February 1st

salve = Hello (also salutem = greetings)

A common greeting from Roman Vindolanda and a great way to start off our 28 days of Latin - salve! Today, we get the word ‘salutation’ from this Latin derivation meaning greetings.

In writing tablet number 261, Hostilius Flavianus gives his best wishes for the new year to his friend Cerealis. We still greet our friends in the same way each new year!

Fun Fact: You can still say ‘salve’ to someone in Italy and it still mean ‘hello’!

February 2nd

terra = ground

 A very important one for us at Vindolanda and Magna, as there is so much exciting archaeology buried beneath the ground. The ground and its conditions play such a huge part in the archaeology that we see, and the preservation of the artefacts held within it for up to nearly 2000 years.

Today, we get words like terrain and territory from this Latin beginning.

photograph of a section of excavation with layers of turf making up a rampart. 

Find out more about how climate change is affecting the ground conditions at Magna.

February 3rd

soror = sister

Probably one of the most famous writing tablets ever found at Vindolanda including the oldest piece of handwriting by a woman from the Roman period is the birthday party invitation. In this Claudia Severa invites Sulpicia Lepidina to spend the day with her on her birthday and signs off the letter with the words ‘Farewell, sister, my dearest soul’. 

Today, we get words like sorority (a club for women or girls) and sororal (sisterly) from this word. In Italian the word for sister is sorella and in French it is soeur.

vale soror anima mea’ - Tablet 291 - Birthday Invitation

February 4th

scribis = you write

There are so many words that derive from scribis today, such as, scribe, script, scribble, description, inscription, and more, the list is almost endless. The Romans gave us our alphabet and writing system too. We owe them a lot! 

This beautiful object is an ink pen that would have been used to write on to the writing tablets by dipping into ink first.

February 5th

subligaria = underwear

This literally translates as ‘things which are tied below’.

sub = below   We get ‘below’ words in English like submarine (underneath the sea); submerge (put below/go below)

ligare = to tie/to bind In English, we get words like ‘ligature’ something which is used to tie other things together.

Here at Vindolanda one of our favourite writing tablets is number 346, the socks and underpants tablet. It was the first writing tablet to be recognised as a writing tablet and so started off a whole new way of digging and learning about the people of Vindolanda. In this letter the writer is letting someone at Vindolanda know he has sent him some socks and underpants. Something you would absolutely want to keep in good stock for the colder days at Vindolanda.

Photograph of writing tablet no. 346 with evidence of latin cursive script.

February 6th

canis = dog

The English word canine which means doglike or relating to dogs is derived from this word.

At Vindolanda we have found lots of evidence for dogs at Vindolanda, with everything from small chihuahua type dogs right the way to large wolfhoundesque dogs that would have been used for hunting. We often find that some of our dogs have been a little naughty and we find evidence of them where they shouldn’t be! This tile below shows where a dog has run across a set of floor tiles as they lay out to dry leaving behind his pawprint.

February 7th

miles = soldiers 

There are a lot of English words that relate to soldiers and soldiering that derive from this word such as military, militias, and militarise.

At the Roman Army Museum, we explore what life was like for soldiers in the Roman army. Staring from joining up and learning the language, as Latin was the language of the military, if you didn’t speak it, you would have been taught it so you could understand your commands. Right the way through to what kit you would wear and when you could retire. Find out more about the Roman Army Museum.

February 8th

amicus = friend

We get ‘amicable’, amiable, amiability, amiably, amicably…all coming from the meaning of ‘friendly’.

Fun Fact: all of this comes from the Latin ‘amare’ meaning to love (“amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant”) might ring some bells to many people.

In Tablet 299, we can see someone has a great friend who has sent him a gift of 50 oysters – yum! We find oysters quite regularly at Vindolanda during our excavation in the anaerobic layers of the site.

‘…Cordonouis amicus missit mihi ostria quinquaginta…’

February 9th

sagittarius = archer 

The Latin word comes from ‘sagitta’ meaning arrow and ‘sagittarius’ literally means ‘of an arrow’. We have Sagittarius in our horoscope (Nov 23 – Dec 21) because it relates to a constellation of an archer.

