VOCES POPVLI: team Switzerland!


By Selina Stokar

After a glorious time in France, VOCES POPVLI’s next stop was the Vindonissa Museum Brugg in Switzerland, where the archaeological treasures of ancient Vindonissa are kept.
Here, the team for the German speaking part of the tour – Anna and our driver Alex, who is now fluent in German or at least he now knows ‘Rivella’, the most important word – was joined by (taaadaaa!) me, Selina Stokar. I am a History and Classics student at the University of Zurich and used to work with Anna during her PhD. That is also when my love for Roman inscriptions began, and with the VOCES POPVLI Tour it has of course grown even more! Coincidentally, I am also doing an internship at the Vindonissa Museum, so when Anna asked me to assist her for this part of the tour I immediately said yes!


Nowadays, Brugg is a very quiet, nice little town near the German border (lots of cows and colourful buildings, just as you would imagine Switzerland to look like). In Roman times, Vindonissa (the Roman name of Brugg / Windisch) was the only legionary camp based in modern Switzerland (we are very proud of this fact). Around 15 BC a first military camp was set up near an older pre-Roman settlement. In the following 100 years, three legions – the 13th, the 21th and the 11th – lived in the camp and constantly enlarged it until the last legion left Vindonissa in the year 101 AD to fight in emperor Trajan’s Dacian Wars. There was also a little village (vicus) for civilians next to the camp as well as an amphitheatre, where 11’0000 visitors could enjoy their free time. With 6000 legionaries, their families and all the other staff that normally accompanied Roman legions, I guess ancient Brugg / Windisch was busier than it is today!

The greatest treasure of Vindonissa – and the reason why VOCES POPVLI came here – is the garbage dump of the legionary camp: for over 70 years, the inhabitants of the camp and the vicus piled up their waste just outside the northern gate of the camp (imagine the smell – urrgh!). Due to advantageous soil conditions (like in Vindolanda), many organic objects such as shoes or leather goods put on the pile were preserved. Most importantly: over 600 fragments of Roman wooden writing tablets, 65 of which are still readable, were found in the garbage dump! Just like the ink tablets from Vindolanda they tell us about the day-to-day life in the camp and the vicus and offer an excellent insight into Roman everyday life. For example, there is a letter by a soldier who was on holidays but still asked for news from his comrades. He was apparently homesick and missed his normal life at the legionary camp! Furthermore, his handwriting reveals that he was not used to writing, and he made a few mistakes (which were all corrected later). Maybe he was an auxiliary soldier who had just learned Latin and writing in the army. And – just as in Vindolanda – there is a tablet written or at least sent by a woman. Unfortunately, only the names of the sender, Vindoinsa (a Celtic name), and the addressee, Annius Lucianus, are still preserved.

During our two days in Brugg many interested visitors found their way to our exhibition which was located in a tent in the garden of the museum, surrounded by Vindonissa’s stone inscriptions. As we visited during the school holidays, some teachers came without their students to get inspiration for their Latin or History lessons. There were also a few kids who practised their Latin handwriting and made a curse tablet. One boy wrote a wish instead: “World domination”, it was! How ambitious – and even a little Roman!
All our visitors were highly enthusiastic about the objects and the topic of the VOCES POPVLI exhibition. Writing and the use of language seems to be something people can identify with, and they are amazed by how it worked in Roman times. They all stayed for quite some time and were eager to discuss all the objects displayed. For me, the most surprising thing was that children were able to read the two texts in Old Roman Cursive we brought along much more easily than adults, some of them literally just read them out loud without even looking at the alphabet key!


We enjoyed two lovely days at the Vindonissa Museum in Brugg and at the very moment we started packing up the display and all the objects to leave for Trier, the biggest thunderstorm broke loose. Luckily (or thanks to Jupiter, who knows), our tent resisted all the rain and we were ready to take off for Trier!

