Gladiator Latin

From the Wanderer:

One of the big decisions for students entering Old Rochester Regional (ORR) Junior High School next fall is which foreign language they will elect to study for a year and a half. Usually this decision is heavily influenced by the advice of friends, parents, and older siblings, as the elementary schools do not offer language classes during school hours.

But for the past few years, Latin and Spanish teacher Marcia Ross of ORR High School has been working with the principals of Old Hammondtown School, Sippican Elementary School, and Rochester Memorial School to create after-school enrichment programs through which students can explore the three language programs available at the junior and senior high schools – Latin, Spanish, and French. This past week, the first four-week session of language classes at OHS ended.

This particular partnership, between the Classical and Modern Languages Department of ORR and OHS, developed from the organizational teamwork of Ms. Ross and OHS Principal Matthew D’Andrea.

From the ORR end of things, Ms. Ross helped high school students create their classes and provided both resources and advice for lesson planning, which the students-turned-teachers accomplished independently. Mr. D’Andrea, from the OHS end of things, made classrooms available after-school for the language classes to use, and the front office of OHS helped the ORR students locate supplies for their pupils’ projects.

Last year, the schools partnered to offer a single eight-week session of after-school language classes. This year, however, it was decided to have two four-week sessions divided by the February vacation, thereby giving the students and volunteer teachers a break to explore other extra-curricular interests. The first classes began the week of January 8 and ended the week of January 29.

This year, classes focused primarily on Latin and Spanish. With the support of sophomore Ruhi Raje and fellow senior Katie Holden, I taught a Latin class to an assorted group of 10 fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders who already had extensive knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology.

The goal of the class, the three of us decided, would be to teach our students about Latin through the eyes of a gladiator. The lesson content was primarily based in culture, as the grammar of Latin is not discussed in full until the upper level Latin classes at the high school. There was no way that Ms. Raje, Ms. Holden, and I could teach elementary-aged students about conjugating verbs and declining nouns without permanently scarring and scaring them.

Besides, we had agreed at our first meeting that the culture of the Romans is incredibly rich and rather weak in the high school’s program of study; it would be an excellent subject for our students to learn.

Ms. Holden and I were novices to this after-school language program; Ms. Raje was not, as she had taught a Spanish class the year before. Our classes were only an hour long, but we always ended up putting twice that amount of time into our lesson planning. We spent the January vacation creating an outline for our four classes and figuring out how to build from one lesson to the next.

In the days leading up to each class, we’d visit the spare room in the language hallway of the high school where Ms. Ross kept books and binders full of readings, crosswords, arts and crafts projects, and games. Using a collection of four books designed for teaching Latin to young children, we’d photocopy pages and arrange them by theme in a packet for our students to complete and take home. We’d sometimes borrow a box containing whiteboards, dry erase markers, and erasers so that our students could practice their lessons – they were very helpful in our lesson on Roman numerals.

The first week was spent covering Roman mythology and the Latin roots that appear in the Harry Potter series. Ms. Raje, Ms. Holden, and I were pleasantly surprised to see how familiar our students were with the mythology. They had already learned about the gods, goddesses, and myths of the ancient Greeks, so we used that knowledge to teach them about the Roman version. The students were also adept at identifying the Latin roots that J.K. Rowling used for her spells and characters’ names. Our students were surprised to learn, for example, that Severus Snape’s name comes from the Latin adjective “Severus,” which means “severe” or “stern” in English.

In the second and third weeks, we tackled the ambitious goal of teaching our students the Latin names for animals. Using worksheets, crosswords, a chart, and a game called Vinco, we taught everything from domestic and barnyard animals to the ferocious wild animals that the Romans would import into Italy – such as lions and tigers. We enhanced their vocabulary with a crossword teaching the English adjectives such as “ursine,” which means “like a bear.” The class quickly learned how to take the Latin names for the animals and change the endings to find the corresponding adjectives. The OHS students thoroughly enjoyed the round of Vinco, which is an exact replica of Bingo. Cleverly, “vinco” means “I win” in Latin and the two winners from our class loved shouting it!

In our last class, the three of us taught a variety of cultural facts. We largely focused on the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Roman theater, and the sheer magnitude and importance of the Roman public bathhouses. Our students were intrigued and shocked by revelations such as the Romans’ method for getting clean — using oil and a metal scraper, called a strigil — and the number of participant deaths in the naval battles staged in the Colosseum.

After learning about the different ways someone could end up becoming a gladiator, our class applied their knowledge to an arts and crafts project that required matching pictures of the four kinds of gladiators to their description. The finished product was a pop-up book entitled “The Mighty Gladiators.”

