A Contract for a Slave Purchase

For more non-elite Latin, go to the list here.

AE 1922, 0135. 151 (CE, Fayoum, Egypt)

This is a contract written on a wax tablet for the sale of a Marmarian slave girl to Titus Memmius Montanus, a sailor in the praetorian fleet stationed at Ravenna. The girl is described as ‘veteranae’ (βετρανε), meaning she has been enslaved for some time. We don’t know what happened to her after this moment, but, as this contract was found in Egypt, there is good reason to believe that Titus Memmius was there at some point.

The writer of the contract was likely a native Greek speaker who was unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet, employing Greek morphology (nominative -ος, , genitive -ου/-ης, accusative -ους, etc.), phonetic tendencies (-αρουν for -arum), and vocabulary (πεντηρω) in an otherwise formulaic document. It also displays several spellings reflective of Latin speech, such as the merging of /b/ and /w/ to /β/, and the monophthongization of /ae/ to /ɛ/.

For more on the language, see Adams (2003) Bilingualism and the Latin Language.

BC 1
Enslaved captives. (image: The History Project)



Γαιω Κουρτιω Ιουστω Ιουλιω Ναυτωνε / κωνσουλιβους σεξστουμ νωνας οκτωβρης / Αισχινης Αισχινου Φλαουιανος Μιλησιος σκρι/ψι μη ακκεπισσε α Τιτω Μεμμιω Μοντανω / μιλιτε πεντηρω Αυγιστι δηναριους σεσκεν/τους βιγεντι κινκυε πρετιουμ πουελλαι Μαρ/μαριαι βετρανε κουαμ ει δουπλα οπτιμισ κον/δικιωνιβους βενδιδιτ ετ τραδιδι εξ εντερρο/γατιωνε φακτα ταβελλαρουν σιγναταρουμ / ακτουμ καστρις κλασσης πραιτωριαι Ραβεν/νατους

Idem cosulubus aeadem diem Domitius The/ophilus scrisi me in veditionem puellae Marma/riae supra scriptae pro Aescine Aescine phi/lium Flavianum secundum auctorem ex/stitise acctum

“In the consulships of Gaius Curtius Iustus and Julius Nauto (151 CE), October 2nd. I, Aeschines Flavianus, a Milesian, son of Aeschines, wrote that I received from Titus Memmius Montanus, soldier on the quinquireme Augustus, 625 denarii as the price of the Marmarian girl, a long-serving (‘veteran’) slave, whom I sold to him at double repayment (i.e. on default) under the best terms and handed over after the finished inspection of the signed tablets. Completed at the camp of the praetorian fleet at Ravenna.

In the same consulships and on the same day, I, Domitius Theophilus, wrote that I was present as a witness on behalf of Aeschines Flavianus, son of Aeschines, for the sale of the Marmarian girl, described above. Completed.”

Should anyone else want to use this in a Latin class (I’m incorporating it into a course reading), I’ve adapted a somewhat standardized version in the Latin alphabet:

Gaio Curtio Iusto (et) Iulio Nautone consulibus, sextum nonas Octobres, Aeschines Aeschinae (filius) Flavianus Milesius scripsi me accepisse a Tito Memmio Montano, milite quinquiremis Augusti, denarios sescentos viginti quinque pretium puellae Marmariae veteranae, quam ei dupla optimis condicionibus vendidit (vendidi) et tradidi ex interrogatione facta tabellarum signatarum, actum castris classis praetoriae Ravennae.

Idem consulibus eadem die, Domitius Theophilus scripsi me in venditione puellae Marmariae, supra scriptae, pro Aeschine Aeschinae filio Flaviano secundum auctorem exstitisse. Actum.

Roman Slave Collar
Roman slave collar (image: University of Colorado-Boulder)

Spring Cleaning Inspiration from the Romans!

Some more non-Elite Latin from Brandon Conley

Spring is here, and with it comes the dreaded (but necessary) spring cleaning. It’s often difficult to rid the house of an item we no longer need or want, but remember, if it doesn’t “inspire joy,” consider recycling or donating it for someone else’s use. Need ideas for types of items to purge? Here’s some Roman stuff to get you started.


Personal accessories and fashion items. These have a tendency to accumulate and create clutter in drawers, chests, and cabinets. Sometimes they can wreak havoc on a foot when walking through the house at night.

  1. Gold Bracelet. AE 1994, 1098.
(Image Wikimedia)


“Use (this) happily, Lady Juliana.”

