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The Latinization of the North-western Roman Provinces: Sociolinguistics, Epigraphy and Archaeology

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - LatinNow (The Latinization of the North-western Roman Provinces: Sociolinguistics, Epigraphy and Archaeology)

Reporting period: 2021-09-01 to 2023-06-30

LatinNow is an interdisciplinary project deploying sociolinguistics, epigraphy, archaeology and digital tools to rewrite the social history of the north-western Roman Empire. Dramatic changes occurred linguistically in the north-western provinces: a patchwork of local languages, which existed in the Iron Age, had been all but replaced by Latin as the dominant language by the end of the imperial period. Precisely how, when and why this change occurred, and how it relates to other social phenomena, had remained an underexplored topic central to the Roman world and required investigation which was only possible through an analysis cutting across Roman provincial borders, chronological periods (the Iron Age, Roman and early medieval periods) and disciplinary divisions.

LatinNow has bridged this gap in our knowledge by employing an approach which exploited both epigraphic and archaeological material (writing and writing equipment) and has situated the phenomena of Latinization, literacy, bi- and multi-lingualism within broader social developments by coordinating data drawn from our own research and from collaborating projects. Our interdisciplinary methodology integrated not only the evidence but also the perspectives and methods of established and developing disciplines (e.g. ancient sociolinguistics, digital epigraphy). Our fresh approach also used evolving technologies to recover Roman-period epigraphy (Reflectance Transformation Imaging), to present them digitally (EpiDoc) and to analyse and visualize our data (GIS).

LatinNow thus combined state-of-the-art techniques and the latest interdisciplinary research to confront large-scale socio-cultural issues concerning identities, life and languages in the Roman world. It has contributed to a greater understanding of the construction of our local histories and diverse European heritage.
Work performed and results (* indicates unforeseen major opportunities):

1. 7 books, c. 60 articles/book chapters/conference proceedings chapters.
2. Manual of Roman Everyday Writing in two ebook volumes.
3. Cleaned, deduplicated and added metadata to existing dataset to create new 140,000 record epigraphic database.
4. Worked with Vindolanda Trust and British Museum to use RTI to read the writing on stylus tablets.*
5. Worked on unpublished graffiti on ceramic from Lyon.*
6. Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online finalized with 16,000 records made public.
7. Creation of Open Access public webGIS presenting project data coordinated with that of collaborating projects.
8. 2 international workshops on Latinization: one on the later and post-Roman provinces and another on social factors in Latinization.
9. International panel on writing equipment at the Roman Archaeology Conference in Edinburgh.
10. Co-hosted and delivered talks at a workshop on Digital approaches to the western provinces at the Institute for Classical Studies, London.
11. Co-hosted and delivered papers at a workshop on scripts at Las Palmas.
12. Hosted samian ware event in Oxford, including papers and a two-day practical workshop.
13. Panel with papers by team members on ancient sociolinguistics at FIEC/CA, London.
14. Hosted British Epigraphy Society Meeting.
15. Organized conference on ‘Wax Tablets through Time and Space’.
16. Presentation of final results of the project at the quinquennial congress of epigraphy in Bordeaux.
17. Over 70 papers delivered, including 5 keynotes.
18. Completion of a PhD thesis on the nature of Latin in Roman Britain.
19. Advanced training in EpiDoc, RTI, GIS delivered across Europe.
20. New international research collaborations. Hosted academic visitors, including post-doctoral fellows and doctoral students.*
21. 6-language, 6-country touring exhibition.
22. Extensive outreach and multilingual teaching materials.
23. All post-docs on the team have gone on to Faculty or research project jobs. Mullen, Estarán and Vanderbilt have won prizes, as has the project as a whole.
24. Dissemination via website, Twitter, popularizing articles, TV, YouTube.

The LatinNow team, through several books, particularly the trilogy of Open Access Oxford University Press volumes (Social factors in the Latinization of the Roman West (Mullen 2023), Languages and Communities in the later-Roman and post-imperial western provinces (Mullen and Woudhuysen 2024) and Latinization, local languages and literacies in the Roman West (Mullen and Willi 2024)) and nearly 60 other publications, has written a social history of the Latinization of the western provinces and the spread of literacy. We have developed a novel multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary methodology and have created a research momentum which has generated new research ideas and reanimated work on unpublished museum collections. We have shared our multi-million data point empirical basis, combining a 140,000 record epigraphic dataset, plus multiple complementary datasets from collaborating projects, through a public webGIS. The website Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online now contains every published Roman inscription from the province of Britannia and is being used to transform the teaching of Ancient History in the UK. We have undertaken knowledge exchange with researchers and heritage workers through over 100 conferences, talks, seminars, workshops and training sessions across Europe, America and Asia. We reached thousands with our award-winning museum and schools outreach, which included a 6-language, 6-country European touring exhibition. Our research has inspired several new funded projects, and created a research network which will continue to promote our state-of-the-art research, knowledge exchange and impact across Europe and beyond.
LatinNow has delivered results which are more sensitive to regional and social complexities than those demonstrated in previous scholarship. We have presented a new vision of Latinization, bi- and multi-lingualism and literacy in the north-western provinces, which provides unique insights into identities, regionalities, and diverse experiences.

Our methodologies are innovative. Classics is an inherently multi-disciplinary subject, but it is rarely, despite the rhetoric, rigorously interdisciplinary. In particular, linguistics has often been divorced from other disciplines within Classics. In our advancement of the field of ancient sociolinguistics we make sure it does not simply entail the collection of linguistic features, but rather that it takes full account of the socio within sociolinguistics. We are therefore promoting more historically informed and archaeologically contextualized approaches to language and epigraphy. Two specific advances have been Mullen’s application of the modern sociolinguistic concept of translingualism to the ancient world, and the creation of a schema for the categorization of bi-/multi-lingual epigraphy.

We have promoted a multidisciplinary approach to literacy, 'socio-literacy', which integrates archaeological evidence for writing (writing equipment) and privileges context and fine-grained analysis of different social groups. This has been set out in Mullen's chapter on Socio-literacy (2021), Willi's ebook (2021), and the edited volume Mullen and Willi (2024). The integration of the study of writing equipment and epigraphy in rethinking ancient literacy has led to revisionary views on the persistence of local languages and the nature of provincial literacies and communities.
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