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Volume One (TVI) material for tablet 295 (TVI tablet number 30)

Commentary:

References: Birley, Vindolanda, pp.134, 136 Bowman-Thomas, Historia 24 (1975), p.475

Nine joining fragments which supply the larger part of a diptych which is remarkable for its thinness. The format is the familiar one - the leaf is scored and folded with the writing on the inner faces in two columns. The loss of the top of the right-hand-side of the diptych leaves only traces of one line of writing at the top of the second column of the letter. There is no sign of tie-holes and it is doubtful whether there were any notches in the left and right-hand edges. Faint traces of the address survive on the back of the right-hand section.

The matter of the text is brief and succinct. Niger writes to Crispinus to inform him of the progress of some soldiers of cohors i Tungrorum whom Crispinus had sent with letters to the governor. Our interpretation of the details, which is set out at length in the notes, is as follows. Crispinus, the praefectus of the cohors i Tungrorum, had sent soldiers from Vindolanda carrying letters for the governor. They had stopped en route at Bremetennacum (Ribchester), where Niger was perhaps the commanding officer, and Niger had then sent them on their way. It follows from this that if the soldiers travelled from Vindolanda to Ribchester on their way to the governor, then the latter was at some place other than York (see further line 6 note).

In spite of the fact that they are addressed to different people, Nos. 30 (295) and 21 (248) bear a close resemblance to each other in several respects, and a detailed comparison is instructive. Both diptychs are extraordinarily thin, though No. 21 (248) is perceptibly larger in its vertical dimension (by about 1.5 cm). In both cases the left-hand column of writing occupies more than half the width of the diptych. In No. 21 (248) the whole of the diptych is used, whereas in No. 30 the right-hand column contains not more than two lines of the main body of the letter; then follows the closing greeting, and the lower half of the right-hand side is blank. In both cases the first line of the text commences some way to the left of the body of the letter. Within the body of the letter, the first line (i. e. line 3 in both cases) also commences further to the left than the rest, though not so far out as line 1. In both texts the closing greeting is written by a second hand.

In these respects the tablets follow the normal pattern for the letters, and their close similarity might be thought unremarkable; but we have drawn attention to this similarity because of the fact that No. 30 (248) is from Oppius (?) Niger and No. 21 (248) from Niger and Brocchus. We need to ask therefore whether Niger in both these texts is likely to be the same man. Our answer will depend partly on whether we think the texts were written in the same hand or hands. The second hand of No. 30 (295) does bear some resemblance to the second hand of No. 21 (248), but so little of the writing survives and the reading of what does survive is so uncertain that we would not wish to build anything on this resemblance. At first sight, the main hand of both texts looks to be the same;

No. 30 (295) is written in a fine, elegant, slightly right-sloping script, noticeable for the use of different sizes of the individual letters (e. g. c, l, r, s). All these features, as well as most of the letter-forms, occur equally in No. 21 (248). The only letters which differ markedly in form are d, which in No. 30 (295) is regularly in the 'uncial' form but in No. 21 (248) is in the ‘minuscule’ form (see FIGS. 11.7 and 11.8) and i, which is occasionally very long in No. 21 (248) but which never appears certainly in this form in No. 30 (295) (see, however, the note to line 8). Some idiosyncracies found in No. 30 (295) (h and m at the end of lines 3 and 4, the digit i in line 4, on which see the notes ad locc.) are best ignored for this comparative purpose. Much more significant is the fact that ligature is almost entirely absent in No. 21 (248) but, in the context of the Vindolanda tablets, it is fair to say that it is relatively common in No. 30 (295): er in lines 1 and 6, is lines 1 and 3, gr line 4, se line 6 etc. Especially notable are the ligatures or in Tungrorum (line 4), and sa, followed by ad, followed by dc in epistulis ad consularem (line 5). We still think it possible, to put it no higher, that the same hand is responsible for both letters, but in view of these differences it is safest to leave the question open. Likewise, we cannot insist with confidence on the identity of Niger in the two texts; but even if the hands were not the same this would not, of course, preclude the possibility of identity, since the main hand in both letters is likely to be that of a clerk.

 

Notes:

1. Oppius: the first letter is certainly a large, rather angular o. For what follows the choice seems to lie between a repeated p or c. Both Oppius and Occius exist; the former, which appears to be the commoner nomen, seems to us a more probable reading.

Crispino: the reading is clear and it seems logical to conclude that he was the praefectus of cohors i Tungrorum (see note to line 4). The cognomen Crispinus also appears in No. 37.1 and 2 (225), evidently referring to two separate individuals; but it seems unlikely that either can have been the Crispinus of No. 30 (see No. 37.1-2 notes) (295).

