Trove of First century Roman letters discovered

Press Trust of India London | Updated on January 11, 2018 Published on July 11, 2017

The trove of Roman letters was found at the site of Vindolanda, which was once a Roman fort in what is now Northumberland, England.

Scientists have discovered a cache of 25 wooden writing tablets in the UK, dating back to the first century AD, which includes a letter from a Roman cavalry officer wanting to go on a vacation.

Archaeologists found the haul of correspondence in a trench at the deepest level of the Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary fort below a defensive fortification called Hadrian’s Wall in the UK.

The fortification was repeatedly rebuilt over the years with turf and timber.

“The letters were spaced out at regular intervals along the line of a trench, under a rubble-filled foundation layer,” said Andrew Birley, an archaeologist at Vindolanda Trust in the UK.

The letters include written demands from Masclus — a Roman cavalry officer — whose previous letters demanding more beer were discovered 25 years ago in 1992 at the same location. The new cache is now being conserved ahead of scanning with infrared lights. This should make the now faint ink marks legible, but experts believe they have discovered a written request from Masclus, asking for leave from his duties.

Most of the letters are like the ones discovered previously, written on thin sheets of birch. However, experts are particularly excited about a double-leaved oak tablet, which indicates it contains important correspondence.

The large oak-leaved document is currently illegible and the ink faded, but it is hoped the writing will be deciphered with use of infrared.

The letters already found at Vindolanda are considered some of the most famous existing documents from the Roman world, remarkable for their highly personal, warts-and-all account of army life.

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Published on July 11, 2017
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