(‘Utere Felix’ was a very popular phrase on jewelry, to the extent that abbreviations such as ‘UT FE’ were common)


  1. Lapis Stone. AE 2009, 991.


“Public Happiness”

(A common phrase on coinage, but less so on jewelry)


  1. Gold Ring. CIL 3.12677


“Trust in our Lord Constans Augustus, this new year.”


  1. Gold Button. AE 2003, 1456.
(Image Pegasus Online, 2004)


“With love, to (my) love. If you love (me), (this is) a pledge.”


  1. Silvered Fibula. CIL 13.10027
(Image Pegasus Online, 2004)


“What you want, I want.”


Dining and drinking wares. We’ve all heard “you have too many mugs” or “how do you have so much Tupperware?” Or, in my case, “what do the two of you need with that much silverware?”

  1. Glass. CIL 15.7010.


“Polycarpus, live happily”


  1. Glass Dish. CIL 15.7029.




“May you always be joyfully happy.”


  1. Spoon. AE 1982, 670.


“Live (well), my good man.”


  1. Cup. AE 1981, 572b.


“Take a drink and pass (me) on.”

Election Plate
(Image EDH)
  1. Election Plate. AE 1979, 0064.


“Marcus Cato, who is running for Tribune of the Plebs.”

(Go ahead, throw out those Gore vs. Bush 2000 bumper stickers.)


Furniture. That table that blocks half of the hallway and is only used for car keys? Time to donate it.

  1. Inscription on a Table. AE 1941, 0053.


“Marcus Cato, who is running for Tribune of the Plebs.”

(Go ahead, throw out those Gore vs. Bush 2000 bumper stickers.)


Furniture. That table that blocks half of the hallway and is only used for car keys? Time to donate it.

  1. Inscription on a Table. AE 1941, 0053.

Table Inscription

Quisquis amat d[ictis absentum rodere vitam,

hanc mensam in[dignam noverit esse sibi.

“Whoever loves to slander the lives of people absent with gossip, let them know this table isn’t worthy of them.”


  1. Table, Votive. AE 2007, 1471.

ἡ τράπεζα Μηνός / Πρωτίωνος εὐχή // Q(uintus) Volumnius / Protio / cenaculum / L(unae?) v(otum) s(olvit)

“This table belongs to Men, an offering of Protio. Quintus Volumnius Protio fulfills his vow to Luna, this dining room.”


  1. Chair. CIL 6.0061


[…]a Primigenia B(onae) D(eae) d(onum) d(edit)

“… Primigenia gave this gift to Bona Dea.”


Lamps. The days are getting longer. How much light do you really need, anyway?

  1. CIL 15.6752


“For the good (of the person) who buys (me).”


  1. CIL 15.6900


“I (am) for Claudius. I am not yours.”


  1. CIL 15.6903



“I am Sota’s. Don’t touch me.”


  1. Ex Oriente Lux: Roman Lamps from Slovenia (2012)


“Bread, wine, radishes, the meal of the poor.”


  1. CIL 11.6699

Lamp 2


“A happy and prosperous new year for me!”


Miscellaneous. Stuff that can be dangerous, off-putting to guests, aesthetically unpleasant, or ‘just a little much.’

  1. Shield. CIL 11.02088


“From the gifts of god and Lord Peter. Use well and with joy.”

  1. Broken Lead Pipe. AE 1993, 0437.

lead pipe

L(ucius) Titius Neptunalis plu(m)b(arius) con suo filio fecit.

“Lucius Titius Neptunalis, the pipemaker, made this with his son.”


3. Dice Box. AE 1989, 0562

Dice Box











“The Picts are defeated, the enemy destroyed. Play safely. Use happily.”

(If you have this, feel free to gift it to me.)

Medicae: Women Doctors from the Roman Empire

Some more Non-Elite Latin from the tireless Brandon Conley

  1. AE 1937, 0017.
inscription for blog
(Image from EDH)

Hic iacet Sarman/na medica vixit / pl(us) m(inus) an(nos) LXX Pientius / Pientinus fili(us) et / Honorata norus / titolum posuerunt / in pace

“Here lies Sarmana the doctor. She lived around 70 years. Pientius, her son Pientinus, and daughter-in-law Honorata placed this monument. In peace.”


  1. AE 2001, 00263

C(aius) Naevius C(ai) l(ibertus) Phi[lippus] / medicus chirurg(us) / Naevia C(ai) l(iberta) Clara / medica philolog(a) / in fro(nte) ped(es) XI s(emis) / in agr(o) ped(es) XVI

“Gaius Naevius Philippus, freedman of Gaius, doctor and surgeon. Naevia Clara, freedwoman of Gaius, doctor and scholar. (Tomb size) 11.5 feet wide, 16 feet deep.”


  1. CIL 1.497
(Image from Arachne)

D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum) / Iuliae Saturninae / ann(orum) XXXXV / uxori incompara/bili me[dic]ae optimae / mulieri sanctissimae / Cassius Philippus / maritus ob meritis / h(ic) s(ita) e(st) s(it) t(ibi) t(erra) l(evis)

“A sacred rite to the spirits of the dead. To Julia Saturnina, age 45, an incomparable wife, the best doctor, the most noble woman. Gaius Philippus, her husband, (made this) for her merits. She is buried here. May the earth be light on you.”


  1. CIL 6.09616

D(is) M(anibus) / Terentiae / Niceni Terentiae / Primaes medicas li/bertae fecerunt / Mussius Antiochus / et Mussia Dionysia / fil(ii) m(atri) b(ene) m(erenti)

“To the spirits of the dead. To Terentia of Nicaea, freedwoman of the doctor Terentia Prima. Mussius Antiochus and Mussia Dionysia, her children, made this for their well-deserving mother.”

  1. CIL 13.02019
(Image from EDCS)

Metilia Donata medic[a] / de sua pecunia dedit / l(ocus) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum)

“Metilia Donata, a doctor, gave this with her own money. This spot was given by decree of the decurions.”

  1. CIL 11.06394

…xia viva fecit / Tutilia Cn(aei) Tutili leib(erta) / Menotia hoc moniment(um) / fecit Octavia[e] Auli l(ibertae) / Artimisiae medicae

…(?) “Tutilia Menotia, freedwoman of Gnaeus Tutilus, made this monument for the doctor Octavia Artemisia, freedwoman of Aulus.”

Love And Loss: Nothing Says “Happy Valentine’s Day” Like Epitaphs!

Brandon Conley does it again! A timeless (and endless) respite from the sappy Romance of the season


  1. AE 1983 0040

D(is) M(anibus). Memoriae Publicies Septimines L(ucius) Sammonius Adiutor coniug(i) pientissim(a)e et animules amantissimes

“To the spirits of the dead. Lucius Sammonius Adiutor (made this) for the memory of Publicia Septimina, his most faithful wife and most loving soul.”


  1. AE 1982 0106

D(is) M(anibus) Iucundis[sim]a Priscia[no con]iugi am[antiss]imo b(ene) [m(erenti) fecit]

“To the spirits of the dead. Iucundissima made this for her well-deserving, most loving husband, Priscianus.”


  1. CIL 6.18817

Animae sanctae colendae d(is) m(anibus) s(acrum). Furia Spes L(ucio) Sempronio Firmo coniugi carissimo mihi. Ut cognovi puer puella obligati amori pariter. Cum quo vixi tempori minimo et quo tempore vivere debuimus a manu mala diseparati sumus. Ita peto vos manes sanctissimae commendat[um] habeatis meum ca[ru]m et vellitis huic indulgentissimi esse horis nocturnis ut eum videam et etiam me fato suadere vellit ut et ego possim dulcius et celerius aput eum pervenire.

“To a sacred and worshipped spirit: a sacred thing to the spirits of the dead. Furia Spes (made this) for her dearest husband, Lucius Sempronius Firmus. When we met as boy and girl, we were joined in love equally. I lived with him for a short while, and in a time when we should have lived together, we were separated by an evil hand.

So I ask you, most sacred spirits, to protect my dear husband entrusted to you, and that you be willing to be most accommodating to him in the nightly hours, so I may have a vision of him, and so he might wish that I persuade fate to allow me to come to him more sweetly and quickly.”


  1. CIL 3.10501

Clausa iacet lapidi coniunx pia cara Sabina. Artibus edocta superabat sola maritum vox ei grata fuit pulsabat pollice c(h)ordas. Set (sed) cito rapta silpi (silet)…

“My beautiful, faithful wife, Sabina, lies enclosed in stone. Skilled in the arts, she alone surpassed her husband. Her voice was pleasing (as) she plucked the strings with her thumb. But suddenly taken, now she is silent.”


  1. CIL 3.00333

Dis Manibus Flaviae Sophene [Ge]nealis Caesaris Aug(usti) [se]rvos verna dispens(ator) [ad] frumentum carae coniugi et amanti bene merenti fecit [vix(it)] an(nis) XXXII m(ensibus) VII


[Φλ]αβία Σόφη γυνὴ Γενεάλ/[ιος] Καίσαρος δούλου οἰκο/νόμου ἐπὶ τοῦ σείτου / [ζή]σασα κοσμίως ἔτη [λβ] / [μῆ]νας ζ χαῖρε

“To the spirits of the dead. For Flavia Sophe. Genialis, home-born slave of Caesar Augustus, keeper of the grain supply, made this for his loving, dear, well-deserving wife. She lived 32 years, 7 months.”