2. The long descender cutting through t of et in line 3 is, we presume, part of s in line 2, before which there is no trace of writing. We could restore either s[alutem or s[uo salutem (for the latter cf. No. 21.2 (248)). If the former is correct suo will have come at the end of line 1 and will have overrun the central fold, as happens in lines 3 ff. It is possible that we have the top of another letter in this line below the second i of Crispino in line 1; if this is ink, it can only be the top of an e and we must, because of the spacing, read s[uo salut]e[m.

3. Crispum: we are reasonably confident of the reading; the first stroke of the i is much more like the writer's usual a but the second stroke is horizontal, not sloping diagonally from left to right, and does not come to the left of the first stroke as it ought to do if a were written. s is made in the writer’s smaller version as in miseras (line 6) and the final s of epistulis (line 5). The initial c is large and made in two strokes, the descender being slightly bowed; it compares well with the smaller c of cum in line 4.

.e[: only the feet of these two letters survive; the second can hardly be anything other than e in this hand; the first is, we think, most likely to be p. After the break, only the foot of the first letter can be seen; this is compatible with s (e.g. eo]s, illo]s?).

coh(orte): the form of the h is remarkable. The top is lost, but what remains curves sharply to the right at the foot of the upright, and the final descender sweeps down below this line to finish (we believe) level with the end of Bremetennaco in line 6.

For the phrasing here we should compare RMR 89.1.4-6: misi / ad uos p[e]r aure[l ca.14 ]...[ ]um sta[tor]em / aurel mu[ci]anum [[ m[a]ri[ani]] (correction of line 5) / coh eiusdem quem dim[ ca. 10 ] quintum [n]onas iul. Fink suggests dim[isistis after quem.

4. · i ·: our remarks in Historia 24 (1975), p.475, which were based on an earlier photograph, were misleading. The digit is marked by a superscript bar and preceded and followed by medial points, thus making it clear that it is the numeral which is intended. In the context this can only be read as i, even though it is made quite unlike any other i in the text and closely resembles a small modern c (but not c as written elsewhere by this hand). Was the writer deliberately differentiating between i as a letter and i as a figure?

Tungrorum: the two forms of r, with the short and the long tail, appear in this word. This is the only reference in our texts to the cohors i Tungrorum, and we are entitled to deduce from the fact that Crispinus had despatched soldiers of this unit, that he was the praefectus. This text strongly suggests that the cohors i Tungrorum occupied Vindolanda during the period (or part of it) represented by layers 8 and 10 (ca. A.D. 95-105). We think it likely, on internal grounds, that it will have succeeded cohors viii Batauorum as the garrison of Vindolanda in the latter part of this period (see Vol. 1., Ch. 3. The other evidence for this unit is compatible with this suggestion. The cohort is attested in Britain in a diploma of 103 (CIL 16.48), where it is milliary. Normally, therefore, one would expect to find it commanded by a tribunus; but it has been shown that, like its sister unit cohors ii, it was anomalously commanded by a praefectus (E. Birley, CW n.s.35 (1935), pp.56-60 and see RIB 1580 and 1586). There is no doubt that the fort at Vindolanda will have been able to accommodate a milliary unit at this time (Birley, Vindolanda, p.109). In fact, the unit had been reduced to quingenary size by 122 (E. Birley, Corolla Swoboda (1966), pp.54-67), but it was again milliary in the Antonine period. This is shown by the important evidence of a new fragment of a diploma from Vindolanda, dating to 146 and issued to a soldier of cohors i Tungrorum (milliaria). This is compatible with the suggestion that the cohort had been stationed at Vindolanda in the pre-Hadrianic period. The soldier to whom the diploma was issued would have been recruited in 121 or a little earlier, and the finding of the diploma implies that he had retired there some time after completing his service. We do not know for certain where cohors i Tungrorum was in 146 (RIB 2155, which shows it at Castlecary during the Antonine period, cannot be dated precisely), but we can be sure that Vindolanda was not militarily occupied during this period. It seems more than likely that it was, in fact, the first garrison of Housesteads (which it is known to have occupied in the third century) and that it was moved there direct from Vindolanda when the Wall was built. We are much indebted to Margaret Roxan for information about this diploma and her views on its historical implications.

5. consularem n(ostrum): since No. 30 (295) comes from the same layer as No. 37, which mentions the governor (Neratius) Marcellus, it is tempting to suggest that the reference here (and perhaps also in No. 21 (248)) is to the same man. n is a clear reading but the leaf is broken at the point where one would look for an abbreviation mark; however, No. 21.10 (248) and several examples in Latin papyri lead us to believe that there will have been a horizontal stroke above it.

