Understanding the graffiti of Roman Hispania

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The University of Valencia is studying the popular Latin of Roman Hispania through the graffiti found on ‘terra sigillata’ ceramic ware. As part of this approach, analyses of the graffiti kept in the Spanish Royal Academy of History have just been started with a recent publication in the journal Lucentum: Anales de la Universidad de Alicante.

Understanding the graffiti of Roman Hispania
‘Sigillata’ pottery, from Roman times, was manufactured with a mould and sometimes
 stamped with figures and patterns [Credit: Universitat de València]

‘Research focuses on the words written on the surface of these everyday ceramic pieces which can provide linguistic data, but also territorial and ethnological information’, says the author of the work, Josep Montesinos, professor of Art History at the Faculty of Geography and History. Xaverio Ballester, professor in the Department of Classical Philology at the University of Valencia is also part of the team.

‘Sigillata’ pottery, from Roman times, was manufactured with a mould and sometimes stamped with figures and patterns. It was made from the first century BC to the third century AD in Italy, Gaul and Hispania. These ceramic pieces often display graffiti made by their owners or users. Sometimes these are simple marks, but occasionally graffiti have meanings related to the production and distribution or provide other personal details such as proper names or colloquial phrases, which ‘allow us to approach the real language, popular Latin, very different from formal Latin or from that found in obituaries and, therefore, reveal the customs and habits of Roman Hispania’, argues Montesinos.

The decoration of ‘sigillata’ ceramics also depicts representations of beliefs, habits and customs of this historical period; in fact, according to the work’s author, iconography is ‘an element of great importance to contextualise the space, time and vision of each society’.

The study, as a global and transversal approach to the study of these ceramics, has its roots in typological data, studies of specific environments (Saguntum, Valentia, Ilici, the Valencian Country, Hispania, Bibracte in Gaul…), collections (Spanish Royal Academy of History), iconography, trade flows and other aspects that this researcher has had in mind.

Josep Montesinos is a professor of Art History at the University of Valencia, director of the UV Gandia International Centre, coordinator of the academic pathway in Preventive Conservation of the UV Master’s Degree in Cultural Heritage and specialist for the university entrance tests. His research interests revolve around ‘sigillata’ pottery, cultural heritage and also teaching and dissemination. He is a permanent academician of the Spanish Royal Academy of History.

Xaverio Ballester, professor of Latin Studies at the University of Valencia since 1998, is the co-director of the journal ‘Liburna’ and a member of the international scientific committees ‘The Palaeolithic Continuity Paradigm for the Origins of the Indo-European Languages’ and of the ‘Talks on pre-Roman Languages and Cultures in the Iberian Peninsula’. The decoding, reconstruction and study of the origins of languages are among his main lines of research.

Source: Asociación RUVID [April 16, 2015]

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