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Tablet 343

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Vindolanda Inventory No. 88.946


This letter consists of two complete diptychs which have been scored and folded in the usual manner. Each of the diptychs has notches and tie-holes in the left- and right-hand margins. The surfaces of both are much defaced by offsets, indicating that the ink was still wet when the leaves were folded. This also makes it apparent that the two leaves were folded independently. There is no proper address on the reverse (a feature to which we have no parallel in the Vindolanda tablets), merely the abbreviated word Vindol written diagonally across the top corner on the back of the right-hand side of the second diptych. This would only be visible if the second leaf were placed beneath the first after they had been folded. The most natural assumption is that Vindol indicates the destination of the letter (see above, pp. 43-5 and note to iv.42-3) and the lack of a full address presumably implies that the letter was to be delivered by someone who was personally known to the recipient, or that the letter was to form part of a batch of letters, all of which were being sent to Vindolanda. The presence of a closing greeting indicates that it is not a draft or file copy. The letter is written in the familiar two-column format, but with one striking oddity: the letter begins with col.i on the right-hand portion of the first diptych and continues with col.ii on the left-hand side; col.iii is on the right of the second diptych and col.iv on the left. The normal pattern is thus completely reversed. The most obvious explanation for this is that the writer was left-handed and adopted this device in order to be able to read what he had written in the first and third columns as he continued in the second and fourth. Since the closing section (iv.42-5) is written by the same hand as the rest of the text, we must assume that Octavius wrote the letter himself. The script has numerous cursive tendencies, including occasional ligatures and distortions of the letter forms. Individual letters are often crudely made, notably h, m and n. o is made in two halves and the right-hand half is at times curved in the "wrong" direction so as to make a ligature with the following letter (see, e.g., coria in lines iii.31 and 33). The impression one forms, however, is that the somewhat clumsy appearance of the writing is less due to the writer's incompetence than to his desire to write quickly. In general this is not always an easy script to read, and it is frequently made much more difficult by the presence of the offsets mentioned above. There are a great many points of linguistic interest, details of which may be found in Adams' notes to the ed. pr.; many of these are reproduced below but some have been omitted or abridged. The style is colloquial with occasional vulgarisms and phonetically inspired misspellings. One of these vulgarisms (quem for quam, line 40, if the text has been interpreted correctly) can be paralleled in another recently discovered document of early date (a legal contract of AD 39 from Murecine, see iv.38-41 note). This usage has hitherto been regarded as a late phenomenon (fourth-century); it is interesting to note that both examples are perpetrated in business contexts. Octavius uses a variety of financial idioms and a few technical terms. This is presumably the sort of unpretentious latinity we should expect in a business letter. The whole letter is replete with signs of entrepreneurial initiative. The sums of money and goods involved are very considerable: Candidus is asked for 500 denarii and Octavius has laid out 300 (a year's pay for a miles gregarius in this period). The natural conclusion is that Octavius and Candidus are involved in the supply of goods in a military context on a large scale. 5000 modii of cereal and hides numbering in the hundreds can hardly be intended for any other market. Octavius (wherever he was) presumably purchased the cereal from local sources. The hides will have come from the military sector since it is surely inconceivable that tanneries operating on this scale can have existed outside it. The reference to the presence of hides at Cataractonium (Catterick, lines ii.15-6) is of great interest and well fits the archaeological evidence for a large tannery there in the period between c. AD 85 and 120 (see Butler (1971), 170, Burnham and Wacher (1990), 111-7). The reference to credit arrangements with a certain Tertius, albeit for a small sum, is also of interest. The evidence for the operation of a cash economy on this scale and for the sophistication of the financial dealings in this region is in general supported by the evidence of the accounts from Vindolanda. We cannot be certain of the identity of either Octavius or Candidus nor do we have any indication of Octavius' whereabouts (see ii.15-18 note). Both names are common, but Octavius does not occur elsewhere in the Vindolanda texts. The name Candidus occurs in several other Vindolanda texts (and there are many others, including some centurions of the Hadrianic period, cited by A.R.Birley (1991), 93) but it is such a common cognomen that we cannot assume identity. Candidus, the slave of Genialis (301), a prefect who seems to have spent some time at Vindolanda but probably in an earlier period than that of the present letter, is one possible candidate. A much more likely candidate for identification with the recipient of the present letter here is a man of that name mentioned in two accounts (180, 181) found in close proximity to this letter. One of the accounts, which seems likely to have been compiled by a civilian trader (180, introduction), also contains the names Spectatus and Firmus, whom Octavius greets in lines iv.42 and 43 of the present letter. The account makes it clear that they have been responsible for ordering the dispensation of supplies, in the case of Firmus to legionaries. Spectatus and Firmus were no doubt military personnel and the same is likely to be true of Candidus. A.R.Birley ((1990a), (1991), VRR II, 60) has suggested that some or all of them might be legionary centurions and the location of the tablet in the rooms at the end of the barracks-building might support that. On the other hand, if the involvement in the administration of military supplies is a good indicator, at least some of them might have been optiones (note Candidus the optio in 146.2, 148.1). As to Octavius, we see no way of deciding whether he was a civilian entrepreneur and merchant, or a military officer responsible for organising supplies for the Vindolanda unit; in the latter case he might have been a member of the unit himself or someone with a broader responsibility for units in the area (in general cf. Davies (1989), 52-3, 200-1). For further comment on this text see A.R.Birley (1991); some of his points are discussed in the notes below.

n 1 Octauius Candido fratri suo
2 salutem
n 3 a Marino nerui pondo centum
n n 4 explicabo e quo tu de hac
n 5 re scripseras ne mentionem
6 mihi fecit aliquotiens tibi
n 7 scripseram spicas me emisse
n 8 prope m(odios) quinque milia prop-
n 9 ter quod (denarii) mihi necessari sunt
n 10 nisi mittis mi aliquit (denariorum)
11 minime quingentos futurum
n 12 est ut quod arre dedi perdam
13 (denarios) circa trecentos et erubes-
14 cam ita rogo quam primum aliquit
n 15 (denariorum) mi mitte coria que scribis
n 16 esse Cataractonio scribe
17 dentur mi et karrum de quo
n 18 scribis et quit sit cum eo karro
n 19 mi scribe iam illec petissem
n 20 nissi iumenta non curaui uexsare
n 21 dum uiae male sunt uide cum Tertio
22 de (denariis) viii s(emisse) quos a Fatale accepit
n 23 non illos mi uacat accepto tulit
n 24 scito mae explesse [[exple]] coria
n 25 clxx et bracis excussi habeo
n 26 m(odios) cxix fac (denarios) mi mittas ut possi-
n 27 m spicam habere in excusso-
28 rio iam autem si quit habui
n 29 perexcussi contuber-
30 nalis Fronti amici hic fuerat
n 31 desiderabat coria ei ad-
32 signarem et ita (denarios) datur-
33 {ur}us erat dixi ei coria in-
34 tra K(alendas) Martias daturum Idibus
35 Ianuariis constituerat se uentur-
n 36 um nec interuenit nec curauit
37 accipere cum haberet coria si
n 38 pecuniam daret dabam ei Fronti-
n 39 nium Iulium audio magno lice-
n 40 re pro coriatione quem hic
n 41 comparauit (denarios) quinos
42 saluta Spectatum I...-
43 rium Firmum
n 44 epistulas a Gleucone accepi
n 45 ual(e)
n 46 Vindol


"Octavius to his brother Candidus, greetings. The hundred pounds of sinew from Marinus - I will settle up. From the time when you wrote about this matter, he has not even mentioned it to me. I have several times written to you that I have bought about five thousand modii of ears of grain, on account of which I need cash. Unless you send me some cash, at least five hundred denarii, the result will be that I shall lose what I have laid out as a deposit, about three hundred denarii, and I shall be embarrassed. So, I ask you, send me some cash as soon as possible. The hides which you write are at Cataractonium - write that they be given to me and the wagon about which you write. And write to me what is with that wagon. I would have already been to collect them except that I did not care to injure the animals while the roads are bad. See with Tertius about the 8½ denarii which he received from Fatalis. He has not credited them to my account. Know that I have completed the 170 hides and I have 119 modii of threshed bracis. Make sure that you send me cash so that I may have ears of grain on the threshing-floor. Moreover, I have already finished threshing all that I had. A messmate of our friend Frontius has been here. He was wanting me to allocate (?) him hides and that being so, was ready to give cash. I told him I would give him the hides by 1 March. He decided that he would come on 13 January. He did not turn up nor did he take any trouble to obtain them since he had hides. If he had given the cash, I would have given him them. I hear that Frontinius Iulius has for sale at a high price the leather ware (?) which he bought here for five denarii apiece. Greet Spectatus and ... and Firmus. I have received letters from Gleuco. Farewell. (Back) (Deliver) at Vindolanda."