6. a Bremetennaco: on the use of prepositions with place-names see Vol. 1., Ch. 5. We interpret the letter to mean that Crispinus has sent men to the governor from Vindolanda and that these men have been further sent on their way by Niger from Bremetennacum: that is, we suggest that a Bremetennaco is to be taken not with miseras but with what follows. After all, there would be little point in Niger telling Crispinus that he (Crispinus) had sent the soldiers from Bremetennacum, and it would make it difficult to explain how the letter came to be at Vindolanda (see also the note to line 7). On the name Bremetennacum see now Rivet-Smith, PNRB, p.277. Rivet-Smith and K. Jackson, Britannia i (1970), p.69 speak of >Bremetona as ‘roaring river’ and think this may be a name for the Ribble. RIB 583, like the present text, provides documentary authority for the form of the name with -nn-. On the strategic importance of the site see I.A. Richmond, JRS xxxv (1945), pp.15-29; I.D. Margary, Roman Roads in Britain (1967), pp.370 ff.; and for a recent summary account of the occupation of the north-west, T.W. Potter, The Romans in North-West England (CW Research Series i, 1979), pp.356 ff. Bremetennacum (Ribchester) must be a part of the development which took place under Julius Agricola; see in general J.H. Hopkinson, The Roman Fort at Ribchester (3rd ed. by D. Atkinson, 1928). We do not know for certain what its garrison was at this time, though ala ii Asturum has been suggested (Hopkinson, op.cit. p.8; see the undated dedication by a decurio of that unit at Ribchester, RIB 586). This might, therefore, be Niger’s unit. Assuming that the road-network which linked the important forts in Lancashire and Yorkshire was being developed at the same time (Margary, op.cit., pp.371-4), soldiers sent by Crispinus from Vindolanda to Niger at Ribchester would hardly have been en route to the governor at York (though there was a major linking road, see Margary, op.cit., p.358, and also a main trunk road from Carlisle to Manchester on which Ribchester lay). But the most natural route from Vindolanda to York would be first to Corbridge and then south to Catterick (see Itin.Ant.I and Rivet-Smith, PNRB, pp.155-6). Hopkinson, op.cit., p.7 suggests that Ribchester was established to protect the route from the northern frontier to Chester and Caerleon. If our interpretation of the text of No. 30 is correct (295), it suggests that the governor was in this part of the world, perhaps at Chester.

7-8. There can be no line lost in this column, and the remainder of the message must be contained in lines 7 and 8. If our interpretation is correct, we need a verb of sending (probably a compound of mitto), a date and, perhaps, the name of the place to which they were being sent on. Of these elements, the date clearly came in line 8, where the reading kal is certain. We are not at all sure what to read after this: all the letters of kal are made in a tall form and the letter following is equally tall; if the stroke running horizontally at the middle is to be taken as a cross-bar, we ought to have either e, i.e. kalend-, or f, i.e. kal(end-) februari-; the size and shape of the letter following kal favours f and we might expect kalendae to be abbreviated to kal; however, we are not at all confident of either of these readings since the writing following (visible on an earlier photograph) can hardly be accommodated to either n or e. Indeed, it looks very much like the writer's normal u, and we wonder whether the apparent cross-stroke is no more than a thick stroke leading in to u, cf. the u in consularem (line 5). If so, the tall stroke before it would have to be understood as long i (not used elsewhere in this tablet but found several times in No. 21 (248), n.b. especially precari in line 8), and we should have a reference to June or July. The letters um before this suggest the phrase ante diem plus an ordinal number, but unfortunately we cannot fit the traces to any such number: the long descender at the left (which may well be from the first letter of the line, but need not necessarily be) looks like the foot of a, r or s; the next descender slopes more and suits a or r better; the writing immediately before um is curious, most resembling a; but ]aum seems to lead nowhere. We should probably therefore do better to take it as d with the bottom of the curve missing or as r with the characteristic curve at the top left missing; the reading ]orum seems just feasible. If this is on the right lines, the writer must be saying that he took action on 1 June or 1 July.

9-10. We have printed what makes sense and what we should expect to find here, but some of the readings in line 9 are very difficult, notably u in uale, o, i, n, and e in domine. If uale is correct, the u is written angularly and rather high with an accidental smudge of ink beneath it; l would be similar to the example in epistulis (line 5) and the cross-stroke of e would have disappeared. There is no sign of ink to the left of uale so we must exclude the possibility that we have part of a longer phrase. For the address domine frater cf., for example, RMR 89.38-9, Fronto, ad am. 1.27 (Van den Hout 178).

Back. Traces of bottoms of letters of one line and tops of letters of another. Presumably this is an address to Crispinus as praefectus of the cohort; but we cannot claim to be able to read any of the traces, and we are uncertain how full the form of the name and title will have been.