The capstone to this final class was a demonstration of the different fighting styles the gladiators would use in their combats. With the help of Ms. Holden, the pair of us acted out two battles. The first was between a Thracian and a Murmillo, or a lightly-armed gladiator against a heavily-armed one. Our second battle was between a Retarius and a Samnite; the children enjoyed this fight immensely as I entrapped my opponent, the Samnite Ms. Holden, using my “fishing net,” which was really Ms. Raje’s jacket. At the conclusion of our demonstration, the class unanimously agreed that if they were a gladiator, they would have liked to be a Retarius so that they could fight using a trident and fishing net.

It was a successful end to the first session for our class, as well as for the other Latin and Spanish classes. The volunteers from ORR will begin preparations soon in anticipation of the second session.

… an interesting strategy …

Hurricane Reveals an Unknown Roman Site in Bulgaria

A couple of brief items from Standart are — as often — tantalizingly vague. First:

The strong hurricane which rages near the city of Bourgas made a favour to the Bulgarian archaeologists.
The hurricane has unearthed an ancient Roman town,” mayor of Bourgas Dimitar Nikolov was happy to say.
The merciless wave washed away tones of mud to discover the relics. The finding is located in the northern part of Sarafovo residential district as part of the town lies on the border with a vacation house of the ministry of defense. “We have no idea what the name of the settlement was because it is not described or seen on the old maps and documents. A stone pillar with inscriptions has been discovered and the future excavations will definitely find other written sources to help us learn the name of the place,” the director of the Bulgarian National Museum of History Prof. Bozhidar Dimitrov told the Standart.
In Mr. Dimitrov’s opinion, the settlement had a strategic significance in the past.
“The relics are quite monumental and tell us it was a big town,” Mr Dimitrov states.

The original online article has a subtitle referring to a sarcophagus find … that appears to have been dealt with in a separate piece:

The hurricane that has recently hit Bourgas, southern Black Sea coast, has made an unexpected gift to archeologists. The stormy seas unearthed the ruins of an ancient Roman settlement and an adjacent port. Having raged for two days and nights the waves uncovered twelve metres of the frontal walls of a huge building – about 2.5 metres high. The sea has also brought to light something that resembles a stone sarcophagus. Archeologists believe a noble Roman might have been buried in it. A day later, however, some of these same archeologists expressed more reserved views on the finding assuming this could be just the pool of an ancient fountain. Nothing, though, can be known for sure before the sea calms down and archeologists get access to the place.

That second item is accompanied by a sort of ‘coastal’ photo … not sure if it’s meant to be a photo of the finds or what, but adds the detail that the finds date back to the time of Justinian.

More press coverage:

Camels In the Roman Empire? There’s Evidence for That!

Hot on the heels of our questioning of a claim over at Gizmodo (Camels in Greece? Really Gizmodo? Source? comes news of a paper on archaeological evidence for camel use in the Roman Empire in — of all places — Belgium! I first saw it in USA Today, but the abstract for the source article is available at the Journal of Archaeological Science page at Elsevier:

Fabienne Pigièrea, Denis Henrotay, Camels in the northern provinces of the Roman Empire


This paper describes the camel bones discovered in two Late Roman contexts from Arlon (Belgium). The morphological and metrical analyses identify the animal as a dromedary.

The goal of this paper is also to provide an inventory of all camel finds published for the northern provinces of the Roman Empire. Based on a review of twenty-two archaeological sites with camel bones, it is shown that both the dromedary and Bactrian camel were imported to the northern Roman provinces and that the camels were present throughout the whole Roman period. This study also demonstrates that the camel discoveries cannot be linked exclusively with military contexts, as traditionally postulated. Indeed, several finds derive from civilian settlements (villas and cities). All sites with camel remains are located close to roads and are widespread throughout the Roman road network. It is suggested that the camels imported to the northern provinces might have been originally pack animals linked with both military and civilian traffic.

► We describe the remains of a Late Roman dromedary from a site in Belgium.

► A review of camel finds from 22 sites in the northern Roman provinces is provided.

► Both dromedary and Bactrian camel were imported throughout the whole Roman period.

► Camel discoveries derive from both military and civilian settlements.

► They might have been pack animals linked with the traffic on the Roman road.

