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TVII Tablet: 164
Search Result: 1
Title: Memorandum on fighting characteristics of Britons
Category: Military documents

Commentary:

This diptych contains six lines of writing on one face of one half of the tablet. There is neither a heading nor any other indication of the nature of the document but we cannot exclude the possibility that it is only part of a text the rest of which was written on other leaves (if so, presumably the end, judging by the fact that the lower quarter of the upper half of the leaf and the whole of the lower half is blank). The hand is a reasonably lucid cursive, not unlike that of 291, but less elegant. Interpunct is employed several times. The indentation in lines 4 and 6 is odd and we can see no obvious reason for it. Our best guess is that this is a military memorandum of some kind which describes the fighting characteristics and qualities of the native Britons with particular reference to cavalry. It might be an intelligence report directed to the commanding officer by exploratores (cf. Rankov (1987)), or possibly a piece of information provided with a view to the recruitment of natives, attested in the time of Agricola (Tacitus, Agr. 29.2). There is evidence for a British ala in Dacia in AD 110 (CIL 16.163; but note the remarks of Kennedy (1977) and cf. Reynolds, Beard and Roueché, JRS 76 (1986), 136). The first appearance of numeri Brittonum coincides with earliest occupation of Hesselbach on the Odenwald Limes c. AD 95-105 (see Hassall (1978), 45, Baatz (1973)). This suits the date of the Vindolanda text very well; in the ed. pr. we noted that its archaeological context placed it c. AD 92 but it has subsequently been reattributed to Period 3.             A more attractive alternative is to envisage it as a note or a draft of a note left by a departing commanding officer (cf. line 1 note) for his successor. This kind of instruction is recommended in a letter of AD 344 from Valacius the dux of Egypt to Flavius Abinnaeus, an ala commander, as he was about to relinquish his post (P.Abinn. 2.6-7): de singulis etiam pro tutela publica obseruandis instruere [cura] ne quam sub primitiis saltem suis erroris titubantiam incurat ("take care to instruct him in all the rules to be followed to guarantee public safety, in order to safeguard him from liabilities and mistakes, at any rate in the early days of his tenure"). The cursive hand and the fact that the text is written across the grain of the wood and transversa charta makes it unlikely that it is a literary text (cf. A.R.Birley (1991), 99, note 54), but it is perhaps worth bearing in mind that we do have Greek narrative texts on papyrus which describe military engagements, see Turner (1950) and cf. P.Ross.-Georg.III 1. Especially noteworthy in the Vindolanda text is the occurrence, for the first time, of the patronising diminutive Brittunculi (line 5, contrast Brittones in line 1). This remains the only published text from Vindolanda which refers explicitly to the native Britons collectively or individually (cf. 180, introduction and note Inv.no.1108, VRR II, 29). The information which the text offers is of some interest in view of the paucity of evidence for native British cavalry in this period. Our literary sources describe British essedarii, charioteers who went into battle with pugnatores whose role was to leap from the chariot at the appropriate time and engage on foot (Caesar, BG 5.16, 4.24.1, 32.5, 33, Pomponius Mela 3.6.52, Silius Italicus 17.417, Arrian, Tact. 19.2-3), cf. Stead (1965). That these were still prominent in Agricola's time (presumably only in the newly acquired or unconquered regions) is indicated by Tacitus' account of the battle at Mons Graupius (Agr. 35.3) and he elsewhere notes that the essedarii were persons of higher rank whilst the pugnatores were their clientes (Agr. 12). But it seems reasonable to assume that if our text were referring to these they would have been described as such in more detail. Tacitus certainly implies the presence of conventional cavalry too in the British forces at Mons Graupius (Agr. 36) and our Vindolanda text might be taken as an additional important indication of their prominence and character in the frontier region at the end of the first century AD.

Text:


. . . . . . . .
n 1 _nenu...[.]n. Brittones
n 2 nimium multi · equites
n 3 gladis · non utuntur equi-
n 4 tes · nec residunt
n n 5 Brittunculi · ut · iaculos
n 6 mittant

Translation:

"... the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins."

Notes:

1          The reading of the first three letters appears certain; the next letter is quite unlike all other examples of u in this hand but it is like u as made elsewhere in the tablets and we cannot think of any other way to read it. The next letter is wholly uncertain; what follows is a letter with a long descender, therefore a, i, q or r; the letter before Brittones could be c or e, but we believe that t is also possible if all trace of the cross-bar has disappeared; note that there may well also be interpunct here. Our earlier suggestions, -ne nudi s[u]nt Brittones or ne nudi s[i]nt Brittones, are therefore both acceptable readings, with the latter having the advantage that we do not have to suppose a word broken over two leaves, but the disadvantage that it is harder to make sense of it (except as the end of a sentence beginning on a previous leaf). If nudi is correct it is more likely to mean "unprotected by armour" than, literally, "stark naked" (cf. OLD, s.v. 4, citing Quadrigarius, Hist. 10b, Gallus quidam nudus praeter scutum et gladios duos, and Caesar, BG 1.25.4, nudo corpore pugnare; note also Tacitus, Ann. 12.35 on the Britons having nulla loricorum galearumue tegmina).

2          For nimium meaning "very" rather than "too" see OLD, s.v.; for its use in the latter meaning with multus cf. e.g. Cicero, Planc. 84, quod nimium multos defenderem. It does not seem difficult to understand a verb here (probably sunt) if there is a break in the sense after Brittones in line 1.

3          gladis: for gladiis. The contraction is common, cf. Tab.Vindol.I, p.73, 343.i.9.

4-6          It is unclear from the syntax whether nec residunt Brittunculi etc. is intended to add further detail about the cavalry or whether it is to be taken as referring to the British fighting men in general, but the general sense of the passage perhaps favours the former. For the meaning of residunt, rendered in the ed. pr. as "take up fixed positions (or stay seated)", see now Adams (1994). On cavalry tactics in general see Arrian, Tact. 42-4.

5          Brittunculi: the word is new. For the formation Adams compares homunculus, uirguncula, latrunculus, tirunculus, etc., noting that the last two examples have the same type of base as Brittunculus (latro/, tiro/, Britto/ + -unculus).
iaculos: Adams notes that the masculine is unattested but that there are other confusions of gender in our Vindolanda texts (e.g. modiola, bruscas in 309.i.4, 10). Here the masculine may be due to the gradual loss of the neuter. For references to iaculatio in relation to cavalrymen it is interesting to compare Hadrian's remarks to the troops at Lambaesis, ILS 2487, 9134, 9135a.


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