We’ve done our best in the LatinNow family to support one another and our colleagues through this strange period. We’ve had regular online research meetings, joined lots of virtual conferences, given talks, submitted papers and had G&T nights to keep our ‘spirits’ up. We have always supported flexible working and have team members in different countries so we were perhaps not hit as hard as some other projects given our already extensive online resources. But, frankly, we have struggled with anxieties, lack of changes of scenery and personal contact with colleagues, kitchen table work and the sometimes less than helpful input of small humans. There have been several disappointments: plans to head to Vindolanda for research and public outreach had to be shelved, along with an exciting summer outreach events programme; numerous in-person conferences and meetings have been postponed, including a London hook-up with the wonderful EAGLE people and Pieter’s lectures in China; and our work (especially on RTI) with museums in Switzerland and the Netherlands has hit the annoyingly constantly-moving buffers.
But we know that we have so much to be thankful for and there have been some restorative highlights. In the Autumn we welcomed our 7th ‘LatinNow baby’, a boy (for those keeping score it’s 4:3 to the girls), and I’ve been at home more so have caught the first words and steps of LatinNow baby no. 6. We’ve saved money and trees not traveling and have managed to extend the contracts of our two current post-docs, Pieter and Anna, so that we can, together, make up for lost time. We’ve finished several articles that had been long in progress due to the usually very busy LatinNow schedules and Anna, Alan Bowman and I have completed the manuscript for two volumes of the ‘Roman Everyday Writing Manual’ which should be out in 2021. Work is also underway on editing the social factors in Latinization volume – we’ll be releasing cutting-edge chapters in Open Access format as soon as we possibly can. We’ve been particularly delighted to work with early career researchers and others who are preparing projects using our data.
We have blogs lined up for your delectation in the New Year on our fancy database and LatinNow insights into the TV series Die Barbaren.
Season’s greetings and our best anti-Granola (as LatinNow baby no. 1 calls it) wishes to you all.
It seems almost unbelievable that a year ago this month, the LatinNow team was touring Europe on its 6-country, 6-language VOCES POPVLI tour. Our travelling exhibition, handling sessions, lectures and school activities were all designed to introduce some of the big themes in our project – how Latin spread in Western Europe – and there’s nothing a group of researchers love better than talking about their work. But what made the whole thing really special was the people we met in the museums, schools and universities along the way.
On this, the first anniversary of VOCES POPVLI, we want to thank again everyone who welcomed us in Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands and invite you to join us on a trip down Memory Lane and around Europe, with our four-week tour condensed into under 8 minutes:
I’ve been asked to mark the anniversary of one of the more famous dates in Romano-British history, namely that of the birthday of Claudia Severa, born on the 11th of September sometime in the late first century CE. Many have commented on the significance of the party invitation letter to her dear friend Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the fort commander at Vindolanda (Tab.Vindol. 291), and I certainly have nothing original to add that hasn’t been said before. And, yet, having spent more than my fair share of time with the writing tablets from Vindolanda and the inscribed texts of Britannia in general, I never cease to be amazed by the countless examples of the reminders of how the authors of these texts, notwithstanding the nearly two millennia that separate us, are in many important respects not very different from us at all.
One thing that Severa and I share is a close personal bond to Vindolanda and its inhabitants. Though she herself resided elsewhere (Briga?), it’s fairly certain she was at least an occasional visitor. And if the roads are as bad as Octavius would have us believe (dum uiae male sunt, Tab.Vindol. 343.21), perhaps her journey in inclement weather was no less time-consuming than my own 10-hour transatlantic flight from Los Angeles to Heathrow and a six-hour drive up the A1. (Severa no doubt counted herself lucky that she wasn’t born in February, or the unforgiving Northumberland winter might never have allowed her any guests at her birthday parties.)
