Vindolanda Tablets Head for Home

Early Roman Texts to be Sent Back to Vindolanda

Roman soldiers based at Vindolanda, the Roman fort and settlement at the coldest extremity of the Roman Empire, were not so different to modern Britons. While they had a job to do in maintaining order and control of the north western border (along Hadrian’s Wall, although Vindolanda was inhabited before Hadrian built his frontier), they also ensured they weren’t out of pocket for their troubles.

Discovered in 1973, the Vindolanda Tablets are wooden message boards dating back to 85 AD. Their messages include an invitation to a birthday party as well as expense claims for all those Roman soldier essentials (mostly items of food and basic clothing to keep those Mediterraneans warm in the cooler climes of northern Britain). These wooden boards were then sent around the empire in the Roman postal system.

An Important Step for the Heritage of North East England

Up until now they have been on display in the British Museum in London. But now funding of 1.8 million from regional development agency One North East will enable these Roman scripts to be displayed at Vindolanda and Hadrian’s Wall for a series of themed exhibitions.

According to Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrians Wall Heritage Ltd, the return of the Vindolanda Tablets to their location of discovery is an important step in celebrating the home of Britain’s earliest handwriting. She said: The transformation at Vindolanda will be the first manifestation of the future vision of the Hadrians Wall World Heritage site, the north west frontier of the Roman Empire.

Moats and Duck Houses: Not the Roman Way

Of course it would be impossible to mention Roman expense claims without making a passing comment about the modern-day expenses fiasco being endlessly debated in the British press. I can’t help noticing that, unlike British MPs, those Roman soldiers’ expense claims were fairly modest: items include pigs, animal hides, nails and bread. Not a duck house of a moat in site for those hard-living, spartan Roman soldiers. Of course the soldiers were a breed apart from the notoriously excessive emperors. Unfortunately the daily tabloids from 85 AD (or at least the Roman equivalent) haven’t survived, so there is no way of knowing if there was any kind of expense scandal 2,000 years ago. I suspect there wasn’t.