (1985). The temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath (Tab. Sulis). Oxford.

Jordan, D. R. (1985) ‘Defixiones from a well near the Southwest corner of the Athenian Agora.’  Hesperia 54.3, 205–255.

Russell, P. (2006). VILBIAM (RIB 154): Kidnap or Robbery? Britannia 37, 363-367.



What can personal names tell us about cultural contacts in Antiquity? Some reflections on names and identities in Bordeaux

By Noemí Moncunill

“Two people who do not speak the same language come across each other. One writes the name of the other. This fleeting scene seems timeless and banal to us; only the modest written trace that results from it keeps its memory alive. Yet it is thanks to it that we can, even centuries later, relive the exact moment of this linguistic contact.”

Coline Ruiz-Darasse (CNRS Ausonius – Université Bordeaux Montaigne), author of this remark, recently gathered a group of researchers from different countries in order to see how the study of personal names can contribute to our understanding of cross-cultural contact and linguistic change in Antiquity. This stimulating seminar took place in Bordeaux in April 2018 and LatinNow team members had the chance to participate. The title of this workshop was “Comment s’écrit l’autre. Sources épigraphiques et papyrologiques dans le monde méditerrannéen antique”.

Noemi Bordeaux names

The day started with a methodological presentation delivered by the organiser, Coline Ruiz-Darasse. There followed two papers on code switching in personal names, multiculturalism and Latinization in the western provinces, both presented by LatinNow contributors. Marie-Thérèse Raepsaet-Charlier (Université libre de Bruxelles), senior advisor of LatinNow, reflected on the multicultural picture of society arising from the study of personal names in northern Gallia.  Noemí Moncunill (University of Nottingham and CSAD, Oxford), LatinNow researcher on the Iberian Peninsula, analysed the adaptation of Iberian names into Roman duo or tria nomina, in order to assess how this can be related to linguistic change in Hispania.

After a delicious, typically French lunch at the “Boeuf sur la Place” restaurant, the focus of the meeting moved to the East in the afternoon. Dan Dana (CNRS, Anhima) outlined examples to show how “assonance names” can be considered as “cultural mirrors” in Thrace; Alain Delatre (Université libre de Bruxelles) analysed linguistic variation and interference in the impressively wealthy documentation of Christian Egypt and, last but not least, Ignasi-Xavier Adiego (Universitat de Barcelona) teased out the linguistic and phonological perspectives of the adaptation of Lycian names into Greek and, conversely, of Greek names into Lycian.

The seminar was very rich in comments and insights on the part of participants and from the audience and it will lead to a monograph on the subject. We are already looking forward to reading it!


Roman Lead Ingots from Germania

By Francesca Cotugno

One of the aims of the LatinNow project is to combine the analysis of writing with the material analysis of writing implements and epigraphic media. By drawing upon different strands of evidence – from archaeology, linguistics and history – we hope to get a clearer picture of the specific circumstances that were involved in the take up of Latin during the initial phases of Roman occupation of the north western provinces. In this post I want to draw attention to recent research on Roman lead ingots that were mined and cast along the eastern and western banks of the Rhine because they highlight the kind of insight – as well the conundrums – that this combined approach can yield.

ingot 1

Figure 1: Ingot from Saintes-Mairies-de-la-Mer (picture from Eck 2015)

Ingots are fascinating because they are impressed with names which offer us vitally important information about the imperial control of mineral sources as well trade and other cross-cultural dynamics in the early Roman Empire. Take the first ingot, which was found in the commune of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Rhone delta close to the Mediterranean coast. It is impressed with the words FLAVI VERVCLAE PLUMB(um) GERM(anicum) ‘Germanic lead, product of Flavius Verucla’, along its side whilst  the top of the ingot is impressed with the words, IMP(eratoris) CAES(aris) ‘property of the Emperor Caesar’. Now let’s look at the second ingot, which was found miles further north on the north east reaches of the Rhine in Bad-Sassendorf (see figure 2). This has part of the personal name L. FLA[—] moulded on one side, and on the other side there is another version of the same name L. F. VE. It is possible that both of these formulations are the same as those of the Rhone delta ingot: L. FLA[vi Veruclae plumb. Germ.] and L. F[lavi] VE[ruclae plumb. Germ.]. In fact, the isotope analysis of the lead confirms that both ingots came from the same mine in the area of Sauerland (c. 120km from Cologne) and that they were cast in the first century CE.

