How much the tablets have told us

Joined: 9:29 PM - Aug 22, 2006

2:12 AM - Apr 17, 2010 #1

Many people know the "biggie" writing tablets -- the birthday invitation; the bundle of fresh socks & underwear from home; the comment on the lousy roads; the observation about "wretched little Brits." We know that the tablets have brought names to light: around AD 100 the commander was Flavius Cerialis, and his wife was Sulpicia Lepidina. There was a trader, Octavius, who communicated with a Candidus. A few others may come to mind.

But it may surprise you just how much those fragile, faded, broken slivers of wood have brought from the distant past. The following is just one measure of their value, a (likely incomplete) list of names mentioned in the tablets found so far:

Acranius; Adiutor, Vittius, aquilifer; Aduectus; Africanus, Vocusius, praefectus; Aga[]; Agilis; Albanus; Albinus; Albiso; Alio, ueterinarius; Allatus?; Amabilis; Ammius; Andecarus; Andle[]; Aquilio?; Arcanus, miles; Aristo?; Arquittius, optio; Ascanius; Asper, Licinius; Ato?; Atrectus, ceruesarius; Atticus; Atto, decurio; Atto; Audax; Aventinus; Billo; Bog[]; Bolanus, Vettius, consul; Brigio; Brigionus; Brocchus, Aelius; Buccus; Butimas; Caecus; Caledus; Candidus; Candidus, optio Candidus, slave of Genialis; Cano[]; Capito; Carpentarius?; Catussa; Celer; Cephalio; Cerialis, Flauius, praefectus; Certius; Cessaucius; Cessius Fin[]; Chnisso; Chrauttius; Claudius; Cogitatus; Conianus, Flauius; Corinthus; Crescens; Crescens, centurio; Crispa; Crispinus; Crispinus, Grattius; Crispus; Culcianus; Cuselus, centurio; C]aledus; Dardanus; Diligens; Dio; Elpis; Equester, centurio; Equester, Annius, centurio regionarius; Exomnius, centurio; Expeditus; Faber, Cluuius; Fadus; Fatalis; Felicio, centurio; Feni[]; Ferox; Festus; Fidelis; Firmanus; Firminus; Firmus; Flavianus; Flavianus, Hostilius; Flavinus; Flavius; Florus; Fontanus, ]ius; Fortunatus, centurio; Fraternus; Frontinus, eques; Frontius; Frue[]; Frumentius, centurio?; Furio; Fuscinius; Fuscus; Gambax; Gamiso; Gannallius; Gau(u)o; Genialis, Flauius, praefectus?; Genitor; Gentilis; Germanus; Gleuco; Gracilis; Gramaseus?; Hermes; Huep[]; Huete[]; Ianuarius; Iddi[]; Imber, Furius; Ingenuus; Ircucisso; Iulius, Frontinus; Iustinus; Iustinus, optio; Iustus, Celonius; Iustus, Macr[]; Karus, Claudius; Lent[]; Lepidina, Sulpicia; Lib(e)rinus?; Lub[]; Luca, uector; Lucanus; Lucerius; Lucco; Lucius; Lucius, decurio; Lucius, scutarius; Lupelus, centurio; Lupus; Lutius; Lu[, beneficiarius; Macrinus; Mansuetus; Marcellus, consularis; Marcia; Marcus, medicus; Marcus, optio?; Marinus; Masculus, decurio; Masuetus; Messicus; Messor; Metto; Modius; Natalis; Niger; Niger, Oppius; Niger, Valerius; Nigrinus?, Cessaucius; Nis[, ]nius; Octauius; Onno[; Pac(a)ta; Pacatus; Paratus?; Paris; Pastor; Paterna; Paternus; Petrus, Flauius; Piso, Calpurnius, consul; Placidus; Pollio; Popa, Claudius; Prese[]; Primigenius, slave of Cerialis?; Primus; Primus, slave (?) of Lucius; Priscinius; Priscinus; Priscus; Priuatus; Proculus; Proculus, Flauius; Prudens; Publicus; Quar[; Quintia; Quintus; Quotus?; Rhenus; Rhenus, slave of Similis; Rufinus; Rufinus, praefectus; Rufus; Sabinus; Saco; Saecularis, Cassius Sancta; Sanctus; Sattua; Saturninus; Sautenus; Senecio; September, Caecilius; Sequentinius; Settius; Severa, Claudia; Severinus; Severus; Severus, Vettius; Similis; Similis, Flauius; Simplex; Singularis; Sollemnis; Spectatus; Stipo; Suasco; Super, Clodius; Super, Curtius; Super?; Tagamos, vexillarius; Tagarminis; Tappo; Taurinus; Taurus; Tertius; Tetricus; Thuttena; Tranquillus; Trophimus; Troucisso; Tullio; Tullio, centurio; Ucen(i)us, centurio; Uxperus; Valatta; Valentinus; Vale[]; Varcenus; Varia[]; Vatto; Vattus; Vel(de)deius, equisio consularis; Velbuteius; Velox, Marcus Cocceius; Veranius, praefectus; Verecunda; Verecundus, optio; Verecundus, Iulius, praefectus; Vern[], centurio; Verus, [Cla]udius, decurio; Vettius; Vibbi[]; Victor; Victor, Felicius; Viddi[]; Vindex; Viranus; Virilis, ueterinarius; Viriocius; Vitalis; Vitalis, decurio; Vocontius, centurio; Voturius, centurio.

260+ names -- and counting! A handful are known from inscriptions and tales elsewhere across the Empire. But the vast majority are people whose very existence had disappeared from all knowledge. A lucky few have even emerged as real personalities thanks to the tablets. The efforts of the Vindolanda Trust, and volunteer diggers, over the past 40 years have recovered them from obscurity.

The accounts, personal letters, records -- all have put flesh on the skeleton of the Roman frontier's past. And revealed remarkable, intimate details of a fascinating world. But to this author, the most amazing feat has been the simple act of giving people back their names.

Birley, Anthony. Garrison Life at Vindolanda: A Band of Brothers, Tempus 2002 -- a must-read.
Oxford University Center for the Study of Ancient Documents: Vindolanda Writing Tablets