Vindolanda Tablets Online Tablets Exhibition Reference Help

Volume One (TVI) material for tablet 225 (TVI tablet number 37)


References: Bowman-Thomas, VWT, pp.8, 19, 26; Bowman-Thomas-Wright, Britannia v (1974), p.472; Bowman, Britannia v (1974), p.360; Bowman-Thomas, Historia 24 (1975), pp.466, 475; Wright, Proc.XIV Int. Congr. of Papyrologists (1975), p.355; Bowman, ZPE 18 (1975), p.237 n.2; Thomas, Scriptorium 30 (1976), p.40; Birley, Vindolanda, p.136; Birley, FRB, p.87; Birley, PRB, pp.35, 93

This tablet, now in seven fragments and originally inventoried under two separate numbers, is easy to reassemble as the pieces are contiguous and can be joined on the basis of their shape and the content of the text. The various pieces are correctly aligned in PL. VIII, but the wood had suffered some warping since it was first recovered. In some places, therefore, earlier photographs have enabled us to make readings more easily and to assess the spacing more accurately. What remains is the greater part of twenty-six lines of a letter written on both sides of the leaf. The format - absence of the name of the sender, writing on both front and back of the tablet, one column written across the broad side of the leaf and with the grain - and the fact that in some places words are crossed out - clearly indicate that what we have is only a draft. This is confirmed by the remark in lines 24-5 that the letter is being written at Vindolanda. Obviously, what we have is not the fair copy. It is not improbable that the writer, having made a draft, would have handed the letter over to a clerk to copy out and to add the name of the sender and the greeting (cf. line 1 note). The writer might then have appended closing greetings in his own hand, for which see No. 21 (248). We believe that this leaf is complete at all margins, but the loss of a large part of line 26 makes us uncertain whether the draft was continued on another leaf. One or two other fragments in the collection may well be in the same hand (Nos. 51 (229), 52 (230), 60 (231), 83 (232)) but we have not been able to join any of these to the main text.

The writer does not give his name and we cannot say who he was. What can be said with confidence, on the basis of the content and the elegant style, is that he belonged to the officer class. We think he may very well have been one of the praefecti in command at Vindolanda (see Vol. I., Ch. 3). We have not included this text in the archive of Crispinus in spite of the fact that the cognomen occurs twice in this letter; the reason is that we think it unlikely that either Crispinus the addressee or Grattius (?) Crispinus in line 2 can be identical with the Crispinus attested as praefectus of cohors i Tungrorum (see note to line 2).

The letter is important for a number of reasons; indeed it is perhaps not unfair to describe it as the most important tablet in the collection. This is due first and foremost to the mention in line 14 of a certain Marcellus, a uir clarissimus and a consularis, who must therefore have been the current governor of Britain. L.Neratius Marcellus is attested in office as governor in 103 (see notes to lines 14 and 15) and this fits admirably with the dates assigned to the archaeological layer in which this tablet was found. It is worth stressing that this is the only information in the texts of the writing-tablets which helps to corroborate the date for the collection which has been deduced from the archaeological context. It is also noteworthy that the writer says in lines 24-5 ha[ec ti]bi a Vindolanda scribo, since there has been some doubt about the correct form of the Roman name of the fort; this point may now be regarded as settled (see note ad loc. ).

As has been remarked, the letter is exceptional for the quality of the Latin, which has a literary flavour and some elegance (for further discussion se see Vol. I., Ch. 5). Palaeographically, too, the letter is among the most interesting in the collection. Apart from the fragments mentioned above, which may be by the same hand, the script is not closely comparable to that found in any of the other tablets or to any we have noticed in contemporary papyri. Ligature is used boldly and more frequently than elsewhere in the tablets. Nearly all the ligatures discussed above (see Vol. 1., Ch. 4) are to be found as well as some unexpected joins, e.g. between e and preceding letters (te line 5, pe in semper line 10, etc.) and between 1 and the letter following (saluom line 6, etc.). It is also noteworthy that a is occasionally made in one movement and ligatures at both left and right, e.g. habeo line 9 and hanc line 11. These features may be attributed to the fact that our text is no doubt only a somewhat hastily written draft. But the writing is also striking for the idiosyncratic way in which it uses many of the ordinary cursive forms of the letters, most noticeably perhaps n; this is written much like a modern small n but with a marked loop at the right, cf. hanc line 11 and beneficio line 22. The most remarkable letter-form is the a in amicis line 22, which should be compared with the final a in Vindolanda lines 24-5 (see Vol. 1., Ch. 4. Note also the first m in amicorum line 17, and the ui ligature resembling q in cuius line 11. It is also noteworthy that the writer normally leaves a space between words. This space may be equivalent to one letter, or to two or even more. But the writer does not leave spaces between the words in a consistent manner, and the result of this is that it is particularly difficult to judge the extent of the loss in the various lacunae. In the diplomatic transcript an attempt has been made to copy the spacing on the original as closely as possible.

