Thursday, July 13, 2017


A cache of 25 Roman letters has been found at Vindolanda, the fort below Hadrian’s Wall where the most famous postcard-like documents from the Roman world were discovered in 1992, first-person accounts of cold feet, beer running short, and jolly birthday parties at the northernmost edge of the empire.

Together, the cache of documents provides an unprecedented look at life in a Roman garrison.

Along with beer requests, birthday invitations and letters that included derogatory names for the locals, the tablet collection includes the oldest example of women's handwriting from Europe, in the correspondence between two high-ranking military commanders' wives. These women seem to have led lonely, solitary lives, the letters reveal.

Over the years many WRITING TABLETS have been discovered at Vindolanda along with history's oldest WOODEN TOILET SEAT.

The newly found writing tablets are still being conserved, before being scanned with infrared light which should make the faint marks in black ink legible, but the cursive script is invariably a cryptic crossword puzzle that will take experts many months to solve.

However, the archaeologists have already spotted that one of the tablets may refer to a character already well known from the original find: Masclus was then writing to his commanding officer asking for more beer supplies to be sent to his outpost on the wall.

In the newly discovered letter, Masclus is requesting leave ... possibly with a painful hangover.

Most of the new letters are written like the original find on thin slivers of birch.

But there is particular excitement about one double-leaved oak tablet, as the two pieces of timber folded together usually give particularly good preservation of ink and the wood was used for more important correspondence than the more plentiful birch.

“This is the find I have been hoping for all my working life,” said Andrew Birley, the second generation of his family to lead excavations and head the trust which owns the site near Bardon Mill in Northumberland.

“I was a lad of 17 when the first letters were found, and every season since then I have hoped, but never really expected, that more might turn up. My father has been rather poorly recently, but by the time I got home he had cracked open a bottle of champagne and the level had already fallen considerably.”

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