  1. AE 1982 0988.

Iulia Cecilia vicxit annis XLV cui Terensus marit(us) fek(it) dom(um) et(e)r(nalem) f(eci)t

“Julia Caecilia lived 45 years, for whom her husband Terensus made this. He made her an eternal home.”


  1. CIL 13.01983 (EDCS-10500938)

D(is) M(anibus) et memoriae aetern(ae) Blandiniae Martiolae puellae innocentissimae quae vixit ann(os) XVIII m(enses) VIIII d(ies) V. Pompeius Catussa cives Sequanus tector coniugi incomparabili et sibi benignissim(a)e quae mecum vixit an(nos) V m(enses) VI d(ies) XVIII sine ul(l)a criminis sorde. Viv(u)s sibi et coniugi ponendum curavit et sub ascia dedicavit. Tu qui legis vade in Apol(l)inis lavari quod ego cum coniuge feci. Vellem si ad(h)uc possem

“To the spirits of the dead and the eternal memory of Blandinia Martiola, a most innocent girl who lived 18 years, 9 months, 5 days. Pompeius Catussa, a Sequani citizen and plasterer, (made this) for his incomparable and most kind wife, who lived with me 5 years, 6 months, 18 days without any transgressions. While alive, he saw to the building and dedicated this, while under construction, to himself and his wife. You who read this, go and bathe in the bath of Apollo, which I did with my wife. I wish I were still able to do it.”


  1. CIL 06.15346

Hospes quod deico paullum est. Asta ac pellege. Heic est sepulcrum hau(d) pulcrum pulcrai feminae. Nomen parentes nominarunt Claudiam. Suom mareitum corde deilexit souo. Gnatos duos creavit horunc (horum-ce) alterum in terra linquit alium sub terra locat. Sermone lepido tum autem incessu commodo domum servavit lanam fecit dixi abei

“Stranger, what I say is short. Stand and read over it. This is the hardly beautiful tomb of a beautiful woman. Her parents called her Claudia. She loved her husband with all her heart. She had two sons, one of whom she leaves on earth, the other she placed under it. With pleasant conversing but respectable gait she cared for her home and made wool. I have spoken. Move along.”


  1. CIL 06.20307

Iulio Timotheo qui vixit p(lus) m(inus) annis XXVIII vitae innocentissim(a)e decepto a latronibus cum alumnis n(umero) VII. Otacilia Narcisa co(n)iugi dulcissimo

“For Julius Timotheus, who lived around 28 years of a most innocent life, cheated by bandits along with his 7 fostered children. Otacilia Narcisa (made this) for her sweetest husband.”

Image result for roman epitaph
This is from the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Love [Curse] Magic: Some Amatory Spells for Valentine’s Day

More from the mind of Brandon Conley…

DTA 78.

Άριστοκυδη και τας φανο(υ)μενας αυτῳ γυναικας μηποτ’ αυτον γημαι αλλην γυναι(κα) μηδε παιδα

“[I compel] Aristokydes and the women appearing with him. May he never marry another woman or maiden.”


Pl. 67, Inv. No. IL 952. Jordan (1985). Defixiones from a Well Near the Southwest Corner of the Athenian Agora.

…παραδιδωμι σοι Ιουλιανην, ην ετε[κεν Μαρκια,] και Πολυνεικον, ινα καταψυξῃς αυτου[ς και την γνω]μην και την στοργην και την συνηθειαν [αυτων, και αυ]τους ις τον ζοφωδη σου αερα και τους συν [αυτοις…

“I hand over to you Juliana, daughter of Markia, and Polynikos. May you cool them, and their intention and love and intimacy, and (keep) them and those with them in your dark air.


Audollent (1904), 227.

uratur Sucesa, aduratur amo(re) vel desideri(o) Sucesi

“Let Successa be lit afire and burn with love and desire of Successus.”


AE 1994, 1072.

Quintula cum Fortunali sit semel et numquam

“Let Quintula be with Fortunalis one time and never again.”


AE 2000, 1611.

os (hos?) opera, ritine mi(hi) Patelaria(m) Minor(em). Amor piger n(obis). Exc oficina magica…

“Work on this: keep Patelaria the Younger for me. Our love is slow. From your magic services…”


Audollent (1904), 231.

…εξ αχ διη οχ μομεντο…αμετ Μαρτιαλε(μ) ουτ ομμνι μουλιεβρι ωρας μ[ε] ιν μεντε αβεατ ετ τωτα(μ) διε(μ) ιν ανιμω αβεατ αμορε(μ) μεουμ…

“From this day, this moment, let her love Martialis, so that she thinks of me constantly during every womanly matter, and all day she has my love on her mind.”


