Sign and word: the birth and development of writing in the Roman world

Rooms 2 and 3 of the Museum of Written Communication in the Roman World make it possible to explore five centuries of history in just a few short steps, from the foundation of Rome in the 8th century BC to the period of its expansion in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.

The creation and development of writing can be traced from the most ancient documents (three of which are present as 1:1-scale copies: the Eulin clay pot, the brooch known as the Praeneste fibula, and the funerary cippus from the Niger Lapis complex within the Roman forum, the oldest Latin inscription on stone). These were characterised by the ‘retrograde’ trend in writing, namely from right and left, as can be seen in the Lavinio memorial stone and the cippus from Acquoria, and by characters that were still developing, as on the Lapis Satricanus, the base of a thanksgiving offering re-used in the foundations of the temple of the Mater Matuta. In the 3rd century BC, Rome exercised its power over conquered territories: writing spread and continued its journey, although still exhibiting considerable differences compared to the elegant inscriptions of the Imperial age, as can be seen from the dedications to the god Aesculapius originating from Tiber Island. There was still widespread use of travertine and local stone, such as the limestone crown from Palestrina or the peperino used in the small base from Ardea.