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Volume One (TVI) material for tablet 250 (TVI tablet number 22)


References:Bowman-Thomas, VWT, p.23 Bowman-Thomas, Historia 24 (1975), p.473, Wright, Proc.XIVth Int. Congress of Papyrologists, p.355, Birley, Vindolanda, p.153 (erroneously as 'No. 29'), Cotton, DLR, pp.2, 48

Now broken into four fragments, this diptych is of coarser quality than most of the tablets, as well as being considerably thicker than the average. The wood is actually of uneven thickness throughout, and its condition has deteriorated through warping. The main hand is far from distinguished; it is a rather crabbed cursive, somewhat cruder than most other hands in the collection. This is rather surprising, since we are confident that the greeting in line 17 is added in a second hand, that is the hand of the sender himself, a certain Karus, who was probably a person of some standing (see note to line 1). One would therefore expect him to have employed a clerk capable of writing rather more elegantly (and to have had better ‘stationery’ at his disposal); this hand certainly compares unfavourably with the hands) of Nos. 21 (248)and 30 (295), probably also sent by officers. The main hand of No. 22 (250) has some notable letter forms: b with a pronounced flourish to the hasta (especially in bene, line 16), very elongated f (line 15), g which is sometimes stunted (e.g. digneris, line 11), both short and long i, a pronounced hook at the start of l (see obligaturus, line 14), n with the first stroke descending well below the line (nom[ine, line 12); o can be a mere blob of ink, whereas p can have a marked serif at the foot (petit, line 3). Several letters appear in more than one form. There is very occasional word or sense division, but hardly any use of ligature.

Although there is not much of the diptych missing, supplementation has presented some problems. The condition in which the tablet has survived and, in particular, the fact that there are many marks on the photograph which may or may not be ink, has posed serious problems in reading; we are not confident that we have found the correct solution to all such problems (particularly in line 8).

The letter is sent by a man whose name does not survive in full; his cognomen is Karus and it is at least a possibility that he can be identified with the auxiliary praefectus C.Iulius Karus, attested in Britain, perhaps in the reign of Trajan, by an inscription from Cyrene (see note to line 1). Cerialis is the addressee and the address on the back adds his rank, praef(ectus). The format is the normal one for letters, with the text written in two columns and the address on the back of the right-hand portion of the diptych.

The content is of considerable interest, for this text adds to the small number of documentary examples of litterae commendaticiae. Literary examples of this genre are well-known in the correspondence of Cicero, Pliny and Fronto. Their importance in the military sphere was also considerable (cf. G.R. Watson, ANRW II.1, p.496, RS, pp.37 ff:), as is clear from CPL 251.38 ff. (=P.Mich.468): hic a[ut]em sene aer[e ni]hil fiet neque epistulae commendaticiae nihil ualunt nesi si qui sibi aiutauerat (see Adams, VLLCT, p.51). It is difficult to be certain what precise purpose the Vindolanda example served. Karus, we understand, recommends a certain Brigionus (?) to Cerialis, the praefectus at Vindolanda, and asks him to intercede on Brigionus's behalf with the centurio regionarius at Luguualium (Carlisle). If Brigionus has Roman citizenship and a nomen (cf. line 3 note), he might be a potential legionary recruit. If not, and his involvement with military personnel makes it unlikely that this was a purely civil matter, then perhaps he was at least hoping to enlist in an auxiliary unit. But it is perhaps worth remembering that in P.Oxy.32 (see below), in which a beneficiarius recommends a friend named Theon to a military tribune, there is no sign that Theon has, or is hoping to get, a military post.

The documentary examples of litterae commendaticiae in Latin which are known to us are the following: P.Oxy.32 (=CPL 249=ChLA 267); P.RyI. 608 (=CPL 248=ChLA 245); P.Berl. 11649 (=CPL 257=ChLA 424); P.Hib.276 (=CPL 260); P.Strasb.Lat.1 (=CPL 262); P.RyI. 623 (=CPL 263); ChLA 493. We might add that the fragmentary letters P.Dura 63B and ChLA 420 might also be litterae commendaticiae, and the same goes for Vindolanda tablets Nos. 54 (526) and 55 (173). C.H. Kim, Form and Structure of the Greek Familiar Letter of Recommendation (1972), is primarily concerned with Greek letters, but he does quote Latin parallels wherever appropriate; the texts of the 83 letters of recommendation which he reproduces include all the six Latin documentary examples known at the time he was writing, together with Polycarp, Phil.14.1. The Latin letters have been recently analysed much more fully by Cotton, DLR who takes account of Vindolanda tablet No. 22 (250) (pp.2, 48).

