A study of inscribed material from Roman Britain
: An inquiry into some aspects of literacy in Romano-British society

  • Marilynne E. Raybould

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The aim of this thesis is to test the theory that literacy in Roman Britain was largely an achievement of a wealthy, educated social elite. Inscribed material from Roman Britain has been examined in connection with four areas of human activity: religion, working life, funerary practice and personal, social and domestic life. In each of these areas there has been an attempt to identify the writers or instigators of the inscriptions, the reasons for their literate output, and the practical and literate skills involved in producing the written record. There is also an appreciation of the style of production and the quality of the written Latin. Spelling tables are provided, at the end of each chapter, listing words in which the spelling deviates from normal Classical Latin forms and some other irregularities.

    It is clear that inscribed material which survives from Roman Britain can only be a tiny fraction of what was produced there. Furthermore, factors affecting survival mean that the archaeological record cannot be expected to be a representative sample of what was originally written. There are additional problems when examining literacy in a past society. Each written record is only evidence of the skill required to produce that piece of writing. It cannot reveal the full capabilities of the writer. The archaeological record can suggest literacy of a basic, moderate or high level, but it is important to bear in mind the limitations of the evidence: a simple, crudely carved inscription should not be regarded as indicative of poor literacy skills if no other evidence is available to confirm this.
    Date of Award1997
    Original languageEnglish


    • Inscriptions
    • Roman Britain
    • Literacy in a past society
    • Britannia
    • Latin inscriptions
    • History

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