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A lonely life for a woman of substance?

Interpreting tablets found at Vindolanda
A tablet found at Vindolanda.
© Newcastle University
We start with Tab. Vindol. II 291, the technical name of one of the most famous of all the tablets (see above).
This is the first known example of a Latin text written by a woman. It is an invitation sent to Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the commander of the Batavian cohort stationed at Vindolanda, from her friend Claudia Severa, wife of the commander of another fort. The tablet dates from Period 3 at Vindolanda (AD 97-105) and was found in a building that may have been the praetorium (the commander’s house).
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.
Compare this letter to two other documents written at the time at associated with Lepidina (Tab. Vindol. II 292):
… greetings. Just as I had spoken with you, sister, and promised that I would ask Brocchus and would come to you, I asked him and he gave me the following reply, that it was always readily (?) permitted to me, together with …. to come to you in whatever way I can. For there are certain essential things which …. you will receive my letters by which you will know what I am going to do …. I was … and will remain at Briga. Greet your Cerialis from me. (Back, 2nd hand) Farewell my sister, my dearest and most longed-for soul. (1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa, wife of Brocchus (?).
And (Tab. Vindol. II 294)
… Paterna (?) to her Lepidina, greetings. So help me god, my lady [and sister?], I shall bring (?) you two remedies (?), the one for …, the other for fever (?) and therefore … myself to you … but insofar as …
  • What do these letters fragments tell us about Lepidina?
  • Add your comments below – you may like to read what others have written before you add your own thoughts.
Remember that she was the wife of a commanding officer, and that she would have had a higher social status by far than any of the other women at Vindolanda. Also, whilst all of this correspondence seems very normal, the security situation was far from stable. Travel beyond the fort walls could have been very dangerous indeed.
© Newcastle University
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