Fun fact: Street Latin would have used something from ‘flectere’ for ‘arrow. ‘Flectere’ means to bend (inflection, genuflection). We get ‘fletcher’ in English a person who makes and sells arrows. We quite often use professions for surnames; hence Fletcher exists as a surname in Britain.

We know at Magna Roman Fort we had one of the most elite archery units in the Roman army - the Syrian archers. 

February 10th

aqua = water

Another important one on site at Vindolanda you may have seen our aqueduct that runs to the bath house at the west of the site, or you might think of the hidden wooden waterpipes that carry the water under the ground. Water management was and still is very important at Vindolanda especially during some of our hard summer downpours.

Today words like aquarium, Aquarius and aquatic all derive from this Latin word.

To find out more about water at Vindolanda watch Marta our Deputy Director of Excavations’ video about its journey through the site.

February 11th

mus = Mouse

From this we get ‘murine’ in English, meaning mouse-like or relating to mice or rats. Also mouse itself is a close form to mus.

We find evidence of mice on site at Vindolanda in the form of skeletal remains, though very rarely as their bones are delicate. A great find from the archives during 2020 has added another little mouse to our collection, you can find out more by watch the video below with our Curator Barbara.

There is also a very special mouse called Minimus who helps us to learn Latin! Minimus means mini mouse. Minimus lives at Vindolanda and explores the site with his friends learning Latin as they go. It is a great way to start your journey to learning Latin.

February 12th

sinister/dexter = left/ right

These can be abbreviated to sin and dex for commands for the soldiers when marching and you’ll often hear this when the Ermine Street Guard are on site. Sinister means left but in English it means having evil characteristics or a dark purpose, until very recently people who were left-handed used to be forced to write with their right hands as it used to be seen as a sign of the devil. We also have ‘dexterous’ which means having or showing a skill especially with the hands.

A great writing tablet is by a man called Octavius, who appears to be left-handed. His letter reverses the conventional way to read writing tablets (starting from the left-hand side and then reading the right), his letter starts on the top right quadrant then moves to the left then to the bottom right and then finishes on the left quadrant!

Black and white image of a writing tablet comprised of 4 wooden leaves with cursive Latin written on in ink

February 13th

gladius = sword

We get words like gladiator, a sword fighter (in arenas like the Colosseum in Rome), gladiatorial; fighting like a gladiator and even gladioli a type of flower that looks a bit like a sword!

At Vindolanda in 2017, we uncovered 2 swords from the excavations. They are now on display in the Vindolanda museum. One of them even had the remains of its wooden pommel and scabbard!

February 14th

equus = horse

This is high or Classical Latin spoken and written by the Roman upper classes. Vulgar or Street Latin (Latin spoken by ordinary people) helped to create the Romance or the European languages of French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and many European dialects. Latin even got into German, Welsh, Scandinavian languages and of course English!

We get ‘equestrian’; equine; equerry’ – all words relating to horses.

Street Latin for ‘horse’ is caballus which basically means ‘ordinary horse or pack horse’…so we get caballo in Spanish, cavallo in Italian and cheval in French. Hence we get ‘chivalry’ and ‘chivalrous’ in English.

February 15th

caseum = cheese

The Romans used the phrase caseum formaticum meaning cheese made into a mould (forma). Cheese eventually ended up just being called by the word formaticum for mould which is where we get the Italian word for cheese, formaggio, and the French word for cheese, fromage. Meanwhile, the Spanish stayed with ‘caseum’ for cheese, queso and so did the English, cheese.

caseum premere = to make cheese, literally means to press cheese in Latin. Here you can see one of the cheese presses found at Vindolanda. Definitely something little Minimus would have enjoyed!


February 16th

aquila = eagle

In English, aquiline means of or relating to an eagle. The aquila was a prominent symbol used in ancient Roman times, especially as the standard of a Roman legion. For any Roman legion the eagle was its heart and soul. To lose the eagle meant the end of the legion, at least until it could be recaptured!

Aguila (Spanish); aquila (Italian); aigle (French).

Both of our museums have animals from standards as their logos, Vindolanda has a horse as a replica of a standard that was found on site and the Roman Army Museum has an eagle as it was such an important symbol for the whole of the Roman army. We even have a replica standard within the museum and our 3D film explores the history of Hadrian's Wall through the eyes of aquila the eagle.

