Cursive and Curses!

By Janie Masséglia

The second half of June proved to be a busy one for the LatinNow Project with more than 200 visitors and students taking part in our new workshops and activities in less than a fortnight.

JM with St Ebbes

Since we put together our LatinNow Outreach Events Menu 2018, two of our most popular activities have been about Old Roman Cursive and writing curse tablets.

Our trusty cardboard shrine to Sulis accompanied me to the Family Discovery Day at the University of Nottingham, to two in-school sessions at the Iris Classics Centre at the Cheney School in Oxford, and then again – this time with Alex making a trio – to the History and Archaeology Festival at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts.  For this activity, as well as having the chance to handle replica writing instruments of various kinds, people were encouraged to decipher mock lead-tablets describing the loss or theft of various items, before writing their own and dedicating it to Sulis. I had been initially disappointed to discover that the small squares of scratch paper I hoped would replicate child-friendly lead plaques were not available in silver, but only in rainbow effect. Sometimes the quest for absolute authenticity doesn’t lead to the best visitor experience – our visitors (especially the younger ones) have been drawn to the bright colours and have loved experimenting with Old Roman Cursive when it gives such an eye-catching result. We’ve embraced it and are determined from now on to ‘be more unicorn’.

shrine at cheney diptych

One of the unexpected highlights of the History and Archaeology Festival was the chance to meet re-enactors of various periods. We talked about writing techniques with a medieval Benedictine, and even faced an invasion of Iron Age Celts who came up to tell us they didn’t like the Romans much, and they had no intention of learning about Latin! Once Alex was able to reassure them we loved Celtic too, and even showed them some Celtic words hidden in a Latin contract we had on our stall, we managed to broker a peace. Now that’s community engagement.

JM with Benedictine

Our other popular session has been our military ‘codebreaking’ for Primary school pupils, an activity that Alex, Joshua Ward-Penny and I successfully road-tested on 250 children and their parents for the IntoUniversity programme last March. This session, focussing on the different languages spoken in the empire and how the Roman army sent its messages, always ends with a race to translate a secret message and save a Roman legion from an attack from marauding Britons. Last week, the pupils of St Ebbe’s Primary did a fantastic job, and a little girl named Mahisa stormed to victory several minutes before her classmates. It’s a pattern that we’ve started to notice, that children who speak more than one language are especially adept at codebreaking cursive, and it’s been great to talk about multilingualism with young people who really understand what we mean.

Sociolinguistics meets archaeology: the LatinNow GIS

One of the planned outputs for LatinNow is a publicly accessible GIS. This will be an easily navigable web-based interface (similar to tools produced by ORBIS or EngLaId), which will display, amongst other things, inscriptions of the north-western Roman provinces as points on a map. Users will be able to search for inscriptions, filtering the data by e.g. location, date, and inscribed material; and then be able to display the text of the target inscription.

Fig01
Public-facing GIS tools from ORBIS and EngLaId

The data for the Latin and Greek inscriptions in this GIS comes from EAGLE, and comprises over 100,000 inscriptions marked up (largely through an automated process) with EpiDoc. With the help of our European Special Advisor Pietro Liuzzo, we obtained a collection of all the EAGLE files relevant to our provinces of study — i.e. the collection of ‘Classical’ language inscriptions which we can use in our GIS. However, it is not simply a case of dumping these files straight into a GIS: the collection contains multiple appearances of the same inscription in different Epigraphic corpora (e.g. Epigraphic Database Clauss Slaby; Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg; Roman Inscriptions of Britain), or even different editions/readings of the same text from the same corpus. We have also identified some problems with the automatic EpiDoc’ing process. For example, some of the files were EpiDoc’ed without geographic co-ordinates — essential references for displaying the data geospatially — and much work is therefore needed to make the data ‘GIS’ ready, either by manually adding in co-ordinates or linking the data up with Pleiades (where possible). The GIS team is currently dedicating most of its time to the cleaning and processing of the material in this way.

Fig02
Multiple entries for the same inscription from different Epigraphic corpora. Entries with the same ‘tmID’ refer to the same inscription.

We do, however, already have a ‘dirty’ research version of the GIS, for use by the project team. We have been playing around with search queries, and have started to look for spatial patterns in the inscriptional record. As an example, here is a search which brought up inscriptions from Britain dated between AD 50–100 and written on wood. In addition, we have been visualising our inscription points against freely available GIS data from other projects (e.g. OxRep, PAS), in order to think about the social factors

Fig03
Screenshot of the ‘dirty’ data, from the Germanies, Noricum, and Raetia.

which might have affected the uptake and use of Latin. For example, do we find more stone inscriptions the closer we go to quarries? How does the epigraphic habit change with the movement of the military? What does the distribution of writing equipment tell us about literacy and Latinization in the various provinces? The quality of the data available is necessarily different across provinces, but the GIS allows us to ask questions about Latinization at various scales across the whole project area.

Fig04
Example query run on the inscriptions of Britannia. Here, inscriptions dated AD 50–100 and written on wood (missing, for example, the Bloomberg tablets, which have not yet been published online).

Work on the project GIS is ongoing. The main priorities at the moment are the cleaning of the EAGLE data; the addition of the non-Classical language inscriptions, and the input of more contextual data alongside our inscriptions. We hope to launch the public GIS (in some working form or another) by the end of 2019.

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.