Postcard from DC: panels, pastries and posters

By Simona Stoyanova


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 aMarchBlogPic2nd 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.

MarchBlogPic3Each 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!)



‘Iulius went to Rome and all I got was this pen’: Anna talks Roman souvenirs in Switzerland

By Anna Willi

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.

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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!

The topic of my talk was based on inscriptions on writing equipment and my starting point was a very cool inscribed stylus that was found during the Bloomberg excavations in London (read MOLA’s blog here). It bears a witty inscription – the longest on a stylus yet – that reveals it is a souvenir, probably brought to Britannia from Rome (transl. R. Tomlin for MOLA):


‘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.

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Some of the replica ink wells and styli from LatinNow’s VOCES POPVLI collection

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.

Jodie: My one year ‘Job Anniversary’!

by Jodie Thompson, Project Coordinator

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!

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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 Lancaster Rider and the Leiden 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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

From London to Lyon

By Adam Thain

For two weeks in August, I was a research assistant for LatinNow’s sub-project about inscriptions on ceramic fragments in Lyon. An undergraduate Classics student at King’s College London, I had learnt about the venture from the graffiti project leader Morgane Andrieu, who presented as part of the LatinNow panel on ancient sociolinguistics in the western Roman provinces at the FIEC/CA conference in July. I was supported by an accommodation bursary from GAROM which meant that I was able, for the first time, to get a foothold in academic research.


As part of my trip to France, I visited two Gallo-Roman Museums and met some archaeology and history of art students from France who were assisting the project too. It was incredible to read never before seen Latin inscriptions, and to practice conversational and academic French and also the identification of ancient, medieval, and modern pottery. I also saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time when changing trains in Paris!


I stayed in an apartment in the north east of Lyon, in the Villeurbanne region. A short 15-minute walk from the archaeological reserve, it was perfect for our early start. Outside the gates of the reserve, which looked like any other slightly dilapidated warehouse in the eastern quarter of the city, the whole team of us would gather. One by one we would exchange either kisses or a handshake, a practice which I was rather unfamiliar at the beginning of the trip, and missed when back in London!

After coffee or tea, we would begin. We would either open a new crate of boxes from the archive, or continue working through the remaining boxes from the previous day. Each was full of wonders that had often not been seen for years, possibly decades. Removing the separate bags from the boxes, we gently spilt any contents onto our tables and sifted through each – checking for even the tiniest remnants of graffiti.


The atmosphere was one of friendship and shared dogged determination: each find produced a cheer, and everyone was offered a peek at the discovery. We would share long lunches – outside, weather permitting – where we would exchange stories, gossip, and a huge variety of cheeses I did not know existed, which I was strongly encouraged to try.


Each box was fascinating! Animal and human bones including entire skulls, extraordinarily thin Roman glass, accidentally inventoried pebbles with tiny painted numbers, entire pots, large chunks of mineral deposits, amusing fragments of erotic scenes from long-broken pottery, and far more delights were to be found in the crates from the reserve.

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After we were taught how to draw pottery fragments scientifically and extrapolate the type and form, I did so as much as possible to practice my pottery identification. I found it helpful to draw out the main pottery types with French labels, especially when it came to making our inventory for all graffiti found at the reserve. It was fantastic to transcribe the tiny inscriptions, even if a single letter, and to see the data appear!


Whilst in Lyon, we were shown the professional activities of Lugdunum Museum and the Roman theatres on the site and given a guided tour of the current exhibition and galleries by their curator, Nicolas Dupont. It was extremely helpful to contextualise the work which we were undertaking, and broadened my understanding of the history of the area. On the weekend we were given free access to the Gallo-Roman museum and archaeological site of Saint-Romain-en-Gal in Vienne. I can only describe it as the best museum I have ever been to: I would happily spend numerous days exploring there!


I learnt so much by working on the project in Lyon, and cannot wait to continue working in the field of classical epigraphy. Merci beaucoup pour tout!



VOCES POPVLI: Team Netherlands!

By Pieter Houten

After a month of touring we reached the last leg: The Netherlands. We all did parts of the tour, but not Alex the Driver from Van Haulin’, who was there for the whole month. We owe great thanks to Alex for putting up with all of us and driving our precious cargo around! Curmisagius and his team could not have wished for a better companion.

HEE Unveiling

The last stop was the Thermenmuseum in Heerlen. I must admit that I am slightly biased when talking about this museum; it is in my home region. Nonetheless, our three days there were outright amazing. The museum staff got inspired by our collaboration to make their own temporary exposition on evidence for writing found in Roman Heerlen. As if organising your own exposition is not enough, the museum staff, especially Jody Martens, went all in to organise a memorable last stop. One of these memorable events was an interview with the provincial newspaper to spread the word.

HEE public lecture

Thursday morning started really well when we discovered that the article in the newspaper was not a small item, as the journalist stated at first, but a half page article with a prominent position. As we arrived at the museum for our first day, Jody told us that the article had people signing up for our public lecture the next day. The Thursday itself was, as we called it, an internal research day. We did an RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) demonstration to introduce the technique and afterwards we had a research meeting with archaeologists from the region. For three hours we discussed possible ways to collaborate in the future and understand the international context better. At three o’clock we had to finish as the local magistrate for cultural heritage Jordy Clemens was invited to officially open our exhibition and the History month at the museum. Another surprise was the unveiling of an inscription, yes an actual marble inscription, commemorating our joint venture. The whole day museum guide Peter took the role of ambassador for LatinNOW at our display.

HEE Museumguide Peter

Friday was supposed to be a rather normal day. People visiting the museum, seeing our exhibition and talking to us. Not in Heerlen. They organised a mini-symposium ‘Ite et Docete’ for schools in the region where two Nijmegen university lecturers were invited to present. To finish the mini-symposium we gave a public talk for the over 90 pupils present. As this symposium and public lecture filled up too quickly, Jody asked us to do it again in the afternoon. Thanks to the article in the newspaper, we had another 73 people attending in the afternoon. As if these two massive events were not enough at least four school groups from Germany visited the museum. We were glad that another of our post-docs, Anna Willi, could join us to lead these in German whilst I handled the Dutch.

HEE Anna and school

The last day in Heerlen was Saturday, luckily a slightly quiet day. We had the odd visitor passing by for the Roman Bathhouse and enjoying their luck that we were there. In addition, we had 32 children for the Workshop Curse like a Roman. With 62 visitors, Saturday gave us some breathing space, after two days of over 200 visitors. We celebrated the success with some real Limburgse vlaoj.

HEE vlaoj

In total several thousand people saw our 6-country, 6-language touring exhibition as we made our way across the Continent. We had a clicker and counted well over 2000 engagements, that is children and adults who came to our talks/school sessions/tried out our activities and spent time discussing Romans with us. With our idea to put all our material freely available on our website we hope to continue the outreach of our project to the European community. And… don’t tell the LatinNOW team just yet, we’re still recovering… we are planning some UK events this summer too!

VOCES POPVLI: Team Belgium!

By Pieter Houten

KNO Dress-up

The last week of the tour started at the Sincfala Museum in Knokke-Heist Belgium. Knokke-Heist is a beach resort at the Belgian coast and they had set up a great exhibition on the Roman period in the region and welcomed us for two days. As autumn had begun in the northwest in the week we arrived, the beach resort was not super busy. Still we drew in several people coming specifically to see our two-day pop-up. At the slow moments, the museum offered distractions to keep us on our feet. Obviously, there was the coffee, which according to Alex the Driver academics drink way too much of. In addition, the museum had a photo booth allowing us to take some photos dressed up as Romans. Finally, to break the silence there was a one-minute music fragment on repeat. I repeat: there was a one-minute music fragment on repeat in the museum. We heard that masterpiece at least 660 times.
KNO talk

After leaving Knokke-Heist we went to Sint Lodewijkscollege in Bruges. At this school, we launched the military race. This is a workshop created for small groups of pupils, normally up to 20. Pupils get an explanation on how Latin was used by the Roman army. After this they have to sign up for the Roman army by creating groups of 8 and writing their names in Old Roman Cursive on a tablet. When the list of names is written in correct ORC they get a military message. Again in ORC that has to be transcribed to get the next message and so they race to become the first group obtaining the full message. At the College they wanted us to do the race with two massive groups: both of 120 pupils. After this experience, I can tell you that hordes of pupils wanting to get the next message at the same time can be slightly overpowering. At one point, a dozen pupils with correct answers almost crushed me in their attempt to be the first! Luckily, Francesca, Alex and the staff of Sint Lodewijkscollege were there to help. In the end, the exercise was a great success; all students had their go at learning in a fun way about the Roman army, Latin and ORC.


After engaging with 240 fantastic students the three Team Belgium crew members had no time to rest before heading straight over to the Netherlands with the sound track from the Sincfala Museum still ringing in our ears!


VOCES POPVLI in the land of the Treveri

By Anna Willi

When I was a student at Zurich University, our Professor of Latin literature used to go into rhapsodies over Trier, which was his home town. “Trier is full of superlatives. It is the oldest town in Germany, has the best preserved Roman mosaics, the best preserved Roman baths and the best preserved basilica north of the Alps. It is truly the Rome of the North!” I had never been able to join one of his excursions to the ancient Augusta Treverorum so I was excited to finally see it in person when VOCES POPVLI came to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum earlier this month. I was not disappointed!

The LatinNow team, reinforced by Selina, had a very warm welcome from the museum staff. They set us up in front of the Rheineck-Altar which made for a beautiful backdrop for our display.


Augusta Treverorum was the capital of the civitas Treverorum and it was also where the imperial procurator resided. In the 3rd century AD it was used as the residence of the emperor. The Roman remains are indeed impressive. One of the Roman city gates, now called Porta Nigra, survives in exceptionally good condition and provides an impressive view from the town square. Two large baths can still be seen as well as the basilica mentioned above, which was added to the imperial palace by Constantine I and preserved because it was later used as a church. Several large funerary monuments with exceptional reliefs have been excavated and the evidence for numerous Roman wine presses and vineyards in the surroundings of the town bear testament to the long history of the region’s most famous product.

In addition to such monuments in town and landscape, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum has a wealth of incredible objects, amongst them several that are of importance for the history of language and literacy in Roman times. This resulted in wonderful synergies with our exhibition. For example, their objects include the Neumagen relief with a school scene, which is also featured in our display. While our display only shows a section of the relief, the visitors in Trier were able to walk into the room next door, the ‘Gräberstraße’, to see the whole monument, including the depiction of a student just entering the scene and carrying a case with writing tablets in his hand.


What is more, two inscriptions in our display are linked to Treveri. One of them is Insus, son of Vodullus, a rider – the Treverans were famous for being skilled riders – who died in Britannia and was given a funerary monument with a Latin inscription and a colourful and at the same time gruesome depiction that shows him riding over a beheaded enemy. Insus was a Celtic-named recruit in the Roman army fighting the British Celts. Could he have been reminded of his own native Celtic language when he heard his opponents shouts in battle?


The other civis Trever in our display is Marcus Excingius Agricola, a negotiator salarius or salt trader. Possibly on his way to or from Britannia he stopped at the sanctuary of Dea Nehalennia and made a sacrifice, presumably in order to ask for safe travels and good business. To commemorate the occasion, he set up a dedicatory inscription with a relief that depicts the goddess. The inscription was found near Colijnsplaat (The Netherlands) and is one of numerous dedications to Nehalennia found in this area. This Treveran, who may have been of Celtic-speaking origins given his name Excingius, set up an inscription in Roman fashion and in Latin, the lingua franca of his profession, to an indigenous Germanic/Celtic goddess.


The two days we spent in Trier coincided with the school holidays, and the second day with the national holiday ‘Tag der Deutschen Einheit’. Many families but also teachers visited us, and it quickly became clear that the inhabitants of Trier and its surroundings have a deep interest in the Roman past. Many visitors stayed for 30 minutes or more, asking questions about the objects and deciphering Old Roman Cursive with us. We really enjoyed discussing writing techniques and languages with them – and we may even have convinced one or two teachers to teach their students about how ‘non-classical’ Latin can tell us something about the people who used it!

Vielen Dank, Trier, wir kommen wieder!

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!

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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.

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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!