Audollent (1904), 270.

αδιυρο ετ…περ μαγνουμ δεουμ ετ περ ανθεροτας…ετ περ εουμ χουι αβετ (habet) αρχεπτορεμ (accipitrem) σουπρα χαπουθ ετ περ σεπτεμ σθελλας, ουυτ εξ χουα ορα οχ σομποσυερο νον δορμιατ Σεξτιλλιος, Διονισιε φιλιους, ουραθουρ φουρενς νον δορμιαθ νεχουε (neque) σεδεατ νεχουε λοχουατουρ σεδ ιν μεντεμ αβιατ με Σεπθιμαμ Αμενε φιλια ουραθουρ φουρενς αμορε ετ δεσιδεριο μεο…

“I swear…by the great god, and by Anteros…and by him who holds the eagle over his head, and by the seven stars, so that from the moment I compose this, Sextilius, son of Dionysia, does not sleep; let him burn, raging, and not sleep, or sit, or speak. But let him have me, Septima, daughter of Amoenae, in his mind; let him burn, raging, with love and desire for me.”


Valentine's Fart

Non-Elite Latin for the Classroom

The following is a thoroughly masterful and fascinating introduction to using non-elite Latin in teaching by Brandon Conley.


This is a brief introduction to non-elite Latin texts, intended for use in the classroom as a supplement to the more traditional Latin readings. For the majority of the following texts, knowledge of Latin equivalent to the first two to three semesters at the college level is advised, though several are suitable for first-year courses.

Firstly, what is non-elite Latin? Generally speaking, non-elite Latin comprises the texts produced outside of Rome’s powerful, exclusive literary circles, the arbiters of linguistic prestige—the ‘literati,’ so to speak. Other terms are often used to describe these texts, such as non-literary or non-standard. These definitions often, but not always, apply, and regularly more than one can be used to describe the same text. For example, we wouldn’t use ‘non-standard’ to describe an epitaph written for a freedwoman in Dacia that adheres to the linguistic standards of classical Latin (its adherence makes it, in fact, standard), but we could describe it as both non-elite and non-literary. The texts here can be standard or not (though most contain non-standard forms), as well as literary or not (though most aren’t). But they are all non-elite by virtue of the statuses, locations, and linguistic conventions of their authors.


Reading non-elite texts, with few exceptions, presents a set of challenges different from those of classical Latin. Linguistic features are more prone to diachronic and geographic change than the comparatively change-resistant classical standards. Spellings can be phonetic, colloquial, learned conventions, or intentionally archaic for effect. Morphology and syntax often differ widely as well, as in the increased usage of the indicative or the expanded role of the accusative (at the expense of the ablative, regularly). Vocabulary can be geographically specific, and differences in semantic value between non-elite and classical Latin are not uncommon.

Some of these features are discussed below to aid in reading. Efforts were made to add punctuation, etc., for ease of reading and approachability to students. Spellings are often left in their non-standard forms, though to aid in reading, many words are edited using brackets or parentheses; for particularly problematic spellings, a classical form of the word is added in parentheses. Texts (and translations, where available) are taken from the sources linked, with modifications (unless otherwise noted).

Exercises in non-elite Latin are often exercises in editing, critical reading, and emendation, as many of the texts are damaged or difficult to interpret. Reading these texts presents a practical opportunity to discuss textual editing as a scholarly process.

Lastly, accessibility is paramount. Students, instructors, and independent scholars often lack access to the databases and publications in which many non-elite texts are presented. All of the texts presented below are freely available online. At the end of this document, however, the recommended reading list contains mostly sources that are not open access.

Feel free to add, remove, edit, scream at, or pour coffee on the text—though should you choose to pour the coffee, print it first.


Motives for the spellings can be any number of things, from a widespread phonetic change to a local scribe’s misspelling. Often, unsurprisingly and necessarily, there is considerable debate on the causes of the spellings. Likewise, we must resist, often with great difficulty, tendencies to generalize non-standard spellings as broader linguistic features without the presence of more evidence.

These are some of the most common differences in spelling between non-elite and classical Latin.

Word-initial and Intervocalic Aspirate, h-, /h/ (habeo, hic, mihi, ): The initial and intervocalic aspirate /h/ had disappeared from most speech varieties by the imperial period, and from all eventually (with the exception of a select few prescriptive grammarians, perhaps). Hence, it is often omitted in non-elite texts, with resulting forms such as abes, mi, and ic.

