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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.



Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Tuesday Times Tables: Writing Like A Roman

Just like we do today, the Romans used many different writing materials. Everyday writing was usually done using an iron or lead stylus on a wooden tablet spread with wax, or a thin sheet of wood. More important documents were written with a pen and ink (made of soot and resin) onto wood, papyrus or parchment. At the Roman Baths, we have our famous curses, which were inscribed onto small sheets of lead. Graffiti was painted or scratched onto walls. Gaming counters, made of pottery or bone, were sometimes marked with a stylus or knife on one side to play particular games.

Emily showing visitors how the Romans wrote at her Tuesday Times Table

For my Tuesday Times Table, I chose two of our nicest iron styluses, two bone gaming counters and three of my favourite curse tablets. I also picked seven pieces of inscribed pottery from the depths of our vaults.

The Romans wrote on pottery for lots of different reasons. Sometimes the owner would write their name on a pot to show who it belonged to, like you’d put a name sticker on a lunchbox. Sometimes they would write what was in the pot, like “olive oil” or “fish sauce”. Sometimes they would even use broken bits of pottery like we would use scrap paper, to make a quick note before they threw it away.

Dice cup fragment showing 'X' on base

My favourite piece is a fragment of a small beaker, with an “X” carved into the base. It is possible that this was a dice cup for playing games or gambling. Fortuna was the Roman goddess of luck, and her symbol was the wheel. Scratching an “X” onto the circular base of the dice cup made the shape of a (very vague) wheel, which made the cup lucky!

The most popular thing on my table, however, wasn’t an artefact at all. I used pictures of the letters from one of the curse tablets to create a handwriting or cursive Roman alphabet, which lots of people were very interested to see. It was easier to learn your ABCs in Ancient Rome, because they only had 20 letters. K, Y and Z were added to spell Greek words, but J, U and W weren’t used until much later.

The Roman alphabet

Have a go at writing like a Roman! What would you have written on a curse tablet?

Emily
Collections Volunteer

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