Vindolanda Tablets Online Tablets Exhibition Reference Help

Introducing Documents

Vindolanda and its setting


Forts and military life



Writing tablets - forms and technology

Writing instruments and equipment

The use and formats of writing tablets

Other documents at Vindolanda

Clerks, Latin and education

Reading the tablets

about this exhibition

As well as wooden tablets a range of other media were used for portable documents in the Roman empire. Perhaps the most familiar writing material is papyrus. Far more papyri have survived than any other category of document: they have been found in their hundreds of thousands in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Another form of portable document was the ostrakon (plural ostraka), substantial fragments of pots which were re-used for writing in ink. Ostraka too have been documented in large numbers: for example excavations in the 1980s and 1990s of a Roman quarry in the Egypt's Eastern Desert have recovered over 10,000. While ostraka and papyri were used in the north-western provinces, it was assumed until the discovery of the Vindolanda ink tablets that wooden tablets written with a stylus were the commonest type of portable document. The discovery of ink 'leaf tablets' at Vindolanda was an enormous surprise to scholars of the Roman world. Where ink tablets were first invented and used is not clear. The earliest examples are from Vindolanda and Carlisle, where they were already a well-established technology. Whatever their origins, it is likely that they were the most widely used type of portable, everyday document in the north-western provinces and perhaps beyond.

The pages in this section discuss the form writing tablets took and the tools of writing, as well as illustrating some of the other types of written document that survive from the Roman world. The uses to which the leaf and stylus tablets were put are explored. Who wrote and read the Vindolanda documents and how they might have learned Latin are investigated.

Tablet database link: Browse the tablets by type of document (e.g. letter or account).


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