Summer School: Vindolanda Tablets: Everyday Roman Life

Posted on August 24, 2010


Human beings, in my research, are remarkably consistent. We only want to share our greatest achievements with the world, and bury the minutiae. It turns out the Romans some 1800 years ago were no different. Here we take a look at the Vindolanda Tablets discovered in 1973. These tablets are rewriting history, specifically what we thought about the role of slaves in Rome.

I really dislike Wikipedia, although, this time, they seemed to have a good summation of The Vindolanda Tablets.

"The Vindolanda tablets are fragments of wooden leaf-tablets with writing in ink found at Vindolanda Roman fort in northern England. The tablets date from the first and second centuries AD, which makes them roughly contemporary with Hadrian's Wall, which is near Vindolanda. The tablets contain messages to and from members of the garrison of Vindolanda, their families, and their slaves. Similar records on papyrus were known from elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but wooden tablets had not been recovered until archaeologist Robin Birley discovered them at Vindolanda in 1973. Pages have since been found at Carlisle, Cumbria, and continue to be found at Vindolanda.

The best-known document is perhaps Tablet 291, written around 100 AD from Claudia Severa, the wife of the commander of a nearby fort, to Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the commandant of Vindolanda, inviting her to a birthday party. The invitation is one of the earliest known examples of writing in Latin by a woman. It has even been claimed that this is the earliest surviving letter known to be written [or simply signed] by a woman in any language." —Wikipedia

The link is in medias res of a great series "The Ancient World in London – Hadrian's Wall Illuminated" which was way too long for any casual fan of history to sit through, so I cut right to the part about The Vindolanda Tablets. However, if you have the time, it comes highly recommended from yours truly.

There is also a great scholarly site on the tablets, although the navigation takes some getting used to, it is:

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