For comparison with the Vindolanda example, it is perhaps worth quoting from those examples which come from the earlier imperial period and exhibit some striking similarities of phraseology:

P.Ryl.608.3 ff: (=CPL 248=ChLA 245, cf. J.R. Rea, CE 43 (1968), pp.373-4).

[...]onem domini nostri imper[a]tores ser<u>um hominem mih[i] domesticum et carum rogo domine commendatum hab[eas]. est enim dignissimus et processu et fauore tuo cui quidquid at dignitatem eius pert[i]nens praestiteris non dissi[mulo] mihi gratissimum futuru[m].

P.Oxy.32.4 ff. (=CPL 249=ChLA 267).

Iam tibi et pristine commendaueram Theonem amicum meum et mod[o qu]oque peto domine ut eum ant<e> oculos habeas tanquam me. est enim tales omo ut ametur a te. reliquit enim su[o]s [e]t rem suam et actum et me secutus est. et per omnia me se[c]urum fecit. et ideo peto a te ut habeat intr[o]itum at te et omnia tibi referere potest.

P.Berl.11469.3 ff. (=CPL 257=ChLA 424).

Apri duplicari Carum duplicarium hominem probum commendo tib[i] qui si qu[i]d eguerit auxili tui rogo in meum honorem adiuues eum saluo pudore tuo.

P.Hib.276.3 ff. (=CPL 260).

Et praese(n)s te domine frater rogaueram coram Ammonium orthographum leg( ) n(ostr ) amicum nostrum) karissi[mum . . .

It is noteworthy, however, that the Vindolanda letter is strangely brief and reticent about the virtues of the person being recommended. It is also very curious that he is not identified further; normally we should expect to find it stated that he is the writer's friend, son, slave or whatever (for identification formulae see Kim, op.cit., pp.37-53, esp.48-53).



1. Our readings and restorations proceed on the assumption that nothing is lost before line 1. This is not entirely certain. As is clear from the plate, there might be space for a preceding line even if there is nothing missing at the corresponding point in the second column, before line 11; there would certainly be space if a line has been lost at the top of the second column (see note to line 11). The only thing which can have occurred in a preceding line is the name of the addressee; it is not unknown for writers to put the name of the addressee before their own name (e. g. RMR, 89.6-8), but there is no example of this in the Vindolanda letters. If this were the case, the traces after the name would presumably represent Karus's title (they would, for example, permit the reading pr[aef(ectus) ). However, we think it more likely that the writer left a space at the top of his letter, and that the first line preserved is in fact the first line of the letter. If so, we know (from the address on the back) that what followed Karus must have been Ceriali suo salutem; but it is not easy to fit this reading to the traces. After the name Karus, the bottoms of three letters can be seen, of which the third, appreciably lower than the other two, fits well enough for s of salutem in a second line (see note to line 2). Before it we have what can hardly be anything but the tail of r, and this is preceded by an uncertain trace. This trace does not suit c (or e) as made elsewhere in this text, and barely leaves room for a letter between it and r, we have supposed, in reading C[e]r[iali, that the initial c was made larger than other examples of c in this text and so descended a little below the level of the rest of the line.

[...]ius Karus: the identity of the writer poses a tantalising question. The nomen preceding Karus must have been a short one and its loss is most unfortunate. It is tempting to propose the restoration of [Iul]ius and to consider the possibility of identifying our writer with the honorand of a well-known inscription from Cyrene (AE 1951.88):

           C.lulio C.f. Vo[l.]

           Karo ex prouincia Narbo-

           nensi, trib. mil. leg. III Cy[r.],

           praef. coh. II Astyrum equ.,

5            donato bello Britannico c[or.]

            murali corona uallari cor.

            aurea hasta pura

            centyriones et

            milites leg.III Cyr. et leg.

10          [X]XII missi in prouinciam

            [C]yrenensem dilectus causa.


No decisive support for the identification may be gained from the spelling of the cognomen as Karus; this is very common indeed and, in fact, the use of k before a is technically correct (see Adams, VLLCT, p.32). The rank of the writer is a more substantive point. This is not actually mentioned in the text; but, bearing in mind that Cerialis, the addressee, was the praefectus of cohors viii Batauorum (see No. 23.12-4 (263)), it is entirely appropriate to the tone and content of the letter that the writer should be a person of equal or similar rank, which would be the case if he were C.Iulius Karus, praefectus of cohors ii Asturum; the closing greeting, uale frater, suggests, at any rate, that the writer was not of inferior rank. However, the problems involved in dating the career of C.Iulius Karus, and our inability to assign a precise date to the Vindolanda letter, prevent us from suggesting a firm identification. C.Iulius Karus was decorated in a British war whilst holding the post of praefectus of cohors ii Asturum. Tenure of this post seems secure despite the complications introduced by the attestation of C.Iulius Carus as praefectus of cohors vi Asturum (H. Devijver, Studia Hellenistica 22 (1975), No. 60 and PME No. 75). Are they different people, or did the same man command two different cohorts of Asturians (cf. Birley, RBRA, pp.137 ff., Domaszewski-Dobson, RRH2, p.119 for double commands), or is it simply a misreading? The date of the bellum Britannicum is not attested, but E. Birley argued for a war some time in the reign of Trajan (RBRA, pp.23-4) and cohors ii Asturum is attested in Britain in a diploma of 105 (CIL 16.51). If C.Iulius Karus won his decorations for action which took place between ca. 103 and 112, this would fit very well with the approximate date which we can assign to the Vindolanda letter (ca. A.D.95-105). It has recently been argued, however, that the bellum Britannicum should predate 100. Two milestones from Cyrene (AE 1951.210, 1957. 233) record road-construction in A.D.1OO per tirones lectos ex prouincia Cyrenensi, and it is argued that this is likely to have been the occasion of Iulius Karus's recruiting mission (S. S. Frere, Britannia, A History of Roman Britain (1967), p.124; M. Jarrett, J.C. Mann, BJ 170 (1970), p.181), which came after his valorous action in Britain. R. W. Davies suggested that Iulius Karus's unusual decorations make sense in the context of loyalty to Domitian at the time of the treachery of the governor of Britain Sallustius Lucullus, at some time between 86 and 96 (Acta Classica 19 (1976), pp.115-21). It is obvious that there can be no certainty. As regards the possibility of the writer of No. 22 (250) being the decorated C.Iulius Karus, it seems fair to say that a war in the middle or late 90s (Jarrett-Mann, loc.cit) still permits the identification. Karus could have written this letter ca. A. D. 97 and there would be no real difficulty in supposing that it had been retained by Cerialis and then discarded ca. 100; it might further be noted that the archaeological context, layer 8, suggests the earlier part of the period 95-105.

2. su]o: it seems clear that there could not have been room for this word at the end of line 1 unless it projected appreciably further to the right than the other lines in this column. It must be said that the mark which we have interpreted as o need not be ink, but the size of the gap between lines 1 and 3 makes it likely that there was some writing at this point. The placing of suo in line 2 is paralleled in No. 21 (248); the placement at the beginning of the line, with salutem at the end, is paralleled in P.Ryl. 608.2 (=CPL 248 =ChLA 245).

s[alutem: on this trace see note to line 1. The word may have been abbreviated to sal; this is, of course, very common, though it does not occur elsewhere in the Vindolanda letters.

3. Brigionus: this must be a Latinised version of a non-Roman name. It seems possible that it will have been preceded by a nomen (perhaps not necessarily implying Roman citizenship since there are examples of non-citizen auxiliary soldiers using the tria nomina), but it must have been very short (or abbreviated). Alternatively, we may have only a single name, ending -brigionus (note that -briga often features as the termination of a compound geographical name, see e.g. Rivet-Smith, PNRB, p.278). The name itself may be Gallic in origin. As parallels we can cite Brigio (CIL 13. 7067, Mainz), Bricio (A. Holder, AS, s.v.), Brico, Briccius, Brigio(s) (J. Whatmough, The Dialects of Ancient Gaul (1970), pp.204, 374), and P.Aelius Brigo (CIL 6.31149 c.7). It may be connected etymologically with the common element brig-, meaning ‘hill’, on which see D. Ellis Evans, Gaulish Personal Names (1967), pp.314-6; note also that there is a place in Britain called Briga, between Sorviodunum and Venta Belgarum (see Rivet-Smith, PNRB, pp.277-8 and cf. No. 4.44-5 note (190)).

petit: we take it that this is a contracted form of petiit (see OLD s.v). The final t looks very unclear on the plate, but we cannot imagine what else can have been intended, and it is perhaps a little clearer on an earlier photograph. For the expression see P.Cair.Zen. 5906.4ff:

 and cf: P.Col.Zen.41, PSI 520 (all third century B.C.).

a me: as alternatives for the end of this line and the beginning of the next we have considered do/[mine a] me and do/[mi]ne, but we are confident that the reading we have adopted is preferable to either of these; in particular the traces which survive on the right-hand piece and which belong to line 3 suit e much better than o.

4. eum: strictly speaking the reflexive se is required here but the use of is in such subordinate clauses is not uncommon (e.g. Caesar, BG I.5).

4-5. commendaret: although the last letter is unclear this is what seems to have been written. The writer must, of course, have meant commendarem. Just possibly he first wrote commendaret and then attempted to correct the final t to m, writing through t and over the following r. The dotted letters at the beginning of lines 5 and 6 are not to be seen on the plate; they were on a small piece of the tablet which broke off during the cleaning process.

6. si quod: since s is almost certain, si is inevitable. For the use of quod here see Vol. 1., Ch. 5. The final t of petierit is reasonably secure in an earlier photograph. Greek letters often have a comparable clause, cf. C.H. Kim, Form and Structure of the Greek Familiar Letter of Recommendation (1972), pp.78-81; for example P.Mert.62.7-8 has

7. [ut u]elis: we are fairly confident of e and s and the traces between will suit li; uelis makes good sense but we are not at all certain that there is room for ut at the beginning of the line. [u]elis, without ut, is grammatically acceptable, but this writer uses ut with rogo in line 10. It may be, however that the warping at the left has given a misleading impression of the space available. We think it unlikely that ut can have come at the end of the previous line; although there are dark marks on the right-hand piece opposite the end of petierit, which might be ink, this would make the line project much further to the right than the lines preceding or following.

subscribere: for this sense cf. Pliny, Ep.10.95, tuo tamen desiderio subscripsi et dedisse me ius trium liberorum Suetonio Tranquillo . . . referri in commentarios meos iussi; Val. Max. 8.13.ext.6, Hellanicus uero ait quosdam . . . ducenos explere annos, eique subscribit Damastes.

8-9. Annio Equestri: the reading of the whole of line 8 and the general construction at this point are far from certain. We have little doubt that the nomen Annio began the line (the first three letters are fairly certain, the last two suit the traces), and we therefore expect a cognomen to follow. After ri, which is clear, there is a space and it seems logical to suppose that the cognomen ended here, the whole name being in the dative. Of the preceding letters only q and s are certain, though ue suits well enough for what can be seen between these letters; between s and ri the reading is wholly uncertain (one or two letters?) and before q what we have transcribed as e is the merest trace which might not be ink at all. There appear to be two alternatives: Annio Equestri (for the cognomen see Kajanto, LC, p.313) or Annioque followed by a cognomen S..ri of which the third letter is c, p or t (we do not know of any such cognomen). In either case it would follow that subscribere in the previous line is the end of a sentence or a clause, and that line 8 begins a request, introduced by rogo in lines 9-10, for a recommendation to Annius. Our preference for the reading Equestri, a cognomen which is not very common, raises the question whether this is the same man as the centurion of cohors viii Batauorum, also called Equester, in No. 23.5 (263) (see note); the identification seems possible, but we would have to suppose that the auxiliary centurion received promotion after No. 23 was written (see following note).

(centurioni) regionario: the reading of the centurial sign, which can best be described as sickle-shaped, is not very easy; but given that we are fairly certain of the word following, it can hardly be interpreted in any other way. For the following letter, r suits the traces best. The other possibility would be l but this involves disregard of a horizontal stroke and a descender which runs into o of Luguualio in the line below. This would appear to be the earliest attestation of the military title centurio regionarius. Other references from Britain are: RIB 152 (Bath), 583 and 587 (both Ribchester, third century). Of these only the first has the simple title (centurio) regionarius; the others have a centurio regionarius with the additional title praep(ositus) n(umeri) et regionis (perhaps not beyond doubt in RIB 583). RIB 152 cannot be dated precisely; it belongs to the reign of a single Emperor and ought probably to be assigned to the second century. All three inscriptions are religious dedications which give no clue to the nature of the post. They are discussed by I.A. Richmond, JRS xxxv (1945), pp. 15-29. Regio is presumably a geographical area and might include a number of settlements or communities. It is interesting to find this type of command attested at Carlisle during a period when its military importance will have been great; we would most naturally assume that the centurion was from legio IX Hispana which was at York until at least 107-8 (RIB 665 and cf. F.J. Haverfield, Trans. Cumb. and Westm. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. 12 (1893), pp.280-2 for undated tile stamps showing soldiers of this legion at Carlisle). Perhaps he was in charge of operations in part of the western sector of the Stanegate during the period of the withdrawal from southern Scotland (cf. Birley, RBRA, p.28). There are other references to regionarii in CIL 13.2958 (Agedincum), AE 1944.103 cf. 1950.105 (Brigetio), AE 1953.129 (Noricum), IGR 3.301 (Pisidian Antioch). All are later than the Vindolanda reference and none gives any clear indication of the duties involved. Policing functions are perhaps suggested by two second-century references from Egypt to (BGU 522 and P.Lond.342, vol:ii, p.173) but these may be applicable to more civilised regions (Haverfield op.cit., p.25).

Luguualio: on the name and its etymology see K. Jackson, JRS xxxviii (1948), p.57, Britannia i (1970), p.76; Rivet-Smith, PNRB, p.402. It is derived from a personal name LUGUUALOS, ‘he whose strength is like (the God) Lugus’ or ‘strong in (the God) Lugus’ and the correct spelling is that used here.

9-11. For a similar chain of recommendation see Fronto, ad M.Caes.5.36 (51) = Van den Hout p.81.

9-10. rogo: there appear to be traces of ink after ro in line 9 and these marks could be read as go. But if this were correct, the only way to take go at the beginning of the line would be as the end of ergo (cf. line 5). However, it is difficult to see where er can have stood; if it came in line 9 it would make the line project further to the right than the other lines in the column, and if it came at the beginning of line 10 it would make this line commence further to the left than the others. It would also force us to take rogo as the beginning of a new sentence, and this makes it much more difficult to construe what precedes and what follows.

On the whole we think it probable that no line is lost between lines 10 and 11 (see note to line 1). If so, we can hardly restore anything but commen[dare] before digneris and take Annio . . . digneris as a single clause with the meaning indicated in the translation. From the point of view of Latinity there is no difficulty in supposing a line lost, and supplying something like commen[datum habeas et fa/uore] digneris. If we read rogo ergo (see above), it would seem essential to introduce some such clause; the phrase commendatum habeas is very common and corresponds to Kim's third type of request-formula (Form and Structure of the Greek Familiar Letter of Recommenda­tion (1972), pp.68-71 with examples).

11. As is common, the right-hand column is considerably narrower than the left (cf. Nos. 21 (248), 30 (295)). After digneris, e[ius or i[llius are equally possible alternatives; we do not think there is enough room before or after it for commen-/[datum] digneris h[abere.

12. We suggest restoring me]oque at the beginning of this line but the o is very uncertain. We have considered eiu]sque (which would, of course, necessitate restoring something else in the previous line); but, while the trace itself would suit the bottom of s, we really ought to be able to see something of the top.

nom[ine: cf. Symmachus, Ep.2.84, hoc tantum subicere contentus me quoque tibi eius nomine, si quid gratiae ceperit, obligandum; Quintilian, decl.253, p.36,2, ut meo nomine sum uobis, Quirites, obligatus. See also the phrase in Greek litterae commendaticiae of the early Roman period (P.Mert. 62.8-9, P.Oxy. 787). This section of the letter is what Kim, Form and Structure of the Greek Familiar Letter of Recommendation (1972), pp.89-97 calls the ‘appreciation’.

13. debetorem: for the vowel-change see Väänänen, LVIIP3, pp.21-2; note that TLL quotes one gloss in the form . For the whole sentiment in lines 12-4 compare Pliny, Ep.3.2, habebis me, habebes ipsum gratissimum debetorem and Ep.4.4, obligabis me, obligabis Caluisium nostrum, non minus idoneum debetorem quam nos putas.

14-6. For this very common closing formula compare, e. g. RMR 89.39. The traces at the right in line 14 are exiguous and we read op[to only because we believe the word is inescapable in this formula. If the construction were slightly different, palaeographically obligaturus es [opto etc. would be acceptable. The end of line 15 was originally preserved but was lost in the cleaning process. The reading of ualere seems inescapable, though it is clear that the writer began to write something else and then corrected it; an apparent f after bene suggests that he perhaps began to repeat felicissimum.

17. There is probably a medial stop after uale, but the mark may not be ink.

18-9. The address is written, as is normal, on the back of the right-hand section. There is no doubt about the reading of the name and title.