Go go, Gaulois! VOCES POPVLI Tour, week 2 Team France: Janie, Morgane and Alex Wallis

By Janie Masséglia 



Week 2 of the VOCES POPVLI touring exhibition began when Janie Masséglia and Morgane Andrieu tagged in from Team Spain, meeting up with Alex Wallis and The Van in a France which was ankle-deep in rain and finding their University-of-Nottingham-allocated rooms… in the local bowling alley. It was an unorthodox start.

Millau and La Graufesenque
Our first stop was the picturesque town of Millau, today a community huddled around a pretty central square lined with cafés, but formerly (at the nearby site of La Graufesenque) one of the great centres of pottery production in the Roman Empire. The staff of the Millau Museum were exceptionally warm in welcoming us and, on two days when they would usually be closed to the public, offered us a private tour of their collections, a first look at an extraordinary unpublished inscribed pot, and a generous lunch organised by Solveig Cherrier to which the Classics teachers of the local schools were all invited. These would be the teachers bringing us their students over the coming days, and it was great opportunity to meet them socially first.



In the colourful surroundings of the local youth centre (itself a former school), we delivered four school sessions – all, perhaps unusually, to Latinists from primary to Lycée age. Here Janie was able to relive her former incarnation as a Classics teacher giving sessions on curses and military messages in Latin, while Morgane offered a special session on her own research into inscribed pottery, letting the students work with real Roman sherds. This friendly and very personal start at Millau was the perfect way for us to bond as a newly-formed team and hone our material before the intimidating prospect of the newly-built Gallo-Roman Museum waiting for us at Nimes.


As the weather began to improve, Team France completed their first pack-away of the expo, and headed to Nimes, picked out on the road ahead by a rainbow. It was the start of two days of glorious, warm weather. For our first day, Lucile Novellini and the Nimes-team had allocated us a mezzanine room overlooking the new epigraphy galleries. Here, we had our first full day meeting French museum-goers, presenting the project and offering handling sessions.


We quickly agreed that, although school group required short bursts of high-octane performance, a sustained seven-hour stretch of visitor engagement, tailoring our material and presentations to the individual visitors, was just as demanding. Morgane took charge of fortifying the team and used her considerable powers of persuasion to procure a lunch-table for us overlooking the ancient amphitheatre, in what we had ben told was a fully-booked restaurant. LatinNow pencils may have changed hands. Propped up by French food and a café gourmand, we headed into the afternoon, and one of the highlights of the week: Janie made a quick presentation of the expo to a group of visitors who had initially come to our mezzanine to admire the view of the gallery below. They stayed an unexpectedly long time chatting with the team, and after touching on topics including the history of Gaulish, the pottery production of La Graufesenque and modern European identity, they left us with a round of applause and some revelatory messages on our ‘papyrus roll’ visitors’ book: this, it transpired, had been a group of the local branch of the members of l’ordre du palme académique out on a day trip. Gulp!

2Y5A1146 cropped

Our second day at Nimes saw us decamp to the Museum’s Education centre, to run both morning and afternoon workshops for local schools. In a previous blog, following our outreach sessions with primary schools in Oxford, we’d observed that children from multilingual households seem to be particularly adept at reading Roman cursive, and often came first in the competition segment of our Military Messages workshop. In multicultural Nimes we saw the same phenomenon again. In one session, we were astonished by a young girl who quietly deciphered our cursive message (using French words but written in the Old Roman Cursive alphabet) in less than 2 minutes. It then transpired that she had only arrived in France from Cuba a month ago, and spoke very little French, so couldn’t even have relied on educated guesses to complete words. She did, however, know 4 other languages, in a variety of scripts. Now there’s a natural-born epigrapher. Several of the students in this same class spoke multiple languages (one little girl was acting as simultaneous Spanish-French translator for her new friend from Cuba) and some of them were very excited to talk to us about it. On her way out, their teacher told us that it was unusual (and nice) for her students to have people take an interest in their multilingualism: for them, she said, speaking other languages was seen as part of what marked them out as immigrants. It was a topical reminder of what we’re really dealing with in the LatinNow project: we could abstract our investigation about the arrival of Latin in Europe to academic questions about usage statistics, word-loans and spelling variants, but we’re also studying the history of cultural difference and adaptability. We’re looking into the history of how people cope with change.

2Y5A1187 - Copy

Team France’s final stop was at the Museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal at Vienne, like Nimes a sleek minimalist museum, this time perched beside the Rhone. The museum is also one of the leading centres for mosaic restoration and conservation, and the workshops are fully visible through large glazed ceiling panels. It can’t have been a coincidence, but Alex, our Super-Roadie and tour photographer signed up that very evening for an Open Day for a UK University offering an MA in Historical Conservation (Go Alex!).


Vienne was to be two whole days of informal visitor engagements in the gallery, with only one school group who had heard about us on social media. We found ourselves set against the dramatic backdrop of a huge mosaic display near the entrance. Here we began to appreciate how our location changed the way we interacted with visitors. At Millau, all our students had been signed-up in advance. At Nimes, tucked away on a mezzanine, we had fewer accidental visitors, most that came in had already ‘committed’ to seeing us. At Vienne, everyone who entered the museum passed our expo, and we had to balance our natural desire to talk to people with the fact that most people wanted to explore the galleries first. We also had the chance to meet visitors and colleagues who had come to the museum for Vinalia, the annual ancient wine festival being held in the grounds, in and around the ancient remains of the site of Saint-Romain-en-Gal. Morgane’s contacts with the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) at Lyon got us an invitation to meet Armand Desbat’s team conducting an experimental pottery firing, making drinking vessels which, in the name of research, we found to be fully functional.


The French leg had entailed three very different stops, with very different requirements. It says something about the goodwill which surrounds the LatinNow project that the three people who comprised Team France (who had never previously met in person) formed a tight team the minute they put on the black polo shirt. We had been incredibly lucky with the warm welcomes we received from our museum hosts, but we were also buoyed up with the kind of camaraderie that comes from French food, French wine, and finding yourselves sleeping in a bowling alley…


VOCES POPVLI is on the road!

By Pieter Houten

Starting in Castilian

ZAR team Castilian
Team Castilian!

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

PAM Curmi

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

ZAR full set up
Set-up at Zaragoza

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

ZAR cursing
Students cursing at Zaragoza

From Castilian to Catalan

BAR opening
Professor Velaza’s opening talk at Barcelona

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

BAR Pieter school
Pieter describing the objects

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

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

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

TAR make love less war
A cursive curse!

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

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

TAR TEAM Catalan
Team Catalan!


VOCES POPVLI: preparing a multilingual touring exhibition on multilingualism

By Alex Mullen


Preparing our European tour has been much harder work than I could ever have imagined! However, the tour has already proved rewarding, and it hasn’t even begun yet. Our first event is in Pamplona on the 16th September.

Even choosing the name of the tour was tricky. We needed something that would work across all 6 countries (Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands) without having to be translated, that captured the essence of what we are attempting to do, that was catchy… We opted for a simple Latin phrase on the grounds that in itself it made a point about how successful that language had become: not only is it the base of all the Romance languages, but is used in non-Romance speaking areas in vocabulary that has been borrowed or coined over the millennia, including the present day. VOCES POPVLI evokes the multiple voices of the Roman world – voces – and pushes the populations of that world to the fore – populi (and avoids the political connotations of the singular Vox Populi). As the strap line emphasises – Life and languages in the Roman West – we are interested in what happens when Latin rubs up against all the local languages in the context of the lived experiences of real people.

Preroman Labels (WGS84) JPG
Map of pre-Roman languages in the LatinNow research area. Languages in bold are written, though not all at the same time.

Given the project’s focus on sociolinguistic sensitivity and bi- and multilingualism we realised early on that we had to deliver the tour multilingually. In the end we opted for English, Spanish, Catalan, French, German and Dutch – offering the main language of each of the stops on the tour, plus English as a possible lingua franca for some visitors. It just so happens that with such a large and international team we had native speakers for every language we needed. Even with a fantastic and very patient group of translators, however, making multilingual versions of the display texts, activity worksheets, handling menus, object menus, posters and advertising materials etc. was a MASSIVE undertaking. Whenever a change had to be made to content, it had VP-Poster-Barcelonato be made 6 times… We often think that we share alphabets in western Europe but there are all sorts of subtle differences, such as the punt volat in Catalan or the inverted punctuation marks in Spanish. Although it was fiddly, the translation process actually helped us to improve the display. When a formulation resisted translation we realised, for example, that it may have been ambiguous or too technical in the English and we went back to the drawing board. We hope that the visitors to the exhibition will appreciate the choice of languages and may find it interesting to compare them side-by-side. These regional differences we see in the linguistic landscape of western Europe are exactly the same kinds of phenomena our project explores in the Roman world: the regional varieties of Latin and the local languages which persisted and visitor languages which appeared through migration made the Roman soundscape complex and fascinating.

At all our stops we are offering hand-on activities. We have a special VOCES POPVLI guitar case full of Roman writing equipment and inscribed objects for handling and we are offering military message decoding and the opportunity to ‘curse like a Roman’ and to put sparkly curses into our Sulis shrine. We’re showing people how to recognize andhandling case (2) write their own Old Roman Cursive messages (the form of handwriting used until the third century AD) in whichever language they chose. At two of our tour stops, Millau and Bruges, we are focusing on schools groups only, at most we are open to the general public for at least part of our stay and our pop-up and activities are free and open to all (though some of the museums charge entrance fees). LatinNow team experts will be on hand to enthuse about the objects and our research.

This tour is, of course, intimately linked to our research, and we are delighted that through it we have opened various new research opportunities and linked our researchers with collections and local experts. At Heerlen in the Netherlands, for example, LatinNow has joined a research collaboration, and will be collaborating with local experts to read the epigraphy from the area and to work on the evidence for literacy, including writing equipment. Indeed the staff at Heerlen’s Thermenmuseum have prepared their own display on epigraphy and literacy to sit alongside our pop-up. We’d like to express our gratitude to all the contacts in the universities, museums and schools involved in the tour for all their efforts and to Claire Venables from Giraffe Corner making our multilingual materials look so wonderful. You can find out more about the tour objects and our experiences at the tour stops as the tour progresses in future blogs.

LatinNow Post-doc Pieter Houten at Heerlen’s Thermenmuseum

Pieter at Heerlen

Please do visit us at one of our tour locations, if you can! Details can be found in the Touring Exhibition tab and on our LatinNow Facebook page.

FIEC-CA 2019 and the unveiling!

By Pieter Houten


Curmi in London
Curmisagios, our tour mascot

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


UCL pic team
The LatinNow team at FIEC/CA 2019

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

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

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



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

New digital approaches to ancient texts

By Simona Stoyanova

Digitext workshop posterThe LatinNow summer started with a training session for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham and our team on Digital techniques and resources for textual research. Led by Dr Gabriel Bodard (Institute for Classical Studies, London) and me, the DigiText workshop introduced our colleagues to four major digital approaches to humanities research: digital philology, text encoding, linked open data and linguistic annotation. The topics we covered included introduction to online resources, imaging techniques for cultural heritage, methods in digital palaeography, EpiDoc XML markup, LOD annotation, treebanking and translation alignment. While most of our examples were taken from the ancient Mediterranean, the principles and practices applied to all disciplines and cultures represented in the audience – from Scandinavian studies to modern languages translation studies. Our colleagues enjoyed a good amount of practice, starting with marking up modern gravestones in EpiDoc (the more errors and erasures the better), annotating and disambiguating place names in Recogito and aligning translations in Ugarit. Our aim was to showcase these major topics and what progress has been made in digital classics, as well as to highlight the applicability of these approaches and methodologies to virtually all textual research. We had fruitful discussions and quite a few ideas for future collaboration, both national and international – watch this space!

Dr Kathryn Piquette setting up the RTI highlight kit

Our second trip to Nottingham’s leafy University Park campus was for a training session in Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), led by the fabulous Dr Kathryn Piquette. We were joined by a couple of colleagues all the way from Vindolanda who pulled all the stops with their multispectral filters. In two days we learnt how to put up and dismantle the RTI highlight setup, how not to drop a £2000 camera on a museum object, how to use a transmitter and how to hold one’s hand steady at 60°, 45°, 20° and 15° with no wrist tilting. The training covered the theory and physics behind RTI, followed by lots of practice. On the second day we processed the images we had taken the day before and produced our finished RTI images. The fortuitous incident of a foot just slightly nudging the board holding the object being imaged during one session showcased how/what things could go wrong, what to keep an eye out for and how to attempt fixes. We discussed various image-enhancing techniques and tools, tried one on a newly-imaged tablet from Roman Vindolanda and confirmed the reading of a stamp on a terra sigillata mould sherd from the University of Nottingham Museum collection. It was a whirlwind of a training, we learnt a great deal and are massively grateful to Kathryn!

A sherd of a mould from the University of Nottingham Museum collection being RTI-ed. It turns out that LEGO is ideal for holding the spheres!







Voices from Lugdunum (ancient Lyon): LatinNow supports an exciting new project in France

By Morgane Andrieu

Morgane in the lab with some graffiti ©photo : Milène Jallais / Lugdunum 

For a month now, I have been working with the LatinNow team and leading a new research project in Lyon, the capital of Gallia Lugdunensis. The systematic census of the inscriptions (graffiti) found on the ceramic tableware of the ancient city is an essential component to complete Lyon’s epigraphic collection of Latin and Gaulish inscriptions. Their interest primarily lies in the fact that they are the main and perhaps the only written testimonials of daily life, most of the other perishable supports having disappeared. This documentation, studied for the first time ever as a whole, is a precious source of knowledge for archaeology and epigraphy. While we mainly know well the writing of the elites in the official and funeral texts of the city, this corpus – destined to become one of the world’s largest Roman graffiti corpora – will allow us new perspectives, not only on the writing of everyday life (giving us Gaulish and Latin names, dedications, prices, provenance and content indications, etc.), but also on the penetration of Latin and its diffusion in the different contexts (domestic, religious, commercial, etc.).

A Roman colony founded in 43 BC, Lugdunum (Lyon) became the capital of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, the seat of imperial power for the three Gallic provinces (Belgica, Aquitania, Lugdunensis) and Caput Galliarum, or “Capital of Gaul”. Located at a strategic junction, at the confluence of the river Saône and the Rhône, this Gallo-Roman city quickly became an important port and the centre of the Gallic road network. In contact with the whole Empire, Lyon was a commercial hub, welcoming visiting emperors and hosting a long-lasting centre for the production of imperial coinage from the late first century BC. Being a bustling place of passage and mixing, it is expected that the city will deliver many epigraphic testimonials, far more numerous than those currently recorded.

The project first consists of identifying all the graffiti from the collections, followed by their identification, their analysis and the creation of an illustrated catalogue (drawing and photography) as well as an open access database.

Graffiti on Roman pottery, Lugdunum Collection, musée et theatres romains, num. inv. : 2008.2.39, 2008.2.40 ©photo : Milène Jallais / Lugdunum

This material, largely ignored until now, allows us to ask new questions. How does Latin express itself in the different contexts of the city? What role did it play in this effervescent environment? The recording of the graffiti will help us to understand the effects of Latinization and exposure to Roman culture on the population of the capital, the core of which was originally Gaulish-speaking. But this case study does not only benefit our knowledge of ancient Lyon. Its importance applies to different levels of analysis employed in the LatinNow project, and beyond, including comparison with other settlements, detailed sociolinguistic analysis and the exploration of the nature of literacies across the north-western provinces. It may also serve as an example for conducting the same investigations elsewhere and will allow us to broaden our knowledge of languages and writing in the Empire.

As an associate researcher to the ArAr laboratory, Archéologie et Archéomètrie, based in Lyon (UMR 5138), I am benefiting from the experience of several senior archaeologists and researchers such as Michel Feugère, Armand Desbat and Cécile Batigne (Director of the laboratory) as well as working with other scientific members from the Lugdunum museum, the archaeological service of Lyon (SAVL), INRAP, Eveha and Archeodunum which have all been responsible for archaeological operations in the city.

It is an honour to be part of LatinNow which provides the opportunity for interdisciplinary exchanges of knowledge and results at an international level. It is also a great opportunity for the old civitas capital to contribute to our better understanding of the Latinization of the north-western Roman provinces. This new research project has the potential to launch a scientific dynamic in favour of the systematic study of all forms of writing whatever the size or value of their material support. The graffiti not only reflect life in Lugdunum and beyond, but carry the voices of the inhabitants of one of the largest and most important cities of the Empire, the capital of Gaul.



Pieter Houten joins LatinNow

By Pieter Houten

The multicultural and multilingual nature of the Iberian Peninsula is intriguing. As Díaz-Abdreu and Keay once put it: “Iberia is Europe in microcosm. It represents a juxtaposition of north, south, east and west and mirrors a heterogeneous multicultural, multilingual Europe.” (Díaz-Andreu & Keay 1997, 1). It is indeed interesting to realise how diverse the peninsula has been and still is. Despite its nature as one of the meeting places for many Mediterranean cultures, historians define it as finis terrae: the end of the world.

TMA 2018
Pieter giving a paper on urban centres

This ambiguity has intrigued me from the very beginning of my studies into this part of the Mediterranean. As a masters student at Utrecht University, I embarked my journey into the fascinating ancient history of the Iberian Peninsula. It is at this time I first encountered its languages and scripts. They seemed too difficult to understand and at that point, I thought, not directly relevant for my studies, which focussed on the Celtiberian cities. Following my MA thesis, I started my PhD research within the ERC-project: “An Empire of 2000 Cities” at Leiden University. The principal aims of my thesis Civitates Hispaniae are to provide a comprehensive reconstruction of the urban systems of the Iberian Peninsula during the High Empire and to explain why these systems looked the way they did. Key themes include continuities and discontinuities between pre-Roman and Roman settlement patterns, the geographical distribution of cities, and the role of cities as nodes in road systems and maritime networks. In addition, I argue that a considerable number of self-governing communities in Roman Spain and Portugal were polycentric rather based on a single urban centre.


Iesso 2016
Pieter on fieldwork in Spain

As part of the research into the nature of urbanism in the High Empire, I had my first encounters with epigraphy and numismatics as sources. Again, the complexity of the pre-Roman languages and their continuity in the republican period grabbed my attention. In order to understand the development of urbanism in the different parts of the peninsula I studied the different peoples and their urban development and realised that their languages, often studied by a different group of scholars, needed to become part of my research world.

CIL II 3061 Cantaber Elguismiqum
CIL II 3061

I had to respond when the opportunity rose to study the socio-linguistic kaleidoscope of the Iberian Peninsula in its historical context. As the LatinNow-project collaborates with two experienced linguists studying the Palaeohispanic languages up to the Late Republican period, I will focus on the period of the High Empire. My research will focus on the who, how, why, and where of learning, or not, to speak and write Latin in the diverse communities of the imperial-period Peninsula. As part of this investigation I will be exploring the scarce remnants of the Palaeohispanic languages in Latin epigraphy, for instance the local genitive plural for the tribal affiliation in Latin inscriptions, as found in the votive to Mars by Cantaber of the Elguismicos (CIL II 3061): Cantaber / Elguism/iq(um) · Luci · f(ilius) / Marti / Magno / v(otum) · s(olvit) · a(nimo) · l(ibens) · How long did these mixed forms and names continue? Moreover, can we establish specific areas with conservative naming practices? And what does this tell us about the people giving these names to their children? In order to answer these questions we have to step out of our comfort zone and use insights from across the Roman world and from other fields such as modern sociolinguistics.

Another dimension important for LatinNow is the assessment and exploitation, where possible, of not just all forms of written remains, but also writing equipment, to think about Latinization and literacy. I’m interested in exploring writing equipment to investigate the urban/rural and literate/illiterate dichotomies. Following the standard ideas on these dichotomies, we should find literate people in urban areas. On the Iberian Peninsula, we expect to find more evidence for literacy in the valleys of the Ebro and Guadalquivir as these are the urban cores of the Hispaniae. However, the often-considered non- or less urbanised regions such as the three north-western conventus, have an urban epigraphic habit following the standard practices in the major centres. This less clear distinction between urban and rural begs the question of whether the literacy dichotomy might also be false.

I look forward to studying the Latinization of the Iberian Peninsula and working with our Spanish colleagues and the LatinNow team to expand our understanding of the spread of Latin in this historically highly multilingual region and its similarities and differences with the rest of the Roman west.

RMO 2019
Pieter in the RMO in Leiden undertaking photogrammetry for our Touring Exhibition in Autumn 2019

Introducing Simona!

By Simona Stoyanova

Working with epigraphic material has always been an interdisciplinary endeavour – involving knowledge of language(s), history, archaeology, palaeography, and increasingly, in the last decade or so, a certain amount of awareness of developments in digital humanities. This is why, after a classical philology degree at Sofia University, I decided to combine further epigraphic practice with dedicated digital humanities training at King’s College London. I have worked on a number of digital epigraphy projects both in London and Leipzig, the main goal of which has been the publication of existing and new corpora of inscriptions, providing users with different pathways through the material, rich indexing and multifaceted browsing based on text encoding in EpiDoc XML. Part of this work has involved training and dissemination of the EpiDoc standard, publishing practices and project management strategies.


Simona teaching EpiDoc in Palermo

I am very happy to be joining the LatinNow team as a specialist in digital epigraphy. My main responsibility will be managing the epigraphic database assembled by the team, amounting to well over 180,000 files derived from the EAGLE-Europeana project and a range of other sources, including the expanded Roman Inscriptions of Britain online, which is currently having multiple epigraphic corpora added to it (e.g. the Vindolanda and Bloomberg tablets) by Scott Vanderbilt as part of LatinNow. All this epigraphic data will be leveraged for the specific research purposes of LatinNow and will be enhanced with new data produced by the researchers. We are looking to standardise vocabularies for metadata and indexing features, such as type of object, material and dating format, which vary in modern language and expression throughout the corpora we use. We will enrich the information available for local ancient languages and linguistic features, so that we can trace changes in literacy and language use more effectively and consistently. I will be working closely with our developer Scott Vanderbilt and will liaise frequently with the other team members to provide training, help and advice on working with the database. An integral part of my work will be supporting the team in adding sociolinguistic data to our material and facilitating their use of the database following user-experience feedback.


An entry from Scott’s Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online

A very exciting part of this process for me is the use, reuse and further enhancement of already existing digital epigraphic corpora. So far, I have worked on producing such resources rather than mining and manipulating data from them for new research. Reuse and repurposing of open access data forms a key part of sustainability of electronic resources, helps us avoid reinventing the wheel and ensures longevity and wider dissemination of  research. We are very grateful to our colleagues from a range of different projects (for example, EAGLE, Hesperia, AELAW) for their invaluable help and generosity.


Simona with the marmor Parium

In addition, being part of LatinNow will give me the opportunity to gain experience working on epigraphic material from the western provinces, as my own research and work to date has focused more on the eastern provinces. There are many parallels to be drawn in terms of multilingual competence of local populations, however I am curious to explore the differences and specific sociolinguistic factors in the changes of language use in the west.

Meet Anna Willi, LatinNow’s newest Research Fellow!

By Anna Willi

Interdisciplinary research can be daunting. It forces us to look beyond our expertise, to leave our comfort zone, to embrace those white areas on the map of our knowledge. But as new physical boundaries seem to be created all around us, it is more important than ever to keep an open mind, and interdisciplinary research forces us to do just that. It breaks up boundaries, opens up pathways to collaboration and renders shared features visible. Crucially, it can prove very fruitful for difficult research questions for which we rely on tricky evidence.

Deciphering a milestone inscription

Anna deciphering a milestone inscription

The potential of this kind of approach is what has always motivated my research questions. When I started studying Latin Literature and Linguistics at the University of Zürich (Switzerland), I soon felt that by studying texts alone I was missing something, so I chose Ancient History and Classical Archaeology as minors. Ever since, I have been convinced that combining written and material evidence opens up new perspectives and allows us to ask new and intriguing questions. LatinNow uses an interdisciplinary approach to ask a number of such questions, and I am excited to be joining the team as a Research Fellow for Germania superior.

Germania superior is my home province, as it were. I grew up in Switzerland where I studied and wrote my PhD-thesis at the University of Zürich. For my PhD-thesis, I combined literary, epigraphic, juridical and material evidence to investigate the use and performance of irrigation in Roman western Europe. This research has left me with a strong awareness of the way in which people shape their environment, and for social and economic factors in this process. It is however the second focus area of my work that has me particularly excited about working with LatinNow: Epigraphy. I have been lucky enough to collaborate in a number of epigraphic projects since being an undergrad, including fieldwork that took me as far as Bulgaria and Cyprus. Most recently, however, I have mainly worked on inscriptions in Germania superior, for the new edition of CIL XIII.

Inside the Albarracin-Cella aqueduct

Anna inside the Albarracin-Cella aqueduct

Inscriptions will be central to my research for LatinNow, and in my opinion they are a particularly fascinating kind of evidence. They are at the same time textual and material, and because they have not been copied numerous times over the centuries, they provide a window into the past that feels very immediate. Unlike the literary texts we know from school, inscriptions also come in various shapes and size. We find them on stone altars, pieces of leather, wooden tablets, bronze votives, drinking cups, bread and brothel walls. They were incised, scribbled, scratched, stamped and painted, they were conceived and written by people from all walks of life – and they can to some extent betray the linguistic reality in which their writers lived.

In Germania superior, this reality must have been rather diverse. Covering parts of modern Germany, Switzerland and France, the province was established under the emperor Domitian to comprise areas that had previously been part of Gaul and under Roman rule for some time, but also a stretch of the very edge of the empire along the German limes, where military presence was strong. Its population included people with Italian, Germanic or Celtic heritage as well as soldiers from other parts of the empire. Various languages must have been spoken in the streets of Mogontiacum, Argentorate or Augusta Raurica. However, our written evidence hardly does this diversity justice: with a few exceptions, to our knowledge the language commonly used for writing was Latin (though it sometimes contains traces of other languages in it). This makes literacy an important factor in studying the spread and use of Latin in Germania superior, and this is where new insights can be expected from the combination of epigraphic evidence with material evidence of writing equipment such as styli or ink pots. One particularly exciting part of my work with LatinNow will be to contextualise such finds within the epigraphic landscape.


The inscription of Togirix

Grasping language use without being able to ask speakers about it is less than straightforward. We may never know why the owner of a 2nd century villa near Bern decided to adorn the walls of their cryptoporticus with inscriptions that contain Greek, Gaulish and Latin language material (AE 2004, 991-995), or which language a certain Togirix from Eburodunum, who has a Celtic name and set up a dedication for Mercurius, Apollo and Minerva in Latin, spoke with his parent Meta (CIL XIII 5055). But looking at social and other phenomena that define this part of the Roman empire, there are other questions that we can ask. What role did Latin play in this multilingual environment and how did it come to play this role? How did different kinds of settlements, the diverse population and military presence influence the spread and use of Latin? And how is it different from what we know about Roman Britain or Spain? I look forward to delving into such questions, and to breaking up boundaries, opening up pathways to collaboration and rendering common features visible as part of an international and interdisciplinary team, collaborating to investigate a part of complex history that we all share.