Watch Out – Chariots About!

I never had the chance to learn Latin at school, and it something I have always regretted. A generation before me, my mother did study Latin, and loathed it with a passion until, in later life, she came to appreciate what a wonderful key to learning it can be. All those enigmatic inscriptions in churches explained; all those word derivations at once a thousand times clearer. Of course, it used to be the case that a knowledge of Latin was required to gain entry to some of the leading universities in the country, which is where the tradition of studying Latin at prep school originated. That is no longer the case anymore, but I believe strongly that we should continue to value Latin as a subject, and the children at Eversfield are lucky to have the opportunity to experience it at such an early age. 

You might be forgiven for assuming that the first requirement for learning Latin is a dry and dusty textbook, but here at Eversfield we use a book that is both colourful and very child friendly. Entitled Minimus, it sets Latin firmly in the context of Roman Britain, with which the children are already familiar from their History lessons in Form 3. Minimus is a mouse living at the fort of Vindolanda, built by the Romans close to Hadrian’s Wall, which incidentally can still be visited today. Other characters include Flavius, the governor of the fort, his wife Lepidina, two children called Flavia and Rufus, and a slave by the name of Candidus. 

Interestingly, Candidus is not a Roman by birth. He was born into the Ancient British tribe Brigantes, and was enslaved after the Roman invasion of AD43. In their most recent Latin lesson, 5MS and Mrs Hastings have been finding out more about the Ancient Britons, and trying to understanding what the Roman conquest must have felt like from the point of view of Candidus. Even though the invaders encountered some bitter opposition, and had to work hard to impose their authority on the conquered land, the British tribes were by no means wiped out. Over time, and although these changes had begun many years before the invasion, the British were increasingly assimilated into Roman ways, drinking more wine and eating greater quantities of food such as olives and garlic imported from the continent. An embodiment of this is Chedworth Roman Villa, visited by children in Form 6 as part of their Latin studies, which is thought to have been the sumptuous country residence of a British family who collaborated with and prospered under Roman rule.

The first task of the lesson was to gain an understanding of the skills the Ancient Britons possessed. 5MS immediately identified their expertise in farming, which was very useful to the Roman invaders, whose knowledge of the cool maritime British climate was sketchy at best. Even more strikingly, the Ancient Britons could fight bravely and were able to drive chariots at impressive speed, as you can see from the fierce and warlike illustrations in the children’s books. 

Moving on, Mrs Hastings asked the children to translate a few sentences from Latin on the subject of Romans and Britons. Focusing closely on the Latin words enabled the pupils to make links between the ancient language and the words we use today, noticing similarities in spelling patterns. Rosa immediately spotted the link between habitas and habitat, and the idea of a habitat being a home. Meanwhile, Lucy was interested in the fact that directae translates as straight. A straight Roman road takes the most direct route between settlements, and from this derives our modern word direction.

In the last part of the lesson, the focus moved to the character and experience of Candidus. Mrs Hastings wanted the class to consider whether, despite being enslaved, Candidus actually enjoyed a better standard of living with Flavius and his family than he might have done before the Roman conquest. This is an excellent example of how we strive in our lessons to encourage children to confront large and often abstract ideas, form opinions and express their views to others. Ollie was quick to point out that Candidus was clearly treated well at Vindolanda, although the same might not be said for all slaves in Roman Britain. Some masters might have beaten him, Caiden added. Raahil observed that Candidus was well fed, and perhaps he enjoyed a more varied diet than he would have done as part of his British tribe. Lucy, however, wanted to strike a more cautionary note, suggesting that for all his good treatment, it wasn’t nice to be a slave. Emilia questioned whether good treatment could ever make up for the loss of freedom he suffered.

Form 5 will continue their adventures in Latin next term, but in the meantime I shall turn my attention to events many miles away from Vindolanda but not so distant in time, which greatly disturbed another Roman governor by the name of Herod. May I wish you a very Merry Christmas or, as the Romans might have said, Felicem Diem Nativitas!