You can watch the trailer here and see the film at the Roman Army Museum.

February 17th

frater = brother

English words derived from frater are fraternal (brotherly), fraternity (group of people organised around a common interest/purpose), fraternisation (to get together on friendly/brotherly terms). In other languages the word for brother are also related to frater: frère (French); fratello (Italian).

In the writing tablet below, Nigus and Brocchus write to Cerialis they call him brother on multiple occasions, in this sense it takes on the meaning of friends as we see in fraternity rather than familial brothers.

February 18th

caliga = heavy-soled hobnailed military sandal boot, (caligae plural).

These were worn as standard issue by Roman legionary and auxiliary foot soldiers. Caligula, the Emperor, was the 3rd Roman emperor ruling from 37AD to 41AD. He became known as ‘Little Boot’ ‘Caligula’. Caligula was a childhood nickname given to him by the soldiers of his father, a Roman general, known as Germanicus Caesar, nephew and adoptive son of the Emperor Tiberius.

Solearius was a sandal-maker, solea was a leather sole strapped onto the foot…hence we get ‘sole’ for the foot.

Vindolanda has one of the largest collections of Roman footwear from the Roman Empire and some of the shoes survive in amazing condition. This allows us to get a glimpse of the personalities of people, the fashions of the time and the skills of she shoemakers. Our wall of shoes at Vindolanda as you enter the museum has some beautiful examples of all types of shoe, including some like the one below, this military boot.


To learn more about shoes you can watch a lecture by Professor Elizabeth Green who is currently studying our leather shoe collection.

February 19th

primus = first

Today, we have prime, primal, primary, primer, primitive and so on, that all relate back to this word.

primus pilus = first spear

The cohort became the basic tactical unit of the legions and the cohort comprised five to eight centuries, each led by a centurion. The senior centurion of the legion and commander of the first cohort was called the ‘primus pilus’ he was a career soldier and advisor to the legate. You can find out more about the structure of the Roman Army, the make-up of the legions and the auxiliary units, at the Roman Army Museum.

At Vindolanda, we get many firsts one exciting first is when we find a something that has never been found before. These are the first recovered boxing gloves from the Roman period they were found in 2017 and are truly a unique first find for us. The excavations will begin again at Vindolanda on the 28th March 2022 where we will hopefully have a few firsts.

February 20th

olivae = olives

The Romans introduced the humble olive to Britain and brought olive oil too (transported in amphorae – terracotta pots). Olives and olive oil were very important to the Romans, they used olive oil to put in their lamps to burn it and create light and they put olive oil on their bodies as soap. They would use a scraping device a strigil to remove the oil and dirt off their bodies and then wash with water.

Olives were usually served at the beginning of dinner as appetisers much like we do now. It is practically the same word in English/Spanish/Italian and French.

This amphora on display at Roman Vindolanda has a painted inscription listing the contents as 'white olives in boiled wine'.

February 21st

latrina = bath/lavatory

English has latrine and this is defined as ‘as a small pit used as a toilet, especially in a military camp or barracks’. latrina comes from the Latin verb meaning to wash lavare. In Spanish the is lavabo, in Italian, lavatrina/latrina.

At Vindolanda, in 2014 we had an amazing discovery of a wooden toilet seat. This has now been conserved and is on display at the Vindolanda museum. It is one of only a couple of wooden toilet seats ever found!

February 22nd

Fibula = pin/brooch

If we look at the Latin verb stems for ‘to fix/fasten’ we get figo, figere, fixi, fixum so we can see how fibula came to be known as a pin/brooch in Latin ‘the thing which is fixed on’.

We have an amazing range of brooches found at Vindolanda with many on display in the museum. One of our favourites is the duck brooch with its beautiful, swirled design. The quality and preservation of the piece meant that we were able to take a mould of it and recreate it and it is available to purchase in the shop.

February 23rd

cervesa = beer 

A Celtic word was used by the Romans for a drink that they discovered from places they conquered, which then became cervesa. Very interestingly the Italians have used another Latin root for beer (birra) and so do the French (bière). This comes from ‘bibere’, to drink (Latin) we get this in English with ‘libation’ and beverage. The Spanish, however, prefer to use ‘cerveza’ the Celtic word for beer.