I first chanced upon Vindolanda in the summer of 2010, when I conscripted my three children–the youngest of whom was about to ship out to university for the first time and leave me an empty-nester–into a valedictory holiday walking the entire length of the Hadrian’s Wall Path, one of the glories of the English national trail system. On the third day, I managed to cajole the kids into deviating from the path for a short jolly down to Vindolanda (“not another Roman fort”, the middle one sighed with contempt, coupled with the obligatory dramatic eye-roll that she had mastered at an annoyingly young age). My guidebook had tantalized me with the prospect of being able to observe in-progress archaeological excavations.
An hour later, we were standing at the edge of the barrier and a very friendly excavator stepped away from the trench, brought over a finds tray for us to examine, and cheerfully answered our inane questions. As I recall, there really wasn’t much in it other than some grotty animal bones, heavily corroded nails, and a few desultory pieces of worn terra sigillata. But it might just as well have been the treasure of Tutankhamen, as far as I was concerned. And when I found out he was a volunteer, and that anyone could participate merely by signing up the previous fall, I felt as though I had been struck on the road to Damascus. Of course, I may be over-romanticizing it a bit. But there is no doubt that what transpired that day set in motion a whole series of events, not least of which was the decision to create RIB Online, nine successive annual trips to Vindolanda as an excavator, and serendipitously, the invitation to join the LatinNow team.
Excavating at Vindolanda is a fantastic experience and a particular thrill for someone like me who has a special interest in the fruits of these excavations. Most years, it probably doesn’t differ tremendously from a lot of Roman military sites in Britain, apart from the extraordinary density of finds. But in the years when the Scheduled Monument Consent calls for it, certain areas are opened up which allow for exploration of the earlier fort phases and their accompanying extramural settlements that fall below the present water table. At this depth are the oxygen-deprived anaerobic layers that completely arrest any degradation of organic remains and allow for the preservation of artefacts that would have disappeared under any other conditions long ago, including the precious stylus and ink writing tablets.
2019 was one such year, and I had the good fortune to be assigned to one of these trenches during my fortnight session. Employing a time-tested protocol worked out over decades by Vindolanda’s archaeologists, these organic layers are gently spaded in more-or-less 20 cm cubes by a single digger, much as a peat cutter would, and lifted out of the trench and distributed among several diggers kneeling over barrows, who then gingerly sift through the cubes carefully looking for the tablets and anything else that happens to pop out of the black, pungently aromatic organic material. Only bare hands are allowed, as gloves would deny the sifter the tactile sensation required to separate the wafer-thin, highly fragile tablets from the rest of the laminate in which they are found.
While I enjoyed my shifts in the trench doing the spade work, it was incredibly nerve-wracking. The prospect of slicing through a tablet that I knew years later I would see again in a high-resolution infrared photograph in a future volume of Tabulae Vindolandenses as a collection of conjoined fragments, knowing that I was the one who put them asunder, would be almost too much to bear. Thankfully, that fear was not realized, but Dr. Andrew Birley, director of excavations, did spot a small fragment of an ink writing tablet in one of my spaded blocks, perhaps the size of a large postage stamp. It clearly bore traces of ink, but nothing was immediately legible on it. Like all such finds, it was quickly placed in a plastic Tupperware container filled with water from the trench and whisked away to the laboratory for conservation. I hope to see it again, but I doubt I shall recognize it. However, simply knowing something I’ve personally extracted from the ground will end up as one of the Vindolanda Tablets is satisfaction enough.
Sadly, my trip this year for what would have been my tenth excavation season was scuppered by the present pandemic. Of course, as great a pity that is, it certainly pales into insignificance when one considers all the suffering that the world has undergone this year. But I am exceedingly grateful for all that my past journeys have brought me, not the least of which is the many friendships I have been fortunate enough to have developed, both with the tight-knit group of excavators with whom I dig every year, and the members of the LatinNow team.
Which is something else I share with Claudia Severa–the yearning for the company of good friends whom I don’t see nearly as often as I would like, kept apart by impassable roads (or an ocean). Until then, I hold Vindolanda and my friends close to my heart, and anxiously await a return as soon as possible.