Word-final -m, /m/ (dicam, amicum, etc.): -m was not pronounced (as /m/, at least) at the end of a word in spoken Latin, even before the time of Cicero; consider, for example, the impact this had in classical poetry in the process of elision. It is omitted from spelling with great frequency in non-elite texts, and can often cause confusion for first-time readers.

The v/b Shift, /w/ à /β/ (cf. the v in Spanish): this is a simplification of the process, but essentially the glide /w/ of classical pronunciation became increasingly pronounced as a bilabial fricative. This change is represented in non-standard spellings by the replacement of Latin v for b (e.g. dibi, classical divi, “gods”), as writers considered b to more closely represent the sound.

xs for x (dixsit,): there are potentially a few, if separate, factors that motivated this spelling. In short, an s was added after x due to the differing phonetic qualities of x as it was written (by itself, not representing /ks/). This is a common spelling feature, but generally not a problematic one for reading.

Assimilation and Weakening: a widespread trend in non-elite spellings is the simplification of consonant clusters, often through assimilation (i.e. one sound in the cluster ‘absorbs’ another sound) or weakening leading to loss. These can result in either a different letter being used to represent the altered sound (imveni, inveni) or the complete loss of a consonant (nuc, cf. nunc; meses, cf. menses). A notable loss, in cosul, is even reflected in standardized inscriptions in the abbr. cos. Loss is also quite common with consonants preceding the semivowel /j/, i (aiuto, cf. adiuto, “I help”).

Doubling of letters and reduction of doubled letters (faccio, facio; anis, cf. annis): multiple operations are at work, including the strengthening, weakening, and shortening of consonants, gemination and degemination, as well as the general tendency to eliminate letters that are not reflected in speech. Though not all spellings of these types can be ascribed to changes in pronunciation. For reading purposes, the doubling of letters (e.g. faccio) is usually not problematic. The absence of doubled letters can be problematic, though, as the non-standard forms frequently resemble other words with standard spellings (e.g. annis, dat/abl pl. ‘years,’ but anis, dat/abl pl. ‘rings’; or suum ‘own’, but sum ‘I am’).

Deletion: Vowels and consonants are regularly deleted in medial positions. Unstressed vowels are most commonly deleted (aspros, cf. asperos; copla, cf. copula), reducing the number of syllables in a word. This trend is not entirely unusual even in literary Latin.

Often duplicate vowels are reduced to one letter (serus, seruus; tus, cf. tuus).

Voiced and Devoiced Consonant Switching: switching in both directions is common, and the motives vary. The use of t for d and vice versa are perhaps the most common in the texts below (ed, set, at, ). Sometimes they are even used interchangeably in the same document. There is considerable doubt that these spellings reflected wider speech patterns.

Other Orthographic Consonant Substitutions: k is regularly used for c (karissimo), as is, to a lesser extent, q before u (mequm, quravit). These generally do not pose problems for readers.

e/i Representation: the writing of e for i and vice versa is one of the most commonly found spelling deviations from classical standards. Spellings of this type sometimes, though not always, reflect a widespread phonetic change in Latin speech well into the imperial period, whereby the vowels long e /e:/ and short i /i/ merged into a single vowel, /ẹ/. Both letters were used with little consistency to represent this phoneme. Another motive was the tendency for /e/ and /i/ to become a semivowel /j/ after a consonant (vinia as two syllables, rather than vinea). Occasionally, e was even used to represent ī /i:/. Some examples: sene, nese, dicet, ube, ibe, and signabet.

u/o Representation: another very common set of vowel substitutions, o is frequently used in place of u. The majority of instances occur in final syllables of the nominative and accusative singular; -us and -um become -os and -om, respectively. While another widespread vowel merger (similar to e/i) occurred very late in the imperial period, whereby ō /o:/ and u /u/ merged to a closed o /ọ/, the great majority of non-elite texts from the Roman Empire likely do not reflect this process. The use of o for u is far more likely to be an orthographic remnant (a ‘relic’, perhaps) of the old Latin spelling, which reflects the original o-stem. As mentioned above, there is also a strong stylistic tendency against writing the consecutive vowels uu, and o often replaces the second one. Examples: servos, mortuos, novom, salvom.

ei for i (tibei, ubei, etc.): the use of the vowels ei for classical i occurs regularly, and is an archaism of spelling, either for style or by learned inheritance, rather than an indication of pronunciation. It is a remnant of a popular spelling in old Latin which did reflect speech; the original diphthong /ei/ underwent a change to /i:/.

