Latin Students Study the Thrill of Victory

Veni, vidi, vici. Sixth graders in Brittany Farrar’s beginner/exploratory Latin classes learned the history of charioteers and gladiators through a contest of their own.

The lesson focused on “spectator sports in Rome (chariot racing) and Pompeii (gladiator matches), both the experience of attending an event and being in an arena space, as well as the lives and experiences of celebrity athletes,” Farrar explained.

Presented with a classroom “chariot race” challenge, students were divided into groups and tasked with identifying seven epigraphs of gladiator graffiti and tomb inscriptions about Roman sports. The sections that interpreted the images the fastest were declared the winners.

“I learned that ancient Roman graffiti was often not of good quality,” Ryan Hu ’28 said. “The sketches on the walls of the Roman Empire were crudely drawn; the lines were rarely straight, the curves often had bumps on them, and the drawings overall were undetailed and hard to figure out. This may be due to the Romans' lack of skill in drawing, or it could be because it was hard to draw on rock walls.” Hu noted that gladiators and chariot racing were clearly a significant part of Roman culture: “They loved the gladiators and chariot racers so much that they would draw graffiti about them.”

Saliyaah Diouf ’28 agreed, sharing that interpreting the epigraphs was challenging. But, she ​​learned a lot from the experience, including how to properly read Roman gravestones.

Farrar admits she didn’t make it easy. “The images got progressively more challenging, so most groups got to the fifth or sixth image before the end of the game, with a few misidentifications — or ‘crashes’ — along the way,” she said.

Learning to work collaboratively was the key to students’ success. “Once they developed a workflow, most groups finished strong, having grown from the opportunity to puzzle images out together,” Farrar said. “They are starting to trust themselves as interpreters of new Latin and/or Roman objects they have never seen before.” 

Next up for these Latin scholars? The study of Roman festivals and religion.

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