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Palaeography: Abbreviation and Punctuation

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Tab. Vindol. II Introductory chapters

Tab. Vindol. II Category introductions

Tab. Vindol. II Abbreviations and Bibliography

Digitising Vindolanda

Tab. Vindol. II Addenda and Corrigenda

Tab. Vindol. I Introductory Chapters

Archaeology and Conservation

Writing on wood

The Content and its Significance



List of abbreviations

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Tablets guide

An Introduction

The Script

The Palaeographical Background

Analysis of the Letter-forms

Capital and Address script

Abbreviation and Punctuation


From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1983, pp. 68-69

In Latin papyri words are frequently abbreviated without any indication being given that the word is abbreviated, and this phenomenon occurs occasionally in the Vindolanda tablets104. Abbreviation is common in the writing of dates: k = kalendae (No. 1.1 (155), No. 4 (190) passim, No. 6.1 (205)), kmar = kalendis Martiis (No. 16 (165)), kal = kalendis (No. 30.8 (295)), pr = pridie (No. 2.1 (151)); on the other hand there appear to be medial points after pr and k for the abbreviation pridie kalendas in No. 23.7 (263). Other unmarked abbreviations are: praefcoh = praefecto cohortis (No. 23.13 (263)) and coh = cohors (Nos. 23.6 (263), 9.2 (511), 30.3 (295)), h = homines (No. 1.1 (155)), probably also inp (No. 5 (191) ter) and m = modius (No. 6.2 (205), see note). In this last example the abbreviation may have been indicated by writing o over m (see note ad loc.); in No. 4 (190), where there are frequent instances of modius abbreviated to m, the letter is usually surmounted by a horizontal flat dash, and where this does not occur we should probably attribute it to the inadvertence of the writer. The same abbreviation is found in No. 14.2 (513) but m in No. 8.3 (510) probably stands for something different (see note). n = noster is also regularly marked by the addition of a horizontal stroke over the letter, see Nos. 21:9 (248), 30.5 (295) and 34.3 (218); cf. No. 23.9 (263) with note ad loc.105. At No. 21.9 (248) (see note) the letter is preceded and followed by a medial point to draw attention even more forcibly to the use of an abbreviation. Such use of two medial points is regularly found in Latin papyri and manuscripts to indicate that a numeral is intended. For an instance of this in the tablets see No. 30.4 (295); another example may occur in No. 23.6 (263) (see note). Sometimes numerals are indicated by the use of a superscript bar (as with m = modius, mentioned above), for instance No. 2.2 (151); but more often numerals are left unmarked (e.g. No. 4 (190) passim). There is an interesting variant of this superscript bar in No. 9.2 (511) (see note). Abbreviation by symbol occurs for denarii (No. 4.1-8 (190), No. 5 ter (191), and Nos. 7.2 (199), 8.4 (510)), sextarii (No. 4.25 (190) etc.) and centurio/centuria (No. 3.8 (160), 10 (224), No. 22.8 (250)); note also s = semis (No. 4 (190) passim and No. 6.2 (205)).

It is well known that in Latin writing of the early Empire a medial point, known as interpunct, was used to mark word division. It is equally well known that this practice did not survive, and was abandoned during the second century106. Since our tablets date from the very beginning of this century we might expect them to reflect a transitional stage, with some writers still using interpunct when others had abandoned it. This is indeed the case, although the use of interpunct is less common than we might have expected. Only No. 41 (323) appears to use interpunct regularly; it is found between most words in No. 31 (297) and is less systematically employed in No. 6 (205) and (perhaps) No. 3 (160). There may be a further example in the second hand of No. 22 (250) between uale and frater. What appears to be an identical medial point is found in Nos. 23.4 (263) and 38.4 (346) (cf. also No. 38.5 (346) note). These examples are perhaps better regarded as punctuation which, in the strict sense, does not otherwise occur in the tablets. However, it is very difficult to be sure whether such occasional dots are really ink and, if ink, are to be taken seriously and are not merely stray marks.

Word division as we know it today is not common in Latin papyri of the first two centuries A.D. and it is noteworthy that it is occasionally found in the tablets. It appears most prominently in No. 37 (225), where the writer frequently leaves a space between words equivalent to the size of two or even three letters; but on other occasions he makes no division at all between words. For other notable examples of the use of word division cf. Nos. 39 (299), 46 (342) and 47 (152). In this last example note that the monosyllable et is separated by a space from the word following; the writer of this tablet is therefore not following the convention known from Latin manuscripts of the medieval period where no break was made between monosyllables and the word following.

Deletions are found in a few texts and are always indicated by simply crossing through the word or words to be deleted, cf. Nos. 3 (160), 5 (191), 37 (225). Occasionally words are divided between lines and the usual rules of syllabic division are followed, with the line beginning with a consonant; for an exception see No. 37.11-2 (225) and note. Finally, it is worth noting the way in which No. 21 (248), the only letter preserved in its entirety, is set out on the tablet: the first line commences much further to the left than the lines which follow, and line 3, the first line of the letter proper, is also set out further to the left than the following lines. In line 3 the first two letters of the first word (op of optamus) are made much larger than the letters following. A similar practice, both in the layout of the letter and the enlarging of the first letter in the line, is also found in No. 30 (295), which may be the work of the same scribe (see introductory comments).

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