The Manchester Wordsquare

Contributed by The Manchester Museum

The Manchester Wordsquare

This piece of broken pottery incised with letters in Latin was found during excavation in the 1970s in the centre of Manchester. Normally the discovery of broken pieces of Roman pottery does not cause great excitement but the writing on this potsherd ROTAS OPERA was very similar to better preserved word squares found in different parts of the Roman Empire that had Christian connotations. The complete wordsquare would have read:-
ROTAS
OPERA
TENET
AREPO
SATOR
or "Arepo the sower guides the wheels with care". This appeared to be nonsense until the lettering was read as a kind of code and the words PATERNOSTER or "our father" revealed. The un-used letters were A and O or alpha and omega - again charged with Christian meaning. Inscriptions like this were used to identify fellow-believers at a time when the Christian religion was being persecuted by the Roman authorities. The stratigraphic location of the potsherd in the civilian settlement attached to the Roman fort of Manchester gives this a very precise date in 182 CE. This is very early for Christianity in northern Roman Britian. Another intepretation is possible. Is this simply a doodle, a game or a passtime?

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Location

Spain

Culture
Period

182 CE

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