The Fort Vindolanda Tablets

The Vindolanda tablets named after the Roman Fort Vindolanda in Britain are the oldest surviving handwritten documents and the first letters ritten in ink during the Roman period. Hundreds of tablets, fragments of thin, post-card sized wooden leaf-tablets with carbon-based ink have been discovered. The tablets date from beginning of  the 2nd century AD when the wooden Fort Vindolanda was rebuilt in stone and incorporated into Hadrian’s wall. The documents include official military info as well as personal messages to and from members of the garrison of Vindolanda, their families, and their slaves.

The postcard-sized tablets, made from the locally-grown woods like oak were the first of their kind discovered intact.  They had been preserved in the below the filled-in foundations of the stone fort in  anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions which preserved them and other wooden and leather items intact.

The tablets, first discovered in 1973, were originally thought to be wood shavings but infra-red photography revealed their true nature.  They were in a previously unknown cursive script.  Tablets include an invitation to a birthday party held in about 100 AD, which is perhaps the oldest surviving document written in Latin by a woman, a description of the Britons, and military communications and trade docs.

The birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina, both wives of Roman prefects is one of the most well-known.  It was apparently written by a scribe with a personal note appended.

    • “Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa

    In another note in which the purpose in unknown a Roman describes the fighting style of the Britons. 

  • “… the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.”

Check out my blog on Fort Vindolanda itself: .  To read the entire 700+ documents in a searchable database with commentary:

Tomorrow, the Anglo-Saxons arrive and on Wednesday, the Pictish leader Caratacus’  Call to Battle.     Rita Bay

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