We had such a great response to Morgane’s April blog about her work finding uncatalogued graffiti in the archives of the Lugdunum Museum in Lyon.
Dominique Durieux, volunteer and illustrator for the graffiti project, has kindly agreed to be our guest-blogger this month and tell us more (text translated by Janie Masséglia).
The very moment I read the email from the Association GAROM (the Friends of the Gallo-Roman Museums in Lyon) with a call for volunteers to carry out research on graffiti on potsherds, I felt huge excitement. I wanted to know more about this European Project which seemed so unusual, so inaccessible and which promised so many great discoveries.
And so I put in an application, aware of the privilege I was being offered in being able to access the various reserve collection of the Archaeological Museum in Lyon and finding out more about how it all functioned logistically. For me it was a great opportunity and a pleasure to assist an able and committed young researcher, Morgane Andrieu, in an archaeological endeavour which hinged on meticulous study.
My own perfectionist tendencies and my experience in working with mosaics and illustration were a huge help in this most minute of undertakings. Creating an inventory of graffiti on gallo-roman ceramics taught me how to locate them, identify them and transcribe them. I also learnt to recognise the various gallo-roman vessels and everyday items which, in turn, allowed me a better understanding of how people lived in the period.
Thanks to some exceptional finds, I had the chance to meet some fantastic people of all ages and from all kinds of professional backgrounds. The atmosphere was very cheerful and Morgane kept the team together with her good humour and enthusiasm. I’m very proud to have been able to help with archaeological research and, no question, I’d do it again!
As you’ll have seen from the blogs over the last few months, even with the challenges of childcare and library/museum estrangement, the Great Work of the LatinNow Project continues. This month we thought you might like to meet the team and take a peek into the life of a research project in lockdown.
Meet the Family
LatinNow has a good-sized team, with the day-to-day running of the project in the hands of Principal Investigator, Alex Mullen, and our brilliant group of Research Fellows, Senior Scientists and Collaborators. It was a friendly group to begin with, but our VOCES POPVLI travelling exhibition to Europe last autumn also meant that we’ve cultivated the kind of banter that comes naturally after spending hours together in a van. Here are a few of us posing for the 2020 Philology and Epigraphy Quarterly Allstars calendar:
Clockwise from top left: Camera-shy PI, Alex Mullen’s famous ‘Groovius Maximus’ mug (and a glimpse of a stylus tablet from Vindolanda!); Pieter Houten; Janie Masséglia; Simona Stoyanova; Anna Willi, Morgane Andrieu.
Let them eat cake!
Food is an important part of our team culture and most pre-lockdown project meetings were accompanied by food (and often pizza if the PI had her way). Some of our best thoughts have come over a dinner table. As we’re not currently able to inflict our cooking on each other, some of us have been signing off our emails with virtual baked goods and sending round photos of what we could be enjoying. Except for Anna, who, in an unprecedented move, decided not to send us virtual “slices of the egg-free buckwheat carrot cake we made because it is absolutely disgusting, sorry!” She’s just so thoughtful. Here are just some of the lockdown highlights:
Clockwise from top left: Simona’s lemon posset, Anna’s sweet Easter rolls, Janie’s Dangerous Rainbow Cake (since even the tiniest piece has a highly decorative effect on the digestive system of toddlers),Noemí’sEaster mona, Pieter’s Lênzevlaoj (made to his grandmother’s Limburgian recipe, and most assuredly in no way related to the Linzertorte), and Morgane’s tarte à la fraise,
A Room with a View
We’re used to being in different countries: Scott is based in the US, Noemí and MariaJo in Spain, and Morgane in France. But the restrictions on movement have had a big effect on how we work. Libraries being closed obviously restricts our access to books, especially epigraphic corpora. For several of us, the loss of nurseries or usual help from family members and carers meant learning to work with babies and toddlers in the office. For Morgane, the lockdown meant that she was unable to get to the boxes of potsherds housed frustratingly nearby in the Lugdunum Museum, which are central to her work on ancient graffiti. For Pieter, it meant an accidental change of country. He popped back to the Netherlands in March for what he thought would be a holiday, only to have his return barred and his accommodation in Oxford cancelled. He and his fiancée have been making the best of it, setting up their workstations on the kitchen table and reconstructing a missed trip to Greece on their balcony. One of the first things we started doing when lockdown began was sending each other pictures of what we could see from where we were. We all did it. Considering that we all felt stuck in one place, I suppose we wanted to let each other know what that looked like.
