Roman Cursive and Roman Curses!

We were delighted to welcome Dr Jane Masseglia from the Latin Now Project this week to the classics centre to run exciting artefact-based workshops on Roman cursive handwriting and Roman soldiers. Jane ran workshops for Year 4s from St Ebbe’s Primary School and Year 8 classics students which used a range of replica artefacts to introduce Roman Cursive writing. The Latin Now Project, run by a team from Nottingham, Leicester and Oxford Universities, provides Roman epigraphy workshops for primary and secondary students.
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Jane introduced wax tablets, which Roman children might have used in school, including a “triptych” tablet with three leaves, and also the seals of its owner. The wax could be written on and then smoothed over with a “stylus”, which is a pointed stick, with a tool at the end for smoothing the wax. She also showed some thin wood rectangles. These were the sorts of materials that people might write letters to one another on, and in fact, many such letters have been preserved and uncovered at Vindolanda, a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Letters between soldiers, friends and family have been found and deciphered with everything from requests for more beer to birthday party invites!

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The final type of writing which Jane showed the groups were tablets found in the Roman settlement of Aquae Sulis – now called Bath – where there were Roman baths built as part of the naturally hot springs there. These tablets recorded curses written by people who had had things stolen from them – such as sandals in one case. People bathed together in one big bath complex in Roman times, and in the absence of lockers, clothing items could easily have gone missing! The tablets invoked a goddess, Sulis Minerva, who was the goddess associated with the springs, and described what they would like to happen to those who had stolen the items if they didn’t return the objects.

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The students were given a key to Roman cursive handwriting, and it was explained that there were no gaps between words or punctuation, and they then had the task of deciphering some tablets. Once they had done these, they could then practise their newfound skills by composing their own curse tablet, which was then submitted to the goddess Sulis Minerva, in a specially created shrine.

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The groups really enjoyed “code-breaking”, handling the writing artefacts, and having a go at creating a version of the Roman tablets found in Bath, and we are very grateful to Dr Masseglia for such stimulating and informative workshops.

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