At Vindolanda one of the best examples of glassware is the beautiful gladiator glass. Imported from the Rhineland this glass has been decorated with gladiators fighting. The glass was broken in the tavern and as the different pieces were swept up or covered over they moved away from each other. This means that the pieces of the gladiator glass were not found all together in fact they were found about 20 metres apart and over two decades of excavation. There may still be more of this fascinating object out there to be recovered!

February 24th

pecten = comb

Pecten in English used to relate to the bones in your hand from your wrist to your fingers which splay out like a comb though this has fallen out of use. It also relates to the genus family of scallops, which have shaped shells with ridges that run out from one central point. You can see the similarities in these shapes and the shape of combs all have ‘fingers’ which stem from one point.

Comb in other modern languages have derived from pecten, peine (Spanish); pettine (Italian); peigne (French). Interestingly another Latin term crinis = hair on the head, and this is where we get the term ‘crinoline’ from. Crinoline was described as a stiff fabric made of horsehair and cotton or linen from 16th century onwards.

At Vindolanda we have both combs and a wig (made from hair moss rather than hair)! We have over 350 wooden combs and each would have been personal to their owner and often have details and designs on them. You can see these on display at the Vindolanda museum.

This video details some of our curator Barbara's favourite combs or if you would like a little more detail have a listen to Barbara give a lecture on combs.

February 25th

ludus = game 

latruncunli or simply known as latrones means the game of brigands or soldiers. It comes from latrunculus, a diminutive of latro meaning thief/highwayman; ludus means game. This was a two-player strategy board game played throughout the Roman Empire. It is said to resemble chess or draughts, but it is generally accepted to be a game of military tactics. There are multiple interpretations of the available evidence as to how the game was played.

At Vindolanda we have lots of evidence of gaming. We find gaming counters made from stone, pottery, jet or glass (anything really could be used as a gaming counter if it was the right size) and gaming boards – flat stones with grids marked into them. We have even found some wooden dice, the design of which hasn’t changed in nearly 2000 years.

February 26th

libras = scales/balance of scales

A libra was a Roman unit of weight = 327 grams in Roman times and now 454 grams or a UK/US pound. We use it for a pound, unit of measure (lb) or as a pound, currency. This pound was brought to Britain and other provinces where it became the standard for weighing gold and silver and for use in all commercial transactions. The English pounds are known as ‘libras esterlinas’ in Spain. The word litre also comes from libras. In many other languages libras are shortened to lira and before the euro was introduced to Europe as their currency, the Italians had the Italian lira.

At Vindolanda, we have excavated lots of different weights, scales and attachments it would have been a key part of life at the fort.


February 27th

karrum = cart

(as written on Tab 343 but could more commonly be carrus)

This is where we get our word for car, carriage, carrying. The Europeans have taken slightly different words but in Latin American Spanish they still use ‘carro’ for car! The Latin for 'cart' came from a Celtic source as they, the Celts, were the experts of fighting and moving things on horseback. The Romans got their word for 'chariot' from this source as well.

The Vindolanda has evidence of carts and transportation through tracks worn into the main road, through wooden wheels found during the excavations and also through the writing tablets. Tablet 343 is a great one for this and shows how much we have in common with the Romans. It’s a letter from Octavius to Candidus and it makes a mention about the state of the roads – something we still like to complain about today whether its is potholes or the weather!

‘I would have been to collect them except that I did not care to injure the animals while the roads are bad.’

This wagon wheel was found in 2014.

February 28th

murus = wall

We have mural in English (a large picture painted on a wall), and muro and muralla (Spanish); muro (Italian); mur (French) all meaning wall.

This is an important one for 2022 as it is 1900 years since Hadrian’s Wall began to be built. Although both the Vindolanda and Magna settlements predate Hadrian’s Wall, it plays a key part in their changing roles over their years of occupation. At Vindolanda you can see our replica sections of Hadrian’s Wall and they give you an idea of what it might have looked like and how high the walls would have stood once.

We have lots of great events happening to celebrate the 1900 anniversary this year you can find out more on our events page.

This blog was created with the help of our friends at Minimus Latin at www.minimuslatin.co.uk 

And special thanks to Catherine at  www.hands-on-latin.com and www.handyhistory.co.uk for all the fun word play and derivations.

For more fun with Latin take a look at their websites.