Roman Britain (March 2016)

Roman Britain:

This month we’ll explore Roman Britain. Inside this issue: the famous Vindolanda tablets and an infinitives composition activity, a webquest about forts in Roman Britain, the warrior queen Boudicca, sand castle molds, and more!

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Main Feature: Two New Lesson Plans
Each issue will feature two lesson or activity ideas: one related to the Latin language, and one related to Classical Studies (Greek or Roman culture, mythology, or history).


Introduction: In this lesson, students examine the Vindolanda tablets for their archaeological significance, and they are also introduced to Roman cursive. They then make their own tablets, composing sentences about themselves in Latin for their classmates to read.

Background: The Vindolanda tablets are writing tablets which were found at the site of a Roman fort at Vindolanda in the northern part of England. They are made of very thin wood, were written on with ink, and most likely date to the early second century A.D.  They were used not only for keeping military records, but also for personal messages among the Romans living there.  The tablets tell us about daily life in Roman Britain. Some interesting insights into daily life include a birthday party invitation (Tablet 291) and also a list of clothing that includes socks and underwear (Tablet 346). Some good introductory information about Vindolanda can be found at

Objectives: Students will be able to describe the significance of the Vindolanda tablets. They will also compose sentences with infinitives and impersonal verbs in order to discuss activities they like to do.

Special Concerns: During the composition portion of this lesson, beginning students can stick to the composition guide, but more advanced students should feel free to add additional sentences with vocabulary and constructions of their choice.  This will, of course, give the advanced students more of a challenge and make their tablets more interesting for the other groups to read!


  • mini dry-erase boards (1 per student) and dry-erase markers (1 per student), or tablets with which students can use a “white board” app such as the Show Me Interactive Whiteboard
  • cardboard cut into postcard-sized rectangles (1 per student)
  • Tablet composition guide


  1. Explain to the students what the Vindolanda tablets are, using the background information above as well as photos from the website Vindolanda Tablets Online. Students might comment on the script, which will look nothing like the modern typing in their Latin textbooks! This is a good time to show them a guide to Roman cursive, such as the one below (click to enlarge) or the one found here. Explain that the Vindolanda tablets were written in the Old Roman Cursive script. A discussion might follow about handwriting and the fact that the details of the script would vary from person to person, just as our modern handwriting varies individually.

    Roman Cursive
  2. Show students the Vindolanda tablet birthday invitation and give them the gist of what it says. An English translation is provided on that same webpage. Help students to identify some of the Latin words in the letter. The small icons at the top left of the webpage will allow you to view different parts of the tablet. You can also zoom in on an image by clicking, “Open image zooming viewer,” but be patient because it may take a minute to load.
  3. Show students the guide to Roman cursive again, and let them practice writing letters in the Roman cursive script using mini dry-erase boards (or tablets with a white board app). They might enjoy writing their names or favorite Latin words and then having their classmates decode what they have written.
  4. Now it’s time for the students to make their own tablets!
    • Divide the class into groups of about four or five students each. We are going to pretend that each group is its own modern-day civilization that just happens to speak Latin!
    • Each group will compose very short Latin compositions on postcard-sized pieces of cardboard on the topic of their favorite activities. They will focus on using infinitives with impersonal verbs such as “mihi placet.” Hand out or project the composition guide for students to follow. Beginning students can stick to the composition guide (see the link in the materials list above), but more advanced students should feel free to add additional sentences with vocabulary and constructions of their choice. A great resource for this activity is the Latin picture dictionary, Vocabula Picta, which includes modern vocabulary.
    • When the compositions are ready, students write them in Roman cursive on the pieces of cardboard.
    • Finally, each group will play the role of archaeologist while examining another group’s compositions. As they transcribe and read the cardboard tablets, they should determine what they can know about the group as a civilization.



Introduction: This lesson draws on a couple of very good websites to guide students through an exploration of Roman Britain.

Background: The Romans occupied Britain in 43 AD and radically changed its landscape over the 300 plus years they occupied the island.

Objectives: Students will be able to to describe the geography of Roman Britain and some of its archaeological sites.


  • Computers or tablets for students to use
  • Roman Fort Webquest – available here as a Google Document (students can access it)
  • Answer Key for the Roman Fort Webquest


  1. Give students some brief background information about Roman Britain, and tell them that they will complete a webquest in order to explore the geography of Roman Britain, as well as some of its archaeological sites.
  2. Direct students to the webquest (link above), and have them follow the procedures within it. Please note that many of the questions could have multiple answers. Encourage students to suggest theories based on the evidence that they see, and guide them as needed. An answer key is provided (link above) for teacher use.
  3. After students have completed the webquest, have each student report to the class on the two archaeological sites which he or she chose for the final question.


Online Resource:

Each issue will feature a new or popular online resource that could prove useful for Latin and Classical Studies instruction. We aim to stay current so that you can wow your students with how “with-it” you are when it comes to technology!

This issue, we want to share with you a kid-friendly, funny video titled “A Day in the Life of a 10 year-old in Roman Britain.”  It centers on a boy whose imagination brings him back in time to a villa in Britain.  He explores the food, house layout, and cultural practices of the time, often finding himself in awkward or silly situations.  This will be a hit with young children and for will provide a light-hearted review of Roman daily life in Britain for older children.


Famous Roman: Boudicca

Each issue will feature a famous individual or group from Greek or Roman history whom you may wish to explore with your students.

Boudicca was a powerful British queen of the Iceni tribe who led a revolt against the Romans in 60 AD when Romans took control of her tribe’s lands.  Following the death of her husband Prasutagus, her wealth had been left to their daughters and to the emperor Nero.  Prasutagus had hoped that this favor would assure the Roman empire’s protection.  Instead, the Romans began to exploit the Iceni people through annexation and plundering.  Boudicca allied the Iceni with other British tribes and burned several key Roman cities in Britain, including Londinium (modern day London).  From 60-61 C.E., Boudicca fought bravely and left many Roman towns in ruins, but ultimately lost the war and took her own life.  After some staggering defeats and Roman victory, Boudicca killed herself by drinking poison.


Random Find: Sand Castle Molds

Many items being sold today do not directly connect to Latin and Classical Studies, but with a little effort, we can adapt them to serve our purposes. This section explores these types of objects. 

These are sand-building molds of the Colosseum and the Parthenon, along with some other random sand-castle toys.


  1. If teachers wanted to talk about Romanization, they could have the kids learn the key components of a Roman town (Forum, Temples, Amphitheatre, Baths, and Roads) and then create their own in the classroom. Students could use the Parthenon as a generic temple mold and the Colosseum, of course, as a generic amphitheater mold, and then they can use their own creativity to construct the other structures they need to make. You do not have to use sand: Jell-o could work well, too!mold2
  2. The same site also has a “Great Wall” sand mold. To learn the geography of Roman Britain, students can draw a giant Britain map using a vinyl shower curtain. Hang the curtain on the wall, project the image of Britain and major cities onto it, then draw with a marker. Next, students could use the Great Wall mold to build Hadrian’s Wall in the correct areas.


Featured Word: transcribe

Each issue will feature a challenging English word that we encourage you and your students to explore together. The English word will always come from one or more Latin words. 

In Lesson 1 above, students practiced “transcribing” their names and other words into the Roman cursive alphabet. Similarly, the scholars who first worked on the Vindolanda tablets had to “transcribe” the Roman cursive into our modern letters of the alphabet before they could read the Latin words on them. Ask students if they can deduce the meaning of transcribe from the Latin words “trāns” and “scrībere,” and help them to understand how transcribe literally means “to write across.”

In addition to writing something out in another language or alphabet, transcribe has some other meanings. It can mean to make a written copy of something that was first spoken, such as a lecture or a radio recording. In music, it means to set up a composition so that it can be played on an instrument for which it was not originally intended.


Advice & Questions

Q: What are some additional resources that can be used to teach about Roman Britain?

A: Minimus: Starting Out in Latin is a textbook which has long been praised for its approachable and engaging method of teaching the youngest Latin learners.  The book centers on the life of a mouse who lives with a family in Roman Britain.  The story and illustrations are based on archaeological finds, authentic Latin texts, and historical research related to the Roman fort in northern Britain named Vindolanda.  Ascanius uses Minimus with its “Let’s Learn Latin!” workshops for teachers who would like to explore Latin and learn how to use it with their students. In addition, when The Shooting Star contributor Skye Shirley used the book to teach homeschoolers, she was impressed by its layout and historical connections, and finds it a helpful resource for young age groups.

The Roman Baths Museum in England

The Vindolanda Tablets online

Online article with a lot of illustrations on the archaeology of Roman Britain

The Boudicca Song (taken from Horrible Histories and if you own them, it’s well worth it it use their version) Lyrics are here.

Link to the archaeological report from Inchtuthil, a very well preserved and well excavated Roman fortress.