I’ve just given a talk for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas about the different kinds of written evidence that survive from Roman Britain and what they can tell us, so thought I’d write up a summary here for any interested readers who couldn’t come to the talk! The title “On the Edge” was chosen to fit in with the theme of this year’s festival, “Extremes”, and to reflect the position of Britain on the very edge of the Roman Empire (a journey from Rome to London in October could take up to 40 days), and for that matter the position of many of the surviving texts, which come from Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Britain, on the very edge of the Roman-controlled part of the island. A major theme of the talk was how, despite this remote position, Britain was very well connected with the rest of the Roman world, as the evidence of many of the written documents shows.
I recently shared news of a newly-discovered writing tablet from the Roman fort of Vindolanda: now the excavation team have released a press release and it turns out they’ve found a whole cache of 25 tablets, all written in ink, some of which they’ve already been able to (partly) read. More information will have to wait until the tablets have been conserved and photographed, but for now here’s the press releasehere’s the press release (with some nice photographs!)
The Vindolanda Trust has tweeted this picture of a writing tablet found yesterday in the current excavations at the Roman fort:
The tablet looks beautifully well preserved – in the picture you can clearly see the indentation in the middle which would have held the wax for writing on (unlike most of the tablets found at Vindolanda, which were written in ink). We’ll presumably have to wait until the tablet is cleaned and conserved to find out whether there are any traces of writing preserved on the wood – which happens when the stylus went right through the wax and scratched the wood underneath – and whether they’re at all readable (as some of the stylus tablets found in London have been). Fingers crossed…