Tales from the tablets

Housesteads roman bath  I don’t think these roman baths were made for just one occupant.

Last year we decided to revisit the Housesteads and Vindolanda excavations that I had many times visited on school trips and never really appreciated. The ‘new’ display on the Vindolanda tablets quickly drew my interest when I realised that this was one of the earliest examples of a collection of anecdotes that gives us a much more real understanding of life in a roman garrison back in 100AD than the historians that have interpretted the past to meet their own preconceptions. 

This wonderful material, voted one of the most important archeological finds ever,  can now be browsed and viewed on its own website in what I believe is its entirity. 

My three favourite exerpts are: 

The Romans stationed up here used to call the locals ‘Brittunculi’ which is thought to be translated as ‘nasty little Brits’. 

Octavis, a soldier writes to his brother that he would already have collected the animal hides from Catterick “apart from the fact that the roads are so bad that I did not care to injure the animals”. The video showing in the museum comments how funny it is how the earliest ever reference to a roman road is about how bad it is. 

Masculus, a cavalry decurian writes “to Cerialis his king, greetings. Please, my lord, give instructions on what you want us to do tomorrow … my fellow soldiers have no beer. Please order some to be sent.” This must have been the main reason that there are so many working mens clubs in the North East.


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