Postcards from the past: reading the Vindolanda tablets
Wooden writing tablets continue to be discovered in the excavations at Vindolanda, and have now also been identified at several other sites in Britain.
The Vindolanda Tablets are of particular importance to our understanding of life on the Stanegate in the decades immediately before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.
Invaluable sources of information though they are, the tablets are often frustrating. Their authors knew of course to whom they wrote, and seldom needed to refer to the title and role of their correspondent. Tablets can be incomplete, the Latin is that of daily speech and sometimes littered with colloquialisms which we only partially understand. Additionally, diverse spellings, poor grammar and sloppy handwriting can all present challenges to translators.
In the following steps, we will look at two groups of tablets to see what they tell us about life on the edge of Roman Britain on the eve of Hadrian’s Wall. The translations used are the work of Alan Bowman and David Thomas and may be found on the excellent Vindolanda Tablets online maintained by Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents.
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