Monophthongization: ae /ae/ à e /ɛ/: other diphthongs disappear as well, but ae to e is present most frequently in the texts. Examples: que, quae; Cecilius, cf. Caecilius; and equum, cf. aequum. These can be problematic, as evidenced by the final example equum (potentially confused for the classical ‘horse’).

Morphology and Syntax

While there are numerous morphological and syntactic differences from classical Latin, they rarely impede reading to the extent of spelling differences. For example, a Latin student might recognize that the ‘incorrect’ verb tense is used in a conditional, but meaning can still be deduced. As such, only a few points will be mentioned here; see the recommended readings for further discussion.

Accusatives with Prepositions: there is plenty of evidence to support the convincing notion that the accusative became the default case for prepositional phrases. Most notably, cum, de, pro and in regularly take accusatives (even in instances in which the classical ‘ablative of place where’ would be expected). The situation is further complicated by the status of word-final -m, which made the ablative and accusative cases sound identical in speech in some instances, and the omission of which in writing can make a word appear ablative, though a writer originally had in mind an accusative. Advice for readers is to expect accusatives with prepositions which would otherwise be unexpected in classical Latin.

Analogy and Paradigm Leveling: analogy was a productive process in Latin, and in non-elite texts it occurs often in verbal and nominal morphology. Forth declension nouns in classical Latin sometimes use the more regular endings of the second declension in non-elite texts (an ongoing process that eventually saw the near-complete elimination of the fourth declension). Verbal constructions are leveled as well, for example in posso (“I can”) being given a common -o 1st singular ending in place of the standard possum.

Indicative or Infinitive: in instances where classical Latin would employ a subjunctive, such as in an indirect question, it is not uncommon in non-elite texts to see an indicative or an infinitival construction.

The conjunctions et and sed: a number of texts rely heavily on these conjunctions, including them where syntactically unnecessary or where other conjunctions would be more appropriate for clarity. One must not always take these literally or strictly when reading.


Reading any different author or genre of Latin usually requires familiarization with new vocabulary, and non-elite texts are no exception. Cicero’s surviving works, for example, do not contain inventories of materials or equipment, and in the texts that do contain these, some words will be new to readers. In some instances, however, things are more complicated. Loanwords or local words with limited attestation are common, and their meanings are uncertain; the ostraka found at Bu Njem, for example, contain several Punic words. The texts below were chosen with these considerations in mind, though it will perhaps be necessary to look up some military terms, for example.

Keep reading for some phenomenal texts….

Continue reading “Non-Elite Latin for the Classroom”

Holiday Shopping Advice from Claudius Terentianus

As we are right in the fray of holiday shopping season, it’s a great time to consider a few gifts for the people in your life. Why not look to the Roman Empire—a place of great practicality—for inspiration this year?

Claudius Terentianus, an Egyptian who lived in the 1st-2nd century CE and who served in the Roman military in Egypt and Syria, was quite fond of purchasing gifts of the utmost usefulness. As we add things to our shopping carts (either in-person or online) this year, let’s keep in mind some of the gifts Claudius was happy to give. From warm winter clothing to dinnerware, and, yes, even housing for your chickens, there is something here for everyone.

(Be warned—the Latin is very much non-standard)

P. Mich. 8, 467

[m]isi tibi vac. amphoras II olivarum co[lym]bade [un]a et uṇ[a] ṇigrạ…

“I sent you two amphorae of olives, one jar of brined and the other jar of black.”

P. Mich. 8, 468

mịṣị [ti]bi pater…imboluclum concosu[tu]m in quo habes amicla par unu amictoriạ [pa]r unu sabana par unu saccos par unu…sṭṛ[a]glum lini[u]… et [h]abes in imboluclum amictorium sịnglare hunc tibi mater mea misit…

“Father, I sent you a sealed bag in which you have two cloaks, two capes, two towels, two bags, and a linen cover. You also have in the bag a special cloak which my mother sent to you.”

P. Mich. 8, 468

[e]t acc̣ịpiạs caveam gallinaria in qua ha[bes] sunṭhes[  ̣  ̣] vitriae et phialas quinarias p[ar u]nu et calices paria sex et chartas sc[holare]ṣ d[u]ạṣ et in charta atramentum et c̣ạḷamos q̣[u]ị[nq]ụẹ et panes Alexandrinos viginṭi…

“And, you will get a chicken coop in which you have glasses, two quinarius-sized bowls, twelve cups, two writing scrolls, ink (inside the scrolls), five reed pens, and twenty loaves of Alexandrian bread.”

P. Mich. 8, 468

καὶ διὰ…ἄλλο σοι ἀπέσ[τα]λκα.

“And I have sent another (basket).”

(Unfortunately he didn’t mention the contents of the baskets he sent to his sister.)

