The British Academy completed the final part of its Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, bringing the project to an end under its final editor Dr Richard Ashdowne, a fellow of Somerville College.

Begun in 1913, the Dictionary holds more than 58,000 entries across its nearly 4,000 pages and is the most thorough study ever produced of the vocabulary of Latin in the medieval period in Britain. More than 200 researchers have worked on the project over the decades.

“This is the first ever comprehensive description of the vocabulary of the Latin language used in Britain and by Britons between AD 540 to 1600”, said Dr Ashdowne, senior research fellow at Somerville.

According to Dr Richard Ashdowne, the Dictionary’s current editor, the project has been helped down the decades by the contributions of a “small army” of volunteers, including historians, clergymen and retired soldiers – their illustrative quotations have usually been written out on paper slips. The project, Dr Ashdowne says, is reckoned to have accumulated some 750,000 of these slips.

“In addition to this invaluable resource, which covers a vast quantity of material only available in the form of the original manuscripts, we also have access to large electronic databases enabling us to examine the works of authors such as the Venerable Bede more thoroughly than ever before,” said Ashdowne.

The Dictionary is based entirely on rigorous original research which has systematically surveyed the massive array of British Latin material that survives from the medieval period, including poetry, sermons, chronicles, scientific texts, legal documents, state records, accounts and letters. Researchers have scoured British Medieval Latin texts written between the years AD 540 and 1600 by thousands of authors who were born or worked in Britain, including such well-known examples as the Domesday Book, Magna Carta and Bayeux tapestry.

The Dictionary’s final entry is zythum, an Egyptian beer.

A few figures:

58,000 word entries containing over 90,000 senses and just over 436,000 quotations
Quotations are drawn from more than 1,400 works by over 500 authors whose names are known, together with thousands of documents written by authors whose names are not recorded more than 30,000 cross-references
3830 pages across 17 parts
3 Editors have led the project over 46 years of drafting (1967–2013)

The project can be visited online

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