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TVII Tablet: 291
Search Result: 1
Title: Birthday invitation from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina
Category: Correspondence of Lepidina


This diptych contains a letter to Sulpicia Lepidina from Claudia Severa, wife of Aelius Brocchus, sending Lepidina a warm invitation to visit her for her (Severa's) birthday (on the celebration of birthdays by private individuals see RE VII, 1142-4) and appending greetings to Cerialis from herself and greetings from her husband. The elegant script in which this letter is written is also probably to be recognised in 243, 244 and 248. The letters are slim, with marked ascenders and descenders, and very little use of ligature. There is occasional use of the apex mark for which see pp.57-61, above. In the present text the use is not always in long quantities. It is quite certain that the author is Severa herself, adding a brief message and the closing greeting in her own hand as she also does in 292 and 293. Almost certainly, therefore, these are the earliest known examples of writing in Latin by a woman.


n 1 Cl(audia) · Seuerá Lepidinae [suae
n 2 [sa]l[u]tem
n 3 iii Idus Septembr[e]s soror ad diem
n 4 sollemnem natalem meum rogó
5             libenter faciás ut uenias
6 ad nos iucundiorem mihi
n n 7 [diem] interuentú tuo facturá si
n 8 [.].[c.3]s uacat
n 9 Cerial[em t]uum salutá Aelius meus .[
n 10           et filiolus salutant uacat
n 11 m2uacat sperabo te soror
12 uale soror anima
n 13 mea ita ualeam
n 14 karissima et haue
n n 15 m1       Sulpiciae Lepidinae
n n 16 Cerialis
n n 17 a S[e]uera


"Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa."


1          Cl(audia): this is the only certain example of the abbreviation of a gentilicium in the tablets (but see 294.1 note and 281.back 4 note). The medial point following is the only example in this text and must be intended to mark the abbreviation. The name suggests that Severa's family acquired citizenship in the reign of Claudius, a generation before that of Cerialis and his wife.

2          On the right-hand half of the diptych there may well be the foot of an oblique stroke after sa]l[u]tem; for such a mark see above, p.57.

3          iii: the first digit is enlarged; on this phenomenon see O.Bu Njem, p.38.
diem" type="line" anchored="yes"> the m, which is broken between the two halves of the diptych, is followed by an oblique stroke similar to an apex or to the stroke which follows salutem in one or two texts and may occur here (see preceding note). After diem it cannot represent an apex or be intended to mark punctuation and we are unable to explain it (see above, p.59, note 48).

4          sollemnem: for the use of this word in connection with birthdays cf. Horace, Od. 4.11, and Fronto, ad Ant.imp. 1.2 (Teubner ed., p.87): te mihi ab deis die tibi sollemnissimo natali meo precatum.

7          interuentú tuo: for the sense of interuentus here see OLD, s.v.1; cf. Cicero, Att. 4.2.5: interuentu Varronis tui nostrique.

7-8          The sense needed is not in doubt. There appears to be a descender from this line visible above the r of Cerialem. In the ed. pr. we chose to ignore this and supplied (exempli gratia) [uenie]s (a restoration which we would still prefer to [uenia]s of CEL). If this is part of a letter and not just a stray mark, we must have a different verb, since none of the letters in uenie descends below the line in this hand. The trace could be from the foot of a and we now think that a[deri]s is a better restoration (there may just be room for four letters in the lacuna); in which case either this line was indented compared to the lines before and after it, in alignment with line 10, or we could restore [tu] a[deri]s. It is strange that the rest of the line is blank, even though there is an obvious break in the sense; there may be a parallel in 217.ii.1; the uacat in 258.3 comes after the message proper and before the greeting added by the second hand; see also 257.6, 379.

