Last Updated on February 2, 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
If you’re as interested in Roman history as we are, then no doubt you’ll have heard of the Vindolanda Tablets, a set of historic artefacts detailing various aspects of life from Vindolanda, in the North of the UK. Here’s a quick history of the Vindolanda Tablets, as well as some of what we’ve learnt from them.
Where is Vindolanda?
Vindolanda was a Roman fort in Northern Britain, just south of Hadrian’s Wall (although it was in operation before Hadrian’s wall was even built)! Numerous forts were held on the site between approximately 85-122 AD, used to protect the Roman road running from the South of Scotland to the River Tyne. The forts were finally disbanded upon the construction of Hadrian’s wall in 122 AD.
Today, there is a museum on site and new archaeological evidence is constantly emerging from the ground. So now we know a little bit about Vindolanda, what are the Vindolanda tablets?
What are the Vindolanda Tablets and what makes them so special?
Well, the story goes a little like this: an archaeologist was digging in a muddy, wet trench in the North of England in the 1970s on the archaeological site at Vindolanda, cursing his luck.
He stumbled upon some half burnt, half rotted pieces of wood and thinking nothing much of them, he passed them up to his assistant to take a closer look so that he’d be able to carry on excavating the Trench. But the assistant, having examined them more closely, found them to be covered in squiggly marks.
It turns out that these mouldy pieces of wood (or tablets as they are now known) were the treasure trove of all finds. Over 1000 such tablets have now been excavated from the ground, proving to be the oldest handwritten documents in Britain and one of the most important Roman finds in the entire world.
They offer us an insight into the daily life of what it was really like to live in Roman Britain: unpaid debts, requests for new underwear, accounts are all recorded on the tablets. This snapshot into Roman life reveals that they weren’t much different from us…
Some highlights of the Vindolanda Tablets:
There are so many tablets but here are some excerpts from a few personal favourites:
Romans were b*tchy too:
- “I just wanted to let you know that I am in incredibly good health, as I trust you are, you neglectful man, who hasn’t even sent me one letter. But I believe that I am behaving in a more considerate fashion by writing to you …” (Tablet 311)
Romans liked to party too (this is also one of the oldest writings by a woman in the Roman empire):
- “For my birthday, I extend my warmest wishes that you come to my party, it would make the day all the more enjoyable by having you here.” (Tablet 291)
Romans had fine tastes too:
- “A friend sent me fifty oysters from the Thames.” (Tablet 299)
If you’d like to see any more of the tablets, here’s the website: http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk.