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:-
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?

Comments are closed for this object

Most of the content on A History of the World is created by the contributors, who are the museums and members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC or the British Museum. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site’s House Rules please Flag This Object.

About this object

Click a button to explore other objects in the timeline




182 CE


View more objects from people in Manchester.

Find out more

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.