Vindolanda Tablets Online Tablets Exhibition Reference Help

Volume One (TVI) material for tablet 155 (TVI tablet number 1)


Twelve joining fragments of an official document which clearly belong together. All are written in the same hand which is competent, but undistinguished and calls for no special comment. The writing is along the grain of the wood and the broad side of the tablet, and the left-hand margin contains notches and tie-holes. We do not think the format of this document can have been the ‘rotulus’ since our examples of this have the writing running across the grain and parallel with the short edge of the leaf (see Vol. 1., Ch. 2; this is also true of No. 2 (151). One possibility we should allow for with both No. 1 (155)and No. 2 (151) is that the whole document was in the form of a diptych. However, whilst this is the normal format for a letter, we have no other example of a document written in this way.

The content is of some importance. The text begins with a date heading and then reports a large number of men (343) in the workshops (fabricis). There then apparently follows a list of assignments of individuals or groups of men and it is notable that several of these seem to be concerned with construction or with building materials. This casts an interesting light on the range of activities within or near an auxiliary fort. It should be noted also that line 6 appears to contain a reference to a hospital. The report of assignments in the fabricae is also of particular interest in view of the proximity of the deposit of the writing-tablets to the fabrica in the pre-Hadrianic fort (see Birley, Vindolanda, ch. VII); note that No. 3 (160) may also be concerned with activities in the fabrica.

The total number of 343 men reported in the workshops in line 1 is large. We cannot be certain what proportion of the total number of men in the unit at Vindolanda this number represents but, if it is plausible to suggest that the greater part of the unit might be employed in the workshops when not on active campaign, then the number 343 is consistent with the idea that we may be dealing with the infantry section of a cohors equitata; note that in Mommsen’s pridianum (RMR 64) the total number of 363 pedites in the cohors i Augusta Praetoria Lusitanorum equitata is broadly comparable. No. 1 (155) might therefore be a record of cohors viii Batauorum which we suggested was a cohors quingenaria equitata (see Vol. 1., Ch. 3. This supposition fits the view that the Batavian cohort occupied Vindolanda before the cohors i Tungrorum (see No. 30.4 note) (295); the archaeological context suggests the earlier part of the period A.D.95-105, and it may be that the Batavian cohort was actually engaged in the construction of the new and larger fort which has been assigned to periods IIA and IIB (Birley, Vindolanda, p.108).

In attempting to classify this document more precisely, we should also take into account the comparable text in No. 2 (151). This differs from No. 1 in that it appears to contain the name of the unit (line 2). But neither text conforms precisely to the parallels discussed by Fink (RMR, pp.179-82). These are: the morning report, containing the full number of personnel in the unit, names of officers, commander, name of unit, oath etc.; the monthly summary, which is always dated on the first day of a month; the pridianum, which has the name of the unit, date, station name and biographical detail of the commander followed by a full inventory of the personnel, giving details of movements, accessions and losses over a period of time. Both our documents appear to be more closely comparable to the text recently published by R. Marichal (CRAI 1979, p.439) which contains simply a date, number and list of assignments. This is one of a series of texts from Bu Njem which Marichal calls `rapports journaliers' and which he says ‘étaient presentés chaque jour a 1'officium du praepositus qui en extrayait les données pour les incorporer dans les rôles comme ceux de Doura . . .’. Two explanations of our Vindolanda texts are possible: either they are parts of much more extensive documents, perhaps pridiana (for which see RMR 63-5, ChLA 454, 501, J.D. Thomas and R.W. Davies, JRS lxvii (1977), 50-1) or they are daily reports, the details of which might later be incorporated into a full-scale pridianum.


1. fabricis: we are confident of the reading, which we take to be a locatival ablative, ‘at the workshops’; ri are the only difficult readings, since there appears to be too much ink, but some of the apparent traces may be dirt or other marks. The letter which follows is certainly h; we have not found a certain parallel for our resolution but note that it is offered as a possibility in RMR 131. The Bu Njem ostrakon published by Marichal (CRAI 1979, p.439) has n(umerus) in line 1 but we certainly cannot read n in the Vindolanda text.

2. sutores: the only meaning given in OLD is ‘shoemakers’; this activity seems rather out of place with the nature of the rest of the assignments, which are largely concerned with building and construction; but it is perhaps not so very strange in view of the quantity and variety of footwear found in the fabrica deposits (Birley, Vindolanda, pp.125-6).

3. s[tr]uctores: we are confident of this reading, especially since it fits the context so well. A structor appears in line 10 of the Bu Njem ostrakon (Marichal, CRAI 1979, p.439).

balneum: compare line 18 of the Bu Njem ostrakon. No bath-houses have yet been identified in the pre-Hadrianic forts at Vindolanda but we can be fairly sure that they will have been there (cf. Webster, RIA2, p.199).

4. plumbum: there appears to be nothing immediately following. A numeral will have been written further to the right on the lost portion of this fragment. The entry is perhaps best taken as indicating that men were detailed to acquire (or perhaps work with) lead; compare ad lutum in line 8.

5. The writing is very faded here; d is fairly certain, however, and the letter following it looks most like p. Given the context we are tempted to suggest a]d picari[am (`pitch-boilery'), but there is very little space for c. On the manufacture of pitch see Pliny, NH 16.52-60.

6. The first trace is probably the descender of a.

]ualetudinar[: probably ]ualetudinar[ium or ]ualetudinar[ii, depending on what preceded, cf. RMR 51.ii.20. There may be a reference to the building of a hospital; for ualetudinaria associated with auxiliary units see CIL 3. 14537, R.P. Harper, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 29 (1975), p.321 and cf. Webster, RIA2, pp.216-7.

7. furnaces: this is a less common spelling than fornaces (see Vol. 1., Ch. 5 but it is reasonably well attested (cf. TLL s.v. fornax). The Bu Njem ostrakon has furnus in line 17 which Marichal (CRAI 1979, pp.446-7) takes to refer to baking-ovens, but in view of the other entries in the Vindolanda text it is perhaps just as likely that they are kilns for firing clay (compare line 8 and see Pliny, NH 28.16, cum . . . quadrigae fictiles in fornace creuissent).

8. lutum: see note to line 7 and compare a]d plumbum in line 4; clay, the raw material for bricks and tiles.

10. We cannot elucidate this. We have considered the possibility that the first part of the supposed m should be read as a but it is very difficult to reconcile what remains with d; and even if we read ad at the start we cannot suggest what can have followed. il is certain and p very probable before this; preceding it, a or r.

11. cae[mentum seems quite likely in the context. Loose rubble is perhaps indicated, cf. Pliny, Ep.10.39.4, quia sint caemento medii farti nec testaceo opere praecincti.

12. We have considered the possibility that we might have fabri (cf. No. 3.7 etc. (151)) but it is not possible to read it here.

14. Perhaps compare ChLA 454.32-4, cum Crato (centurione) etc.