Ingot 2

Figure 2: Ingot from of Bad-Sassendorf /Heppen (Image from Eck 2015)

If we turn to the historical evidence we can see that there would have been a very narrow time span (roughly from 7 BCE to 9 CE)  when lead mines on the eastern banks of the Rhine would have come under Roman control (and would therefore have been subjected to an imperial toll) as the imperial mark suggests. The salient dates here are 7 BCE – the year in which Tiberius was summoned back to Rome from his campaign in the territories east of the Rhine, and September 9 CE – when 35,000 men, almost three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, were either slaughtered or enslaved at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest by an alliance of Germanic tribes. After the permanent withdrawal of the legions from the area to the east of the Rhine, the Romans would have been forced to look for mineral resources in Germania Superior and Inferior on the west bank of the Rhine

As we would expect, lead ingots dating from the period in which Caligula was emperor (37–41 CE) come from Germania Inferior, the area west of the Rhine. Two ingots that were found near the river Rhone, at Fos-sur-Mer and at Ile-Rousse, on Corsica, are interesting in this respect. The ingot from the Rhone valley has the following moulded mark, IMP(eratoris) • TI(berii) CAESARIS • AVG(usti) • (plumbum) GERM(anicum) TEC(-). This can be roughly translated as ‘Property of the Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Lead from Germany’ . The ingot from Corsica shows the following text: CAESAR • AVG • IMP • GERM • TECF. The last letter is smudged and is difficult to decipher.

ingot 3

Figure 3: Ingot from Ile-de-Rousse (picture from Raepsaet-Charlier 2011)

In both cases, TECF and TEC remain unexplained. LatinNow’s Special Adviser, Prof. Marie-Therese Raepsaet Charlier has carried out extensive analysis of these ingots which I can only summarise here. She suggests that TEC is not a Latin word but may be of either Celtic and/or Germanic origin. This is interesting because the isotope analysis reveals that the lead was probably sourced in the area of Mechernich, west of the Rhine. Therefore the mine would have been in the vicinity of an altar where the matres and matronae Textumehae (distinctive groupings of three female deities, both mothers and matrons) were worshipped, and may reflect the first element of their name. An alternative, possibly related, interpretation is also possible. According to this, TEC may be derived from the Indo-European root teg- ‘to cover’, found in Celtic tribal names like Tectosages, and found in a toponym of the area, Tectae. This root is thought to have given rise to the Celtic term, tecto– ‘possession, property’. According to both interpretations, TEC would be an example where Latin was combined with Celtic perhaps in order to integrate the imperial control of mining resources within the non-Latin context. Both interpretations are possible, but an explanation involving unknown abbreviations or a mistake in Latin may also be an option. We await further clues to help to solve the mystery!


Further Reading

Bode M., Hauptmann A. & K. Mezger (2009), ‘Tracing Roman lead sources using lead isotope analyses in conjunction with archaeological and epigraphic evidence—a case study from Augustan/Tiberian Germania’, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 1: 177-194.

Long L. & C. Domergue (1995), ‘Le véritable plomb de L. Flavius Verucla et autres ingots. L’épave 1 des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer’, MEFRA 197-2: 801-867.

Raepsaet-Charlier M. (2011), ‘Plumbum Germanicum: Nouvelles données’, L’antiquité Classique 80: 185-197.

Raepsaet-Charlier M. and Raepsaet C. (2013), Der in Tongern aufgefundene Bleibarren mit dem Namen des Kaisers Tiberius. In G. Creemers (ed.), Archaeological Contributions to Materials and Immateriality (Atuatuca 4). Tongeren, pp. 38-49.

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):

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.


