Latin Inscriptions Brought to Life
Revealing stories about the Roman past in Britain’s oldest public museum
Since 1683, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has welcomed in the public and its archaeological collections play a key role in telling stories about the Roman past. This AHRC-funded project, led by Professor Alison Cooley, aimed to enrich and diversify these stories, bringing to life the individuals named in inscriptions.
The museum's Latin inscriptions have been an under-appreciated source of knowledge, but reveal information which has expanded our understanding of Roman history. Professor Cooley and her team have made the collection accessible to the public and helped almost two hundred teachers better understand Latin inscriptions.
The Ashmolean has hundreds of Latin inscriptions, but they were under-utilised and in some cases uncatalogued or thought to be lost. The project team worked with museum staff to catalogue and display their collection and held training sessions for teachers to help them better understand the importance of the inscriptions. Through their work, Professor Cooley and her team have changed the practice of the Ashmolean and the ways in which Classics is taught to students of all ages.
Professor Cooley led a team made up of researchers from Warwick and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents in Oxford. They revealed the richness of the museum’s inscriptions by:
Reinterpreting known texts
Discovering unknown and missing items
Publishing an open access catalogue
Photographing every example for posterity
As school groups were a key priority for engagement, the team created a ‘legacy’ box of resources and replicas for pupils. 185 secondary school teachers benefitted from training in studying inscriptions, in order to gain the confidence to include them in their lessons, using resources compiled by the team.
The Ashmolean has increased the number of Latin inscriptions on display by 30%. Events based on the project’s research, including a recreation of a Roman funeral and family craft activities, brought in thousands of visitors from diverse audiences.
Hundreds of school children from primary to secondary benefited from the project and 22 school groups visited the Museum to learn about the team's findings. The researchers went into local schools to enthuse primary children about Roman history, and designed sessions for adults with learning disabilities. They developed the Latin Language Adventure activity which is still in use at the Ashmolean, enhancing the museum’s schools’ programme by focusing on Roman, rather than Greek or Egyptian, history.
Curators and education staff from other museums in the UK and Europe benefited from the project’s experience, collaborating at two workshops to exchange best practice about how to bring the Romans to life via Latin inscriptions. Vodcasts, blog posts and appearances on Channel 5 and BBC Online engaged an even wider audience. By shifting the perspective away from an emphasis on wars and ‘great men’, the project enabled thousands to discover for themselves new stories from the Roman world.