Clockwise from top left: leaf-shaded tennis courts for Simona in London, Noemí’s magicalviews across the Spanish Med, a Greek-style frappé break on the balcony for Pieter in the Netherlands, a peek of the village sports pitch for Janie in Oxfordshire, Happy Easter messages on Alex’s driveway to cheer up fellow villagers in Cambridgeshire, spectacular riverside view for Morgane in Lyon, and building works and bins for Anna in London.
Views from our windows, pictures of our children (even a first grandchild – hurray, Scott!), scans from hard-to-locate epigraphy corpora… we know what makes each other’s day. The WhatsApp group means we can send all kinds of messages around the group without the formality of email. And being a multinational group ourselves, interested in cultural difference and language exchange, we love hearing about linguistic and cultural transitions.
Take Anna and Simona (brought up in Switzerland and Bulgaria respectively) who, it turns out, are both unsettled by the sound of Ice Cream vans, while the Brits in the team hear the same music and want to ring our mums and ask if we can have a 99, even though it’s nearly dinner time:
And then there’s Pieter’s name. It has been a running joke in the team that Pieter Houten should really be Pieter *van* Houten, after he was signed up to the University of Nottingham with the accidental addition (we’re not sure how this happened but everything points to the PI…). And it seems that his fellow countrymen agree, meaning that lockdown has brought him both an unexpected change of country and a new name:
Wherever you’re reading, greetings and a virtual chocolate brownie from all of us at the LatinNow Project.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
Dr Morgane Andrieu is an Associate Researcher on the LatinNow Project, leading a sub-project on the graffiti of Lugdunum (ancient Lyon) with the ArAr Laboratory (UMR 5138).
It has now been seven months since the completion of the team phase of the project in the archives of the Lugdunum – Museum and Roman Theaters (Lyon, France). I’ve since moved on to do the more solitary work of analysing the enormous trove of archaeological evidence we discovered in the archives. In these seven months, I first had to adapt to the loneliness caused by losing the team, which was then exacerbated by the COVID-19 confinement situation, leaving the luckiest of us stuck at home. As a consequence, it is not without a little twinge of sorrow that I now look back on the great team I was able to work with last summer in Lyon…
The team stage consisted of opening all the boxes from the museum containing pottery sherds to (re)discover all the graffiti from the Roman city of Lugdunum (ancient Lyon). Not only does the museum have one archive on site, but it also has a second, even larger archive located on the outskirts of the city. In addition to the help I received from the employees of the museum, a total of 37 people, including both volunteers and students, have also contributed at various times to this research project from 2nd May to 30th August 2019. For some of them, it was their first time taking part in an archaeological project and it was clearly an emotionally rewarding and exciting experience. Not only were they granted access to a part of the museum not open to the public, but they were actually able to handle the material. A teary-eyed Gilles summed up the emotion best when he remarked “2000 years of history in my hands!”.
In addition to providing an opportunity to establish direct contact with history and archaeology, it also enabled everyone to become the discoverer of one or several Roman inscriptions, sometimes never seen or long-forgotten amongst other sherds, bones, metal objects, and other items housed in the archives.