Latinization and education at the fringes of Empire

By Francesca Cotugno

From the Germanies it is possible to record direct evidence of education. At Velsen, the old Flevum, a Tiberian fort in the Netherlands, there is what may be the oldest abecedaria in Germania. It was written on a wooden barrel, which originally contained wine (Bosman 1999: 92). Writing on this type of material has also been found in the writing tablets from Londinium-Bloomberg and in Roman Britain there is evidence of abecedaria from London and writing exercises have been found in the auxiliary fort of Vindolanda. On the continent, other abecedaria and writing exercises have been found in the vicus of Sulz am Neckar (see figures 1 and 2). Also, a roof tile from a piece of slate from Frankfurt-Heddernheim represents another abecedarium found in the Germanies (Matijevi? 2015, Reuter and Scholz 2004: 62–63).

Sulz alphabet

Figure 1: Writing exercise on clay from Sulz am Neckar (source: Reuter and Scholz 2004)

sulz writing ex

Figure 2: Writing exercise on tablet from Sulz am Neckar (source: Reuter and Scholz 2004)

Frankfurt alphabet

Figure 3: abecedarium from Frankfurt-Heddernheim (source Reuter and Scholz 2004)

Beside a quite basic education, based on learning the graphemes of the Latin alphabet, it is noticeable that the education was based also on writing down passages of Classical texts, as reflected in the Virgil quotation from the Aeneid on a brick from Unter-Eschenz in the canton of Thurgau (see Figure 4, Reuter and Scholz 2004: 63).

Ziegle exercise

Figure 4: Classical text from Ziegel aus Unter-Eschenz, canton of Thurgau (source: Reuter and Scholz 2004)

In particular, the poet Virgil was extensively used for elementary instruction and there are evidences from other parts of the Roman Empire. This kind of writing exercise has been found also in some of the writing tablets from Vindolanda (Tab.Vindol. 118 and 452). Tab.Vindol. 118 (see figure 5), for example, reports the verse Aeneid 9, 473 interea pauidam uolitans pinnata per urbem, but failed in rendering the last part of the sentence (pinnata dubem) (Bowman and Thomas 1983).

Tab. Vindol. 118

Figure 5: Classical text from Tab.Vindol. 118 (

Coming back to the Germanies, it is possible to make reference to another evidence of school life in this area. It is an interesting exchange between a student and his teacher dating between 2nd–4th CE. The exchange is recorded on the wall plaster of a Roman villa in Ahrweiler (Reuter and Scholz 2004: 63) and indicates that the difficulties sometimes experienced in education are nothing new.

On this wall plaster we can still read (see figure 6):

Qui bene non didicit carrulus esse solet

scribtum me docuit Grati crudelis habena

 The sentences can be translated as follows:

‘He who has not learned well, tends to be a chatterbox

The belt of cruel Gratus taught me what is written [above]’


Figure 6: Wall plastering from Ahrweiler (source: Reuter and Scholz 2004)

In LatinNow we are looking at the up-take of Latin and literacy in the provinces and evidence for education is crucial for understanding this.  These scattered testimonia will form part of the difficult evidence we have to contextualize to explore the nature of schooling in the Roman world.


Bosman A. V. A. J. (1999), Battlefield Flevum: Velsen 1, the latest excavations, results and interpretations from features and finds, in Schlüter and Wiegels (eds.), Rom, Germanien und die Ausgrabungen von Kalkriese: Internationaler Kongress der Universität Osnabrück und des Landschaftsverbandes Osnabrücker Land e. V. vom 2. bis 5. September 1996, 91–96. Osnabrück, Landschaftsverband Osnabrücker Land.

Bowman A. K. and Thomas D. (1983), Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets. London, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

Matijevi? K. (2015), Writing and Literacy/Illiteracy, in James and Krmnicek (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Roman Germany. Oxford, Oxford Handbooks Online.

Reuter M. and Scholz M. (2004) Geritzt und entziffert: Schriftzeugnisse der römischen Informationsgesellschaft. Stuttgart, Theiss