9-10          A.R.Birley (1991), 101 proposes the reading Aelius meus [te] et filios salutat (accepted by Cugusi, CEL), cf. VRR II, 39 where [uos] is restored in place of [te]. We retain our original reading of line 10 which we are confident is correct. salutant is certain (Birley suggests that the n is really the tails of l and a from the line above but this is unacceptable: n is clear and is made exactly as elsewhere in this text, e.g. uenias in line 5). Given that the reading is salutant we must have a noun in the nominative to precede. There is room for 3 letters between filio and sal of which the last is certainly s and the first almost certainly l; this points unequivocally to filiolus. The only problem is the end of the preceding line where there is a trace of the foot of a letter after meus. Despite the odd word-order, we cannot see what this can be other than the object of salutant. As we stated in the ed. pr., u[os cannot be read and we must choose between t[e and e[um; in the ed. pr. we inclined to prefer the former but we now think e[um more likely. Regardless of the reading of this passage and the interpretation of pueros in 260.7 (see note ad loc.), the archaeological evidence makes it probable, as Birley remarks, that Cerialis and Lepidina had children with them in the praetorium at Vindolanda (see VRR III, 44-6).

11          sperabo te: Adams comments: "spero does not seem to be used elsewhere in the active with a personal object in this sense (the Plautine sperare deos, "put one's trust in the gods", is different), but compare the use of speratus "longed for", of a person, in comedy: e.g. Plautus, Amph. 676, Amphitruo uxorem salutat laetus speratam suam, Stich. 583, Lodge, Lexicon Plautinum II, 668. sperabo te represents a transfer into the active of this idiom. Cicero might have used another verb (cf. e.g. Att. 4.1.8, uehementer te requirimus)." See now Petersmann (1992), 289, citing Terence, Eun. 193-5, dies noctesque me ames, me desideres, me somnies, me exspectes. de me cogites, me speres.

12-4          anima mea: the expression should be compared with Severa's closure in 292.back 2-3 (see note). Adams comments: "This endearment is not found in comedy, where however the comparable mi anime is put regularly into the mouths of females (12 examples in Plautus and Terence, 9 of them spoken by women; similarly mi animule is uttered twice by women in Plautus; details in Adams (1984), 71). Cicero uses mea anima twice (in the plural) when addressing women (Fam. 14.14.2, 14.18.1)."
It may be added that anima in this usage is not confined to females: in Fronto, ad M.Caes. 2.10.3 (Teubner ed., p.30), Marcus Aurelius describes Fronto as anima dulcissima. The expression is also used on a gold ring found in the fourth-century vicus at Vindolanda: see Britannia 2 (1971), 301 no.72.

13          ita ualeam: we have little doubt about the reading, although we cannot exactly parallel the expression. ita ualeas in CIL 5.1490 and in the letter quoted in Suetonius, Aug. 69.2 seems to have a rather different sense. What we have in the present letter, if it is to be taken closely with karissima, may be similar to some of the usages indicated in OLD, s.v. ita 17; cf. ita uiuam, used in Cicero, Fam. 16.20.1, Att. 5.15.2, Valerius Maximus 9.13.3, 16.20.3, etc., and ita sim felix, found in Propertius, 1.7.3 and Suetonius, Tib. 21.4, where a letter from Augustus ends iucundissime et ita sim felix uir fortissime......uale; cf. also the examples quoted in OLD, s.v. ualeo 2d of ne ualeam used in asseverations. See Adams (1994).

14          haue: it is odd to find this word used when uale has preceded; for its use as a salutation at the end of a letter OLD quotes only haueto in Sallust, Cat. 35.6.

Back 15-17          The use of a word for "wife" in such an address is not necessary and is also omitted in 292.back (cf. the address to the slave Candido Genialis in 301.back).

Back 15          Lepidinae: no doubt because of lack of space, the a and e are very cramped and are written almost as a conjoint letter, as they frequently are in inscriptions.

Back 16          Flaui]i, ed. pr.: we now think that the mark which we thought was i is probably not ink. 292 is addressed on the back to Sulpiciae Lepidinae Cerialis.

Back 17          [a Se]uera, ed. pr.: traces of the first two letters now seem to us clearly visible. The second letter might be read as c but the mark following (which might be l, suggesting Cl(audia)) is probably not ink. There might be an apex mark over the final letter of S[e]uera.

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