The first challenge for me was to train the team in the fundamentals of archaeology. What is an archaeological context? What about a stratigraphic unit? How can you tell the difference between pottery, bone and other materials? How does one distinguish a pot sherd from the sherd of an amphora or a tile? And on the subject of graffiti, What is a graffito and what is not? How should one extract a graffito from its original box and record it? All this information is a lot to take in, especially for those who were discovering archaeology for the first time. To my pleasant surprise, everyone showed real enthusiasm and commitment to rediscovering these inscriptions. Everyone immediately understood their importance of the part they were playing in this international project, namely to help to preserve our cultural heritage and participate in the creation of a previously unpublished corpus that will be shared with the public and the scientific community.
Furthermore, although the inscriptions were often incomplete or short, everyone appreciated the significance they have in contributing to a better understanding of the diffusion of Latin throughout the local culture. As the most common writing surfaces in Roman antiquity – organic material such as papyrus, wax and wooden tablets – have long since disintegrated, funerary inscriptions and graffiti on walls and pottery remain as the primary source of writing of daily life available to us today. The graffiti on pottery we uncovered complement the funerary inscriptions found in Roman cemeteries. They enable us to access the writing of the living in many different contexts (housing, shops, workshops, etc.) instead of focusing only on the funeral inscriptions’ often stereotyped formulas. These graffiti are amongst the few, and perhaps the last testimonies we have to study writing in urban contexts. They’ve proven an invaluable source of insight into the cultural contacts and cohabitation between populations in the region – we found Latin, Greek and Gaulish names! Other pieces of information the team discovered, such as drawings (gladiators, gods, etc), sentences, prices, indications of capacity, of content, of origin, etc. painted a picture of daily life in Lugdunum between the 1rst and 3rd century AD.
Each day we discovered a new batch of graffiti, with names of ancient inhabitants of Lyon, men, women and children, with more or less skillful handwriting. The work was demanding, involving lifting boxes, working in a dusty environment and concentrating for long periods of time on a repetitive task. But the rushes of adrenaline and the excitement of all the new discoveries made it all worthwhile and, along with the good-spirited and enthusiastic team, created a relaxed and happy atmosphere.
This experience was also an opportunity to share our archaeological knowledge with the team. It happened that two of the volunteers, Marie Blot and Romain Deparpe, were also pottery specialists, and they taught others – especially the students – how to produce archaeological drawings of pottery.
However, Marie and Romain were not the only ones who had something to share with the rest of the team. Monique shared her recipe of Gallo-roman bread by Caton, Michelle her recipe of quiche Lorraine (a French specialty) and Valentine shared her uncle’s awesome cake. As you can tell, French people love to find any opportunities to enjoy a good meal together!
Overall, it was a satisfying experience both intellectually gastronomically (everyone must have gained a kilo or two!). In total, the team ‘unearthed’ more than 900 graffiti. That is 840 new graffiti that can now be added to the 60 graffiti last published by A. Allmer and P. Dissar in 1892, the only publication to pay significant attention to the graffiti corpus of ancient Lyon. But the fact that this 128 year-old publication existed at all was a pleasant surprise, as few French museums have shown an interest in these kinds of objects. Given that these archives and this area of research had remained largely unexplored for over a century meant that, at the start of the project we had little idea of what to expect, so finding such a large number of unpublished graffiti was particularly satisfying and, dare I say, quite a relief!
Since completing the work in the archives last autumn, the work that followed mainly consisted of drawing, photographing and recording all the graffiti found and uploading all the information to a database. As this work takes a huge amount of time, students and volunteers have continued to help. To date, Dominique Durieux has, on her own, drawn more than 495 graffiti. That is a considerable help that she generously brings to the project, even during the C-19 lockdown.
We still have much to learn as we parse, archive and analyze the evidence we’ve uncovered to determine what these fragments of writing, found all across the city, can tell us about the ancient inhabitants of Lyon. Furthermore, despite the enormous effort this summer to sort through the Lugdunum Museum archives, a large number of crates containing archeological material from various excavations around Lyon remains unsearched. To cover the whole city, our research will have to be extended to the other archives of Lyon. Monique L. has encouraged us to ‘Carry on, don’t give up!’ and we will, as long as we can secure funding and enlist great volunteers. To all, a huge ‘Thank you!’. Without your help, I would still be working in the museum’s archive as I write to you… or perhaps, in these peculiar times, not. To my friends, colleagues and readers, I wish you all the best during lockdown. Stay safe!
My work year began in full force in early January in Washington, DC, where I represented the LatinNow team at the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting and Conference, followed by the North American Congress for Greek and Latin Epigraphy. Apart from dramatic landscapes and superb museums, DC proved to be an appropriate meeting place for epigraphers with its numerous monumental inscriptions all over town.
To begin with, I was very pleased to hear that, even though this trip was our first presentation of the project outside Europe, plenty of our US-based colleagues of all career levels had heard of us and wanted to talk details – I did not have idle coffee breaks. I was part of a very interesting linguistics panel at SCS and presented the only material culture-based paper. There followed a lively discussion and I am happy to report the audience was fascinated by our scope, approach and methodology, especially the application of modern linguistic theory to ancient linguistic material, and the integration of digital humanities. The room was packed – impressive for 8 am on 2nd January. Significant amounts of coffee were consumed.
After an amazing few days of great papers, catching up with old friends, making new friends, gawking at book stalls, snacking on Institute for the study of the ancient world-stamped M&Ms (true story) and talking all things LatinNow, the SCS came to an end. Which meant a mad dash across town for the beginning of NACGLE, held in leafy Georgetown.
Each morning, during a session appropriately called Posters and Pastries, I would stand next to our glossy creation (click here to view it) and provide narration and explanation for the various bubbles, boxes and arrows. Some of the most interesting discussions of the entire trip happened in the poster room over a warm drink and a croissant. I was a little star struck to meet and talk in person with scholars I have long admired and extremely chuffed to pass on their praise to the rest of the team back home via WhatsApp. One such person called us a ‘powerhouse’.
It was great to see more and more research projects taking into consideration texts on non-lapidary materials and looking into the connections between different kinds of literacy within the same urban space. John Bodel’s keynote set the tone with his newly coined term ’epigraphic mode’, emphasising the intention of communication behind a written message, regardless of its support material, placement in space or execution. On a more personal note, I was extremely happy to see that EpiDoc is no longer an exotic term at an epigraphic conference, and to meet a dozen people I’ve trained over the years.
Finally, a para-conference application of expertise was called for at the Library of Congress, when an interested member of the public in the same tour group was asking about mosaic techniques and I was able to offer some details. Much delight and thanks from the tour guide ensued, too. (Impact!)
At the end of January, I joined researchers from all over Switzerland at the ‘Rencontre épigraphique’ or ‘Epigraphikertreffen’. The annual event brings together researchers who work with inscriptions, be it at Universities or with regional archaeological authorities. It’s a meeting place for new and ongoing project reports, discussing controversial interpretations and showcasing new finds and difficult readings.
I wanted to take part because Switzerland has amazing and well-published evidence for my research on Latin literacy in Germania superior, particularly writing equipment and non-monumental inscriptions. It was a great opportunity to chat to the epigraphists and archaeologists who work on the relevant sites, to expand my network, to revive old contacts and to introduce LatinNow to the audience!
‘I have come from the City. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able (to give) as generously as the way is long (and) as my purse is empty.’
In my talk I gave an overview of Roman writing equipment (mainly styli and inkwells) with inscriptions, to see not just how the Ab urbe-stylus fits in, but also to ask what we can say about the content of the inscriptions, the people who used the objects and what inscribed writing equipment can contribute to our research on literacy. The answers to all of these questions will – I hope – be given in my forthcoming article, but I can say this much: it turns out the Ab urbe-stylus is rather unique!
The vast majority of inscriptions on writing equipment are proprietors’ or makers’ marks and contain not much more than a name, if that. However, there are a number of objects with longer inscriptions, mainly elaborately decorated copper-alloy styli that all seem to be similar in style. They were probably made as gifts. The inscriptions are of amorous or friendly nature, address intellectual topics or have Christian messages. Most of them were found on the continent (Gaul/the Germanies) and date to the 2nd–3rd centuries AD or later.