RomeMerchants (1)

“How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics

This is a companion to the earlier essay, “This is Not My Beautiful House: Classics, Class, and Identity”, which elicited a variety of personal responses from classicists and students about the myriad problems in the discipline. My contribution here, specifically, is to further articulate and contextualize my response to Amy Pistone’s asking “what can individuals maybe do to help?”


The title of this article is at the heart of my response to the question on what can be done to help to address the class-based challenges of studying the Classics. “How was the ________?”, whether the blank space is filled in with conference, study abroad term, workshop, or something else, is a question of access. Encoded in this question is the fact that one person had this access while another didn’t. It is an innocuous question, with an innocuous reply, that contextually is a perfect representation of Classics’ self-perpetuating economic inequalities. And these inequalities were regular features of my studies.

My formal involvement with Classics began when I was twenty-one years old, though in high school I had developed an interest in Greek and Roman history and was even able to take year of Latin before the program was cut. In my first years of college, I focused on social science courses in psychology, sociology, and political science, with an interest in labor relations. But after donating three years to these subjects, I didn’t feel the same love for learning them that I did when I was reading about the Peloponnesian Wars or Roman politics in my free time.

So, I switched to Classics, starting Latin coursework right away and Greek later (along with French in anticipation of graduate work). Now in my early thirties, I am still involved with the field as an adjunct instructor teaching Greek and Roman Civilization (while missing teaching Latin), and I also work outside of academia to pay the bills. At times I feel like I belong, but at other times I feel like a stranger in a strange land. This was the case from the beginning.

During both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits in Classics, I found myself uttering some variant of this “how was the ______?” quote almost every time I’d gone a week without seeing a classmate—or so it felt. On the same day that I was excited to use a coupon for $1 off the price of a pizza on my way home from an eight-hour shift at a liquor store, a classmate was, for example, touring the Alamo after the SCS Conference. Another classmate brought back some fantastic replica pottery and coins from an 8-week study abroad event in Greece a month or so earlier; I remember thinking at the time that the cost to bring the vases back on a plane was probably more than my disposable income for the month.

Asking about someone else’s experiences at a conference, study-abroad program, or workshop was at the same time painful and embarrassing. I received an (often thorough, vivid) account of a classmate’s engagement with the field in a way that I could only rarely—if ever—experience, and simultaneously I gave responses which made it abundantly clear that I couldn’t participate. Despite this, I was still genuinely interested in others’ more extensive involvement with Classics, through some combination of intellectual interest, living vicariously through my classmates, and being polite.

In upper-level undergrad and graduate courses, I just hoped the familiar classmates wouldn’t return with a question about my own travels. They almost always did, and I became better at changing the subject after a quick “no.”

These types of conversations—dialogues of coded income inequality—were not unusual to me even outside of academia, though. During my childhood in two small towns in the Midwest, my family toed the poverty line, between lower middle class and “lowest” (how’s that for an official socio-economic designation?). From elementary school onward, I listened to stories of Disneyworld during summer vacation and spring break trips to the beach. Later I would become a “first-generation” college student; I use quotation marks because my father attended college, but was not a part of my life past my infancy.

P. Mich 8.471 – Letters of Claudius Terentianus*

“My mother sold our linens for an as so I could go to Alexandria.”

mater m[e]a no[bi]s assem vendedi[t] lentiamina / [u]t veniam alexandrie

*My interests are in non-elite (“vulgar”) Latin; sorry, Cicero, Virgil, et al. Whenever possible I opt to use the words of people outside of Rome’s literary elite.


At any rate, by the time I arrived at a state university—after some time at a community college—I was quite accustomed to hearing about things I couldn’t do or have. Thankfully, my mother didn’t have to sell her linens so that I could leave town when the time came, unlike Claudius Terentianus’ mom. We have student loans for that now.

It wasn’t until graduate school and afterward that inequality in Classics, which had previously been confined in my cognitive space to my inability to contribute to travel-related conversations, became a more substantive obstacle. To be clear, it did not come from the faculty, classmates, or department at my state school, all of whom were wonderfully accommodating and committed to widening access to the historically isolated field.


The inequalities became increasingly problematic during the first year of my M.A. program, as I began to focus more seriously on a career profile and CV that would get me beyond the first rounds of application purges. Diving into research on proper Classics CVs, newly hired faculty credentials, and all of the other things that repel students from graduate schools and higher education, it quickly hit me like a speeding chariot that I would not have even the opportunity for success in this discipline unless I could afford to sacrifice thousands of dollars (in addition to regular expenses), and extensive time away from a family that at many times needed me nearby.

Continue reading ““How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics”