Barbara Bell the author of Minimus Latin, takes us through the story behind the creation of the books and how they came to be set at Vindolanda.

Barbara first spotted that there was a gap in the market for a children's Latin book when she started to receive letters from parents asking for advice on how to teach their young children, and through her own teaching experience of finding that the children she was teaching lacked an understanding of grammar, which was essential for learning Latin. Barbara felt if she could write a simple guide to Latin and make links from the Latin to English, because as much as two thirds of all the words we speak in English come from Latin, she would be able to teach them useful parts of English through their Latin and this could be a very useful book!

It would be a challenge however. To make it easier Barbara created a group of advisers to help her create a book with the right tone for 7-10 year olds. The first of these advisers would turn out to be one of the most important. Barbara met Helen Forte at a talk she was giving before she had even started writing the book. After the talk Helen came to speak to her and said 'This is the book I've been waiting for' and a dream author-illustrator relationship was born. Helen's illustrations brought to life the family in the books and engaged the children with the stories.

The big question was where to set the story and the team decided that if they wanted the book to be used by schools in Britain, it should be based somewhere in Roman Britain; most of our Primary Schools teach the Romans and the historical basis of Minimus is very important. As soon as Vindolanda was mentioned Barbara says 'it was like a key turned in a lock and all the ideas started tumbling out'! It was a great place to look at all the different topics such as the Roman army, general Roman life, religion and it had a real family to base the story on.

Aerial View of ancient monument Vindolanda Roman Fort

Barbara was inspired by the site but also by the amazing artefacts recovered that allowed you to really dive into the past. In particular, Lepidina's sandal, the writing tablets and even the jewellery. Being able to link these items to the characters in her story brought them to life and grounded both the story and the illustrations in the history of the site.

Some of the writing tablets that inspired events in the Minimus book were the famous birthday party invitation, the tablet from Masculus asking for more beer for his men and a copied section of Virgil marked by the teacher as sloppy work!

In fact the only story in the book not based on an artefact or information in the writing tablets was about Candidus making Rufus a wooden sword to play with. To Barbara's surprise when she came to visit in 2004, they had actually found a wooden toy sword just like the one she had imagined in her story! 

Due to its popularity Minimus has been printed in many languages, including Italian and Portuguese, and the story of Minimus and his family continues in Minimus Secundus.

Here you can see a film Barbara Bell has produced telling the tale of her journey to creating Minimus in her own words.

You can purchase your copy of Minimus in our shop and start your journey learning Latin now