The Ab urbe-stylus is the only one with a touristic inscription. What is more, with its simple iron design, its early date (around 70 AD) and having been found in Britain it is very different from the other inscribed styli. While the later styli may represent a certain fashion or trend, it is possible that the Ab urbe-stylus was a singular and spontaneous creation.
Whoever had it inscribed in Rome, I like to imagine their smirk as they came up with the text – and that of their colleague, friend or family member who received the gift in Londinium.
Now that the (archaeological, Roman-era) dust has properly settled on our exciting touring exhibition and all its warm-up events– I, LatinNow’s Project Coordinator, wanted to reflect on what exactly just happened on my own LatinNow anniversary – one year on the job!
Our exciting and elaborate tour of six different European countries finished its first outing in October and the end of the year was marked with two exciting finales – our PI, Dr Alex Mullen has introduced a beautiful new baby to the world, and I went on an all-inclusive, beach holiday – fireworks all-round, I think!
In the office, having a go at putting together our Gallic helmet
It was an unbelievably ambitious task putting ‘VOCES POPVLI’ together. Artifacts were loaned to us by the University of Nottingham’s Museum and famous and large finds such as the Leiden Lancaster Rider and the Nehalennia goddess altar were carefully photographed on-location and expertly 3D printed and reconstructed. A unique, six colour, six-sided, collapsible table was designed and built to accompany the six sections of the exhibition. Six different versions of the backdrop displays were produced in English, Spanish (Castilian), Catalan, French, German and Dutch by our multilingual team. T-shirts and highly addictive sparkly scratch tablets were ordered, the exhibition layout was planned, our fabulous tour driver Alex was briefed, and I worked on the mammoth task of working out the logistics of transporting the exhibition and our very international team around 12 European locations. So many hotel bookings! So many postcodes! And SO many parking restrictions!
The ‘essentials’ box
I’ve been particularly pleased that in this role, I’ve managed to flex my artistic muscles for the first time in my day job by fabricating the VOCES POPVLI case. It did take a few goes at the lettering, but that’s because as the ONLY member of the team who doesn’t know Latin, I had to learn that the capital letter ‘U’ has no place in our exhibition. In our office, you can’t spell ‘SUCCESS’ without…V!
Planning the layout of the handling case
The night before the exhibition set off saw me sat crossed legged on the Nottingham office floor, in front of LatinNow’s Sulis curse shrine, polishing our beautiful replica Roman helmet, surrounded by pieces of artifact protective foam and empty packets of crisps (healthy lunches went out the window at this point). It was a fun chaos. The day after the exhibition was packed up and sent off on its international mega-tour, I looked around the much emptier Nottingham office like a parent when the kids have moved out.
The kit all packed up and ready to set off
And now, it’s back!
I must admit having a major case of FOMO (that’s “Fear Of Missing Out” in student lingo) on not going on tour with the exhibition. I’m really proud to be part of a project that has travelled to so many interesting and important heritage sites around Europe. I imagine it was a unique experience for our driver, Alex Wallis, to have a fluent speaker and native expert accompanying each leg of the tour. I imagine it was not dissimilar to Michael Palin’s experience’s on ‘Pole to Pole’ – expect this time it was ‘Dig Site to Dig Site’!
My favourite part of my 12 months on the job, however, has been getting the visitor comments scroll back in the office and seeing in front of me what all those countries and visitors thought of LatinNow.
The team did also help alleviate my FOMO by sending me a lovely souvenir from the tour. A memento from Brugg, which is now hanging up in the project office in Nottingham!
In 2020, we will be working on bringing VOCES POPVLI to more locations and events in the UK. If you work with a school/museum/festival and want to host LatinNow, please do get in touch! Until then, I’m very excited (and in all honesty, a bit nervous) to have the Sulis curse shrine back in my office.