William Newbold deciphers inscriptions found under the soot and lava of Vesuvius in which Aramaic speakers used Greek and Latin letters to render their native tongue, occasionally in a mixture of Aramaic and Latin.
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William Newbold was a well-known personality in the academic world of the late 19th and early 20th century famous for remarkable (and later discredited) discoveries and with a penchant for suggesting solutions to difficult texts, such as the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript (though his interpretation has since been rejected). In this paper he is rather more sucessful in deciphering inscriptions found under the soot and lava of Vesuvius in which Aramaic speakers used Greek and Latin letters to render their native tongue, occasionally in a mixture of Aramaic and Latin. These inscriptions provide a valuable insight into a nearly invisible segment of the population of Roman Italy – immigrants learning Latin as a second or third language. The content of these inscriptions likewise concerns tensions between Christian and non-Christian Semitic peoples, which illuminates tensions in the earliest rise of the Christian church in first century Rome. This unique article is of interest to cryptographers, epigraphers, church and ethnic historians, and anyone who wishes to develop a more nuanced view of the rich and diverse urban life of first century Italy.