The point of the letter seems clear. The addressee Crispinus is in a position to exercise influence with the governor, perhaps having recently obtained a post on his staff. The writer is asking Crispinus to use this position on his (the writer’s) behalf to make his military service pleasant by putting him on good terms with as many influential people as possible.

Note that in Birley, FRB, p.87 there is a version of lines 9-15 and 24-6, which is rather different from that printed here. We should emphasise that the suggestions in the text and notes below are based on what we now regard as better readings.



1. There would be room for salutem in the lacuna at the right, but we think it at least as likely that in this draft the writer merely put Crispino suo, leaving his clerk to fill in the greeting in the fair copy. For our uncertainty on the identification of this Crispinus see the next note. The cognomen is, of course, extremely common.

2. [G]rattio: the penultimate letter is rather oddly formed; but if we are to look for a nomen here, it can hardly be other than i; r is a good reading for the first surviving letter. To judge by the margin at the left in lines 7 ff. there would be room for two letters before r, but we cannot suggest a suitable restoration of this length. If only one letter is lost, we may restore Grattius or Grattius (Schulze, LE, pp.423-4); of these the former seems to be the more common. As remarked in the introductory comments, we do not think it likely that either he or the addressee of the letter is to be identified with the Crispinus who was praefectus of cohors i Tungrorum (see No. 30.1 and 4 notes (295)). In theory we could identify the prefect with Grattius Crispinus if we supposed that he had just come to the end of his tenure of the prefecture of cohors i Tungrorum and was returning from Vindolanda, perhaps to the governor’s headquarters. Alternatively, we could seek to identify the prefect with the addressee of the letter by supposing either (a) that he had not yet become praefectus of cohors i Tungrorum, or (b) that the letter was from an officer of cohors viii Batauorum at a time when Crispinus was praefectus of cohors i Tungrorum but the unit had not yet been posted to Vindolanda. But both hypotheses are extremely tenuous.

The trace at the end of the line would suit a and we should perhaps read a[d.

3. [[non fui mihi]] non fui mihi: for the form of the second n in non compare the second n in Vindolanda (lines 24-5). It is not clear what the writer had in mind in writing these words which he subsequently deleted.

et.d.[: the letter after et looks most like p, but this cannot be right unless another letter is lost between this and d following (which is a probable reading). et ad.[ is perhaps just possible.

4-6. Supplementation at the left is a little difficult: in line 6 there would seem to be room for two letters before ]ominum and for one, or even two, before ]mine in line 5. We have considered reading [do]mine at the start of line 5 (perhaps with a word like frater at the end of line 4), but it seems better to read [ do/]mine, assuming a broad m, to fit the alignment suggested by d]ominum in the next line.

4-5. amplexus s[um . . . / . . . occassionem: on the literary flavour of this phrase see Vol. 1., Ch. 5, and cf. Pliny, Ep.2.13.1, et tu occasiones obligandi me auidissime amplecteris. For the spelling of occassionem see Vol. 1., Ch. 5. The word is in two halves on separate fragments but the reading is not in doubt.

6. saluom: for the form see Vol. 1., Ch. 5.

8. compotem: compos uoti is a common expression, see TLL s.v. compos 2137, but the two words cannot be combined here. For compos governing spes see Livy, 29.22.5, spei conceptae . . . compotem populum Romanum facere.

inter praecipua: a broad a is probably sufficient to account for all the ink after praecipu; praecipuum is a less likely reading (and praecipuom is impossible). For the expression cf. TLL s.v. inter 2134 with reference, e.g., to Quintilian, 1.8.7 [comoedia] inter praecipua legenda exit; for the following genitive cf. Vol. 1., Ch. 5.

9-10. de me . . . meruisti: it would suit the sequel as we understand it (see below) if this could mean ‘you have always done well by me’; but this seems an impossible meaning for the phrase with de (even though ‘you have always deserved this of me’ would normally require the deponent form of the verb, cf. OLD s.v.).

11. d[ ca.4].tem: the letter before tem is either a or r. With semper in the sentence it is very tempting to read d[iem, but this leaves ]rtem or ]atem suspended. We think the most likely solution is to read d[ignit]atem, which can probably just be accommodated in the lacuna. We should take it in the sense ‘this responsible post which you now hold’, for which cf. OLD s. v. 3b.

11-2. cuius fiducia: after f, i is virtually certain and d suits the traces well. The reading at the start of line 12 is far from certain, but no case of fides can be read. Most easily reconcilable with the traces, we think, is fiducia, less probably fiduciam. Such a word division is unexpected but it is perhaps acceptable in the present context, which is only a draft. We take fiducia as ablative governing the genitive cuius in the sense ‘relying on’, for which see OLD s. v. 2b; see in particular Cicero, ad fam.6.16, cuius fiducia peto a te etc., where the antecedent of cuius is nostrae amicitiae. The same sort of meaning would make reasonable sense in our letter, with the writer referring here to ‘my goodwill towards you’, as indicated in the preceding sentences. It would make even better sense if the writer had just said ‘you have always done well by me’ but, as indicated in the note to lines 9-10, we do not think this is a possible translation for the previous sentence.

12-3. So little remains of these lines that we cannot hazard a reasonable guess at the drift of the sense. The lacuna in line 12 is probably wide enough to accommodate ho[c domin]e.

13-5. As the tablet is complete at both the top and the foot, we must assume that the sense continues without a break from front to back. We think il[ almost certain and there is a space before it; it ought, therefore, to be the start of a word, presumably part of ille. Before Marcellum we expect a nomen, i.e. Neratiu]m; however, it is difficult to fit this in; it seems unlikely that there is room for the whole restoration in line 14 (see next note) and if we make a division, Ne/ratiu]m, this would appear to leave room for only one letter, or at most two, after il[ in line 13.

14. Although the left side of the tablet is preserved from line 18 onwards, there remains some difficulty in deciding how much is lost at the left in lines 14-6. In line 16 it would be easiest to suppose that only one letter is lost, but a word division o/ccassionem is hardly conceivable. There is barely room for any supplement after clarissi[mum but it is even more difficult to suppose that the whole of uirum was written at the beginning of line 15. We are sure that there is not room at the beginning of line 14 for the whole of Neratiu]m (see previous note) and we think that the best solution would be to read Luciu]m. The use of praenomen plus cognomen for men from the higher classes is commonly found in Cicero's letters, see J.N. Adams, CQ 28 (1978), pp.145-66, esp.153-4. We might then take il[lum in line 13 with this as meaning ‘the well-known Lucius Marcellus’, cf. Cicero, Verr.ii.5.84, ille uir clarissimus summusque imperator M.Marcellus; however, we are not entirely happy with such a use of ille in this context; it ought perhaps to imply that Marcellus has already been mentioned, and there seems to be nowhere in lines 2-12 where this can have occurred.

Marcellum: the reading of the cognomen is beyond any doubt and is the key to the restoration and interpretation of lines 14-5. The man must be a governor, as consularem in line 15 shows, and the only possible person is L.Neratius Marcellus, who is attested in office on 19 January, 103 (CIL 16.48); he agreed to a request by Pliny to grant a tribunate to Suetonius (Pliny Ep.3.8), which was then transferred to a kinsman. For a full treatment of the evidence for his career see Birley, FRB, pp.87-91, with citation of the Vindolanda text. This is the only piece of evidence in the tablets which helps to corroborate the date for the collection which is inferred from the archaeological date (see Vol. 1., Ch. 1, Vol. 1., Ch. 3).

15. consularem: this is commonly used in the sense of ‘governor' by Tacitus and other writers (see Birley, FRB, Appendix I). Its use in documentary sources is normally thought to be rather later, see H.-G. Pflaum in Recherches sur les Structures sociales dans l'Antiquité classique (CNRS, 1970), pp.170 ff., putting its earliest occurrences in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Our Vindolanda example is therefore a very early use; but note the use of the Greek equivalent for Bradua, who governed Britain late in Trajan's reign (ILS 8824a, see Birley, FRB, pp.92-4 and Appendix I).

