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Tablet 154

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Vindolanda Inventory No. 88.841

Introduction

A diptych on which the text is written across the grain of the wood; R.E.Birley informs us that this leaf is cut from oak. Only two lines of text run over on to the second half of the diptych, the great majority of which is apparently blank. There is one physical characteristic of the text which deserves special emphasis - the sheer size of the diptych; with the single exception of 161 which was found in close proximity, it is very large by comparison with all the other leaf tablets, which are no more than half its size. Given that almost half of the piece is blank, however, it cannot be envisaged that it was cut especially for this text, so we must conclude that it is merely accidental that almost no other leaves of this dimension have survived. The text is complete, although badly abraded in the middle section. The back of the tablet is blank.

The hand is a typical example of Old Roman Cursive of this period. It is competent without showing any pretensions to elegance. There is some use of ligature but this is found only rarely. We have noticed nothing unusual in any of the letter forms. It is possible that the same hand may be responsible for 161.

The text is a strength report of the First Cohort of Tungrians. There are three main elements. The heading contains the date, name of the unit, name of the commanding officer and the total strength of the unit. Then follows a list of those absent on detached duties, a total of the absentees and a total of the remaining praesentes. Then we are given the number of the praesentes who are unfit for active service, broken down into categories. This section concludes with the total of ualentes, obtained by subtracting the number of the unfit from the number of praesentes. In the ed. pr. we discussed the location of the tablet in the Period 1 Ditch and noted that the name of the prefect of the unit, Iulius Verecundus, suggested a connection with other documents in which this officer is named (see 210-12). It now appears much more likely that the material in this ditch was produced by the occupants of Period 2 (see VRR II, 23), which would place the presence of Iulius Verecundus and the First Cohort of Tungrians at Vindolanda in the years c. AD 92-7.

Apart from being the only document of its kind from Britain, this text provides us with our only known example of a strength report of an auxiliary cohors milliaria peditata. For a full discussion of the classification of military reports see the introduction to the ed. pr. (to the references in (4), pp.64-5, should be added ChLA XI 497, a fragment of a roll of a cohors equitata, with summary of strength at the bottom). It is evident that 154 cannot be straightforwardly classified as a pridianum: the date is inappropriate and it does not list accessions, losses and absentees in the appropriate form. Nor does it appear to be a daily report, although it does list those who are unfit for service and might, in the abraded section in the middle, specify what some of the detachments were doing. The documents which it most resembles fall into the “monthly summary” category of RMR (see Bowman and Thomas (1991), 64) but there is no doubt that the Vindolanda report does not fall on the first of a month. It is perhaps best to regard it as an example of an interim strength report from which a pridianum could eventually be compiled. We might go further and suggest that the “monthly summary” and the pridianum should perhaps be regarded as complementary types of document within the same category. It is also worth bearing in mind that the archaeological context of the Vindolanda tablet gives us no reason to suppose that this document went into the official archives of the unit - it is perhaps more likely to have been an interim report compiled for the commanding officer. There is some support for this in the text itself. In several places the numbers are rather crushed in, as if that part of the information was added after the outline of the report had been drafted and we are inclined to think that the left-hand side of lines 5-15 was written first, before the numbers were added at the right.

It should be noted that the readings of all the numerals are not absolutely certain (see notes to lines 3, 7, 17, 19, 26) but the orders of magnitude are certainly correct and the margin of error applies only to digits below 10. With this proviso, the dispositions may be tabulated as follows:

(Line 3) Total 752 inc. 6 centurions

Absentees:

(Line 5) Singulares 46

(Line 7) Coria 337 inc. 2 centurions (?)

(Line 9) Londinium 1 centurion (?)

(Line 10) ... 6 inc. 1 centurion

(Line 12) ... 9 inc. 1 centurion

(Line 14) ... 11

(Line 15) ... 1

(Line 16) ... 45

(Line 17) Total 456 inc. 5 centurions

Present:

(Line 19) 296 inc. 1 centurion

Of whom there are:

(Line 25) Unfit 31

(Line 26) Healthy 265 inc. 1 centurion

The first point which calls for comment is the overall strength of the unit and the number of centurions. The First Cohort of Tungrians was a peditate milliary unit which, according to orthodox dogma based on the statement of Hyginus 28, should have had 10 centuries. Although there is no positive proof of the notion that the centuries will have been 80 strong (see Frere and Wilkes (1989), 118), the figure of 752 is tolerably close to a notional strength of 800. There can be, however, no possible doubt that the Tungrian cohort had only 6 centurions. There is good evidence for the existence of only 6 centuries in equitate milliary cohorts (such as the Twentieth Cohort of Palmyrenes) and it has been supposed that they might consist of 6 centuries of 140/150 each plus 5 turmae; scholars differ in their views of how such an arrangement might have evolved (see Hassall (1983), 99-100). There is nothing in our Vindolanda text to indicate the size of the centuries. Six centuries in a notional strength of 800 would give us an approximately 130-strong century, but the dispositions of the unit listed in our text do not support such a figure. It may simply be that during a period of transition when the size of the unit fluctuated somewhat (being brought up to milliary size in the 80s and then reduced to quingenary between 103 and 122) it proved impractical to maintain a strictly “correct” number of constituent centuries (cf. VRR II, 6-7). If we have read the figures correctly, it is striking that only 3 of the 6 centurions are in charge of major sections of the unit, one at Vindolanda and 2 (?) at Corbridge (see below, line 15 note); of the remaining 3, one is at London on his own and the other 2 are in charge of 6 and 9 men respectively. Again, this may reflect the tendency to make ad hoc arrangements in frontier regions during periods of flux. Even so, given the small amount of documentary evidence for the actual size and organisation of auxiliary units, it is striking that almost all of it diverges in some degree from what orthodoxy regards as the norm.

The details of the disposition of the unit are also remarkable. The 46 singulares legati will have been the contribution of pedites made by the Tungrian unit to the governor’s guard (see line 5 note). Then there are 337, by far the largest single group, stationed “coris”. There is every likelihood this is Corbridge and this is the strongest single piece of evidence relevant to the debate about its Latin name - it was probably simply Coria (see line 7 note). It is remarkable that this large section of the unit, which outnumbers that left behind at Vindolanda, is probably under the command of just two centurions, possibly only one. Following this we apparently have a single centurion in London, presumably on some special mission or message (for another connection between Vindolanda and London see 310). The postings or activities of the following four groups are unfortunately impossible to elucidate; only the last is sizeable, consisting of 45 men (with no centurion). We have considered the possibility that these were thetati (the deceased), but this is the wrong position in the text for such an entry (at RMR 63.ii. 11 they are included among losses, not absentees, and at P.Brooklyn 24.ii.5, Thomas and Davies (1977), they are the last entry before summa qui decesserunt). The number might be suitable as a detachment for garrisoning one of the Stanegate fortlets, but then it would be odd to find it lacking a centurion in command. Finally, it is worth noting that of the almost 300 who remained at Vindolanda, with one centurion, more than 10% were unfit for service; this text is unique in dividing them into categories, aegri, uolnerati and lippientes.

The most striking feature is the division of the unit into two major sections of which the larger was away from base at Corbridge. This strength report attests a degree of fragmentation which is by no means unique; accumulating evidence suggests, indeed, that it might well have been relatively normal, at least on the British frontier at this period. Corbridge may be a case in point (see line 7 note). This text supports evidence which has accumulated in the last two or three decades strongly militating against any notion that units would remain in relatively permanent garrisons constructed for them according to a model which can be reconstructed on the basis of the composition of particular types of units (see Maxfield (1986), 59).

n n 1 xv K(alendas) Iunias n(umerus) p(urus) [co]h(ortis) i Tungro-
n n n 2 rum cui prae<e>st Iulius Vere-
n n n 3 cundus praef(ectus) dcclii in is (centuriones) vi
4 ex eis absentes
n 5     singulares leg(ati) xlvi
n 6 officio Ferocis
n 7 Coris cccxxxvii
n 8 in is (centuriones) ii
n 9 Londinio (centurio) [i]
n n 10 uas..ad[c.4]…apadun… vi
n 11 in is (centurio) i
n n 12 ]ac………allia viiii
n 13 in is (centurio) i
n n 14 …c…ipendiatum xi
n n 15 1 in.a i
n n 16 xxxxv
n 17 summa absentes cccclvi
18 in is (centuriones) v
n 19 reliqui praesentes cclxxxxvi
20 in is (centurio) i
21 ex eis
n 22 aegri xv
n 23 uolnerati vi
n n 24 lippientes [x]
n 25 summa eor[um] xxxi
n 26 reliqui ualent[es cc]lxv
n 27 in [is (centurio) i]

Notes

“18 May, net number of the First Cohort of Tungrians, of which the commander is Iulius Verecundus the prefect, 752, including centurions 6

of whom there are absent:

guards of the governor 46

at the office of Ferox

at Coria 337

including centurions 2 (?)

at London centurion 1 (?)

… 6

including centurion 1

… 9

including centurion 1

… 11

at (?) … 1 (?)

45

total absentees 456

including centurions 5

remainder, present 296

including centurion 1

from these:

sick 15

wounded 6

suffering from inflammation of the eyes 10

total of these 31

remainder, fit for active service 265

including centurion 1.”