As might be expected, if you want to read the whole thing you have to shell out 30+ dollars … that said, for no particular reason except this is one of those things that stuck in my head from grade school when we were studying the assorted gold rushes in British Columbia (or maybe I saw a picture in a museum): some enterprising guy back in the 1860s brought 23 camels to B.C. to serve as pack animals

Michael Scott on Life in Ancient Greece

From a Cambridge press release (which is being picked up by other services) comes hype for a talk which will be part of the Darwin Lectures … this one’s by Michael Scott on life in ancient Greece:

There’s a general feeling that we don’t get the Greeks – ancient or modern. Many, including heads of state like Angela Merkel, visibly shake their head in exasperation, rightly or wrongly, at the Greek response to the(ir) economic crisis. And most newspaper articles either start or round up their coverage of the modern situation with some expression of nostalgic comparison to the glory days of ancient Greece. But to what exactly are we referring? Just what was life like in ancient Greece?

It sounds a simple question, one which scholars around the world have been working on in various ways for hundreds of years. Surely, we should have a pretty good answer by now. And yet, the moment you scratch beneath the surface of the traditional comparison, the issue becomes more confusing. Compare, for a moment, the Romans. Most people, I would argue, have a pretty good picture in their heads about what the Romans were like. But the Greeks? If the heavily divided reactions to portrayals of ancient Greece in recent Hollywood movies are anything to go by (remember the furor around Oliver Stone’s Alexander in comparison to the more general triumph of Gladiator), we are much more divided over how to imagine the ancient Greeks than we might initially think. In short, while we know we owe them a lot, we struggle to agree on what they were really like.

In part, that continuing uncertainty and conflict over what life was like in the ancient Greek world is a product of the very fact that we have been so interested and absorbed in the question. Since the 15th century, at the moment when people began to become interested in the surviving ruins of ancient Greece (as opposed to only its surviving literature), what life in ancient Greece was like has been an increasingly busy battleground not just for academics interested in the ancient world, but for artists, collectors, writers, politicians and philosophers to name but a few. For much of that time, ancient Greece has been held up as an ideal, and as such, something in which much of Western Europe has a heavy stake. But an ideal of what? In part because so little was known about the realities of ancient Greece in the 15th-17th centuries, the articulation of ancient Greece as an ideal rested upon modern re-imaginings of the pictures conjured up by ancient literature, populated with increasing numbers of pieces of ancient ‘art’ and architecture as they came to light, which were then ‘fitted in’ to that model. It was in effect something of a blank canvas, an ‘ideal’ ancient world which in fact could be fashioned to look like whatever the modern world wanted their ‘ideal’ to be.

As a result, our picture of life in ancient Greece not only became a fundamental part of the geology of the mental landscape of Western Europe, but also, more importantly, was fundamentally fashioned by the events, needs and ideas of that world. And as those events, needs and ideas have changed and been debated in our world over the centuries since, so too has the resulting – often conflicted – picture of ancient Greece. At times it has been a place of ideal grandeur, at others primitive reality. Sometimes the epitome of noble simplicity and at other times one of savage cruelty. A perpetual holiday realm, a foreign distant never-never land, a ‘twin’ of the modern era, a waste of space – ancient Greece has been all of these things and more to us over the centuries.

Nor has the growing ‘academic’ study of ancient Greece and particularly that of archaeology – itself born from and motivated by the perception of Greece as an ideal – been able to settle that debate. Sometimes, early Greek sculpture was brutally transfigured to ensure it fitted with modern morality (like the hacking off genitals and the covering up of nudity). At other times, it has fired up the debate even further, for example when the detailed study of the Parthenon marbles led many scholars to deny they were Greek at all, so far did they diverge from what was thought to be ‘the’ nature of ancient Greek art and ancient Greece. Today’s scholarship continues to complicate the debate by making clear just how much Greece was not a monolithic unchanging entity in the ancient world either, but rather a flexible grouping of peoples with sometimes very different ideals, forces and attitudes, all responding to a harsh and constantly changing world.

The result of all this is two-fold. First, it makes the question ‘who were the ancient Greeks?’ far more interesting: we need to think not only about the complexities of their ancient reality, but also about how they have been represented over the centuries. Second, it means that studying the ancient Greeks actually offers us a mirror with which to study ourselves. How we have chosen to envisage them at any one time tells us as much about us as it does about them. And as the Greeks come to the fore once again as the barometer of the world financial crisis, coupled with nostalgic longings for ‘the good old days’ of ancient Greece, at the same time as the Olympics, with its own ancient Greek heritage, hits London in 2012, it seems clear that the question ‘what was life like in the ancient world’ has a long life of its own still to live.

Dr Michael Scott’s lecture ‘Life in the Ancient World’ is at 5.30pm at the Lady Mitchell Hall, Sidgwick Site, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB39DA. All welcome. Please arrive by 5.15pm to ensure a seat. For more on Michael Scott’ work or follow him on Twitter at @drmichaelcscott