15-8. Although more than half of the text is preserved at this point, we have not succeeded in producing a reconstruction which gives an entirely satisfactory sense. After quar it would be easy to read u, i.e. quaru[m, but we do not see what this could refer to or how it could fit in the sentence. We therefore prefer to suppose that most of this apparent u is a curve completing r, with a trace of an indeterminate letter following; this would suit e, and we suggest reading quare [ and regarding this as the start of a new sentence. After ut in line 16 it would be possible to read i; but this involves ignoring an apparent cross-stroke which, if taken seriously, points to the reading f. In line 18 sua [p]raesentia is on two fragments, but we do not think the reading as a whole is in serious doubt. sua creates a problem, especially with illius in the next line. It seems inevitable that we should take both words to refer to Marcellus; if so, it is certain that they fall in different clauses or sentences, hence our suggestion that a new sentence began with quos in line 18. But it is also essential for Marcellus to be the subject of the sentence or clause in which sua [p]raesentia occurs. We are reasonably confident that this phrase is to be taken as an ablative in the sense ‘through his helpful (powerful, opportune) presence’; for this meaning see OLD s.v. 2a, referring to Velleius 2.92.2, aberat . .. . Caesar circumferens terrarum orbi praesentia sua pacis suae bona. The sense might be something like ‘he offers this opportunity to win gratitude for yourself by helping your friends through his powerful presence’ which could be represented by a reading such as: quare [dat / oc]cassionem nunc ut f[auoris sit gra/ti]a tibi amicorum do[tes augendo] / sua [p]raesentia. occasio followed by ut is well attested, see OLD s.v. 1a; amicorum dotes augendo would mean ‘by fostering the talents of your friends’ see OLD s. v. dos 3.

18. tu[: t is certain, u probable. This may, of course, be the pronoun, but we allow the possibility, as our tentative translation implies, that it was part of tueor, e.g. tu[eris.

19. illius: it is not easy to see how to fit this in. As remarked above, it is most likely to refer to Marcellus. Possibly we should supply pace or a similar phrase which, with tu[eris, would satisfactorily fill the space. For pace illius meaning ‘with his permission, approval’ cf. OLD s.v. pax 3a.

habere[: of the letter before the break only a very slight trace remains; this would suit e and habere seems the only possible reading in the context. It may have been followed by rem or res.

20. quomodo: d looks more like b but this is an illusion induced partly by the tail of s from scio in line 19 and partly by a slight loop at the end of d, for which cf. the first d in Vindolanda, lines 24-5.

uoues: we find it impossible to decide between uoues and uoles. Palaeographically both are suitable, with uoles being perhaps a slightly preferable reading. If the general sense and sentence-division is as we have indicated, we can see no possible justification for the future tense, especially with habere in the previous line, and for this reason we have printed uoues in our text. Although the word with the meaning ‘wish’ has a poetical ring, the noun uotum is common enough in this sense and indeed is found in line 9 of the present letter. Prof. C. P. Jones has drawn our attention to the use of imperatives with a future tense referred to in Kühner-Stegmann, Ausführliche Grammatik der lateinischen Sprache3, i, pp.196-7 section (b), as well as to Pliny, Epist. 1.20.25, quam uoles breui epistula sed tamen scribe; cf. 3.6.5 and 4.11.16. This suggests an alternative way of understanding this passage, namely to read uoles and take it with what follows; we should then presumably have to abandon rem/res at the end of line 19 and supply here a conjunction to begin the next sentence, supplying an object for habere in the lacuna at the end of line 18. The whole might then mean something like ‘Of those whom you assist very many, I know, enjoy his support. So, just as you wish, fulfil what I expect of you’.

21. The reading of the end of this line, where the letters are partly broken and partly lost at the top, is problematical. The type of word or words we should look for depends principally on how we read the last two letters. If we read the last letter as r, we should no doubt think of an adverb ending -ter, although e before r is not an easy reading. It might be possible to read the last letter as m, but then we would have to assume that all trace of the final diagonal stroke has disappeared; it would be possible to read u before this, suggesting an adjective ending -um and agreeing with me.

22. amicis: for the form of the a see Vol. 1., Ch. 4.

instrue: for the use of this verb with the object as people rather than things cf. Pliny, Ep.10.28, Maximum libertum meum recte militibus instruxisti and Tacitus, Ann. 14.52, satis amplis doctoribus instructus maioribus suis.

23-4. militiam . . . iucundam experiri: a remarkable expression reinforced by the unusual word order, see Vol. 1., Ch. 5.

24-5. a Vindolanda: for the use of the preposition see Vol. 1., Ch. 5. The correct form of the Roman name for Chesterholm, which is slightly garbled in the literary sources, had already been deduced from the occurrence in RIB 1700 of the expression uicani Vindolandesses, see Rivet-Smith, PNRB, p.502. Our tablet confirms that Vindolanda was the spelling used in antiquity.

25-6. It is difficult to recover the reading or the sense of these lines beyond the fact that there is some reference to winter-quarters. After scribo we may have part of q, with the remainder of the ink belonging to the line below (b?); this might be, e. g., q[uo loco]; there is room for two letters after hiberna and the traces at the beginning of line 26 are compatible with a restoration of [po-/ [n]untur. Then we might have hab[et followed by a name. If this is correct and if, as we think, the leaf is complete at the foot, the draft will presumably have continued on another leaf.