New resource strips everyday Roman handwriting bare

A Roman firing list – a list of pots to be fired in a kiln – written in Old Roman Cursive and Gaulish language, from La Graufesenque in France. Credit: Céline Coste/Musée Fenaille

A new open-access resource to help researchers study Roman handwriting has been released.

Volume 1 of the Manual of Roman Everyday Writing is now available, produced by the European Research Council-funded LatinNow project. Leicester ancient history expert Dr Jane Masséglia is part of the project team, which is hosted by the University of Nottingham.

The new guide offers a step-by-step guide to decoding the (sometimes very difficult-to-read) Roman handwritten texts and their scripts.

A wide range of Roman society used Latin cursive writing, from emperors to schoolchildren and merchants. Original documents are still be discovered, including at Herculaneum, famously preserved following the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Dr Masséglia said: “The way we write today – including letter shapes and what we write with – owes so much to the Romans. But the evidence can be hard to find if you’re not a specialist. This is an open-access ebook that explains not just what we know about how the Romans wrote in their daily lives, but how we know it.”

Other resources featured in Volume 1 provide a tour of texts from across the Roman Empire, discussion of the development of script types, and information on the latest digital techniques used to decipher the writing, accompanied by videos.

The LatinNow team hope the resource will provide readers with the tools needed to read some of the most revealing testimonies of daily life in the Roman world.

Dr Masséglia is a Lecturer in Ancient History within the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and was part of the team to study the one-of-a-kind Roman mosaic discovered under a Rutland farmer’s field in 2020, which features a rare account of Achilles’ battle with Hector. Excavations were led by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services. 

Volume 1 of the Manual of Roman Everyday Writing (Alex Mullen and Alan Bowman) joins the previously-published Volume 2 (Anna Willi), which looks in greater detail at Roman writing equipment.