From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, Vindolanda: the Latin writing
tablets London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies,
1983, pp. 72-74
The tablets are of limited linguistic interest
because of their brevity and imperfect state, but they do confirm
one or two developments in first-century speech and orthography,
and offer evidence of a few usages not otherwise known for this
period. They are not linguistically uniform, presumably because
their composers came from varying social strata. While a few tablets
are marked by substandard Latinity (e.g. No. 22 (250),
No. 37 (225)
is manifestly the work of an elegant stylist. One may note the hyperbaton
militiam [po]ssim iucundam experiri
(lines 23-4), the literary metaphor amplexus
s[um . . . .] salutandi te occassionem (lines
4-5), the ablative absolute Crispino redeunte
(line 2), the old-fashioned. spellings saluom
(line 6) and occassionem (lines
5 and 16), and the artificial idiom inter
praecipua uoti (lines 8-9) which seems to be a variation
on a current formula of epistolography1.
The hanging of a partitive genitive on a substantival neuter plural
adjective is very rare in classical prose, but common in artificial
stylists such as Sallust, Livy and Tacitus2.
Spei . . . compotem (lines 7-8), imple
(line 20) and instrue (line
22) also have a literary flavour.
The tablets show a distinction between the methods of expressing 'motion towards' and 'motion from' a town. The former is expressed in the classical manner by a plain accusative in No. 42.3 (324), peruenisses Vin[dolandam (the restoration is virtually certain), the latter by prepositions in No. 37.24-5 (225), ha[ec ti]bi a Vindolanda scribo3, No. 30.6 (295), miseras a Bremetennaco4, No. 39.2-3 (299), a Cordonouis amicus missit mihi ostria5. The same distinction is found not only in late antiquity, but also in Vitruvius6 and a few other early imperial writers7. The presence of the prepositional idiom in No. 37 (225) shows that, whatever its status originally, it was not vulgar by this period.
The increasing use of prepositions to express 'motion from' coincided with, and may have been partly motivated by, the spread of a locatival ablative in the singular of second-declension place-names (e.g. CIL 4.4299, Herclanio; Vitruvius 2.8.10, Halicarnasso) 8. Along with directional expressions containing ab, the tablets display an example of the locatival ablative in -o: No. 22.8-9 (250), Annio Equestri (centurioni) regionario Luguualio rogo ut . . . Luguualio here is adnominal. According to Hofmann-Szantyr (see note 8), p. 151, the adnominal locative occurs sometimes in early Latin, but was later not in normal use. But this example, which seems perfectly idiomatic, suggests that it may have been current in colloquial or substandard usage at this time.
In colloquial Latin a blurring had long since taken place between quis and qui9, but in No. 22.6 (250) it is quid and quod which have been confused: si quod a te petierit10. The classical distinction between the neuters was maintained far longer than that between quis and qui11, but (ali)quid for (ali)quod does occur sporadically12. (Ali)quod for (ali)quid is much rarer, and according to Löfstedt is not definitely found until late Latin (the text at Celsus 6.7.4 is doubtful). Si quod here would seem to be the first instance of this phenomenon.
B. Phonology and Orthography
There are a few traces of the vulgar pronunciation change e (No. 4.22 (190), massec[i, presumably Massic wine, No. 22.13 (250), debetorem), both of them in unstressed syllables, but no sign of a corresponding change in the back vowels. The spelling furnaces = fornaces (No. 1.7 (155)) is due to a contamination between fornax and its near-synonym furnus13. Saluom (No. 37.6 (225)) and quom (No. 21.6 (248)) are old-fashioned spellings of some persistence in the early Empire (e.g. CPL 250.2, saluom; CIL 4.1654, quom; on the use of the spelling quom at this time see Quintilian 1.7.5). It is normal for vulgar texts of this period to show traces of the change from i > e, without signs of that from u > o14. The closing of e in hiatus, another phenomenon of relatively early Vulgar Latin15, is seen in ostria (No. 39.3 (299)) and sagacias (No. 44 (521)) (Vol. I Ch. 5 . The contraction petit = petiit (No. 22.3 (250)) is commonplace16. C]ontibernales (No. 38.10 (346)) has the new orthography, for the 'intermediate' vowel (Quintilian 1.7.21). One surprising feature of the tablets is the lack of evidence for the monophthongisation of ae, which had certainly taken place by this time.
Gemination of s after short vowels is a well-known phenomenon17, but in No. 39.3 (299) gemination is found after a long vowel (missit). Similar spellings abound in some partially published stylus tablets from Pompeii dated to the first century A.D. (e.g. AE 1972.86a, Cessaris twice, Hessucus twice; 87a, Cessaris; 876, Cessaris; this is only a selection of examples). They may be interpreted as hypercorrect against the simplification of ss after long vowels, a development which is known to have been in progress in the first century (Quintilian 1.7.20). [Oc]cassionem in No. 37.16 (225) (also no doubt in line 5) is not exactly parallel to missit, because the geminate would have been original to the word (see Quintilian, loc.cit. on cassus > casus) 18. The spelling is not uncommon in manuscripts19. In a document remarkable for its artificial Latinity it would have been adopted for its old-fashioned flavour.
On the final consonants in it quot (No. 21.3 (248)) see the commentary ad loc. Karissime and Karus (No. 25.3 (247) and No. 22.1 (250)) have the familiar k-spelling before a20.
With Equestre (No. 23.5 (263)) compare, for example, CIL 4.3943, Cereale21. -i was the usual adjectival ending, -e the nominal in -i stems in classical Latin, but in substandard Latin the distinction was not consistently maintained. Names with an adjectival origin seem to have been particularly prone to take on the -e ablative22.
The vulgar genitive subligariorum (No. 38.4 (346)) has been discussed elsewhere23.
When the Greek entered
popular Latin it passed into the feminine (ostrea
is the normal form in early Latin). In the early Empire a learned
reaction introduced the neuter ostreum,
which became the more common form in first-century literature24.
The writer of No. 39 (299)
chose the 'learned' neuter, but marred it by a substandard spelling
(line 3, ostria with i
for e). His stylistic pretensions
are shown by the hypercorrect missit
nearby (line 3).
Sagacius (No. 44 (521) < sagum), which is found elsewhere only at Columella 11.1.21 (see No. 44.2 (521) note)25, is slightly abnormal among -aceus formations in that the majority are adjectives of material based on plant-names26. The function of the suffix in sagacius is problematical. It is unlikely that the word is an adjective of material. The normal sense of sagum is 'cloak' and there appears to be no evidence that it could be used of the material from which such cloaks were made. Like various other long adjectival suffixes, -aceus came to be used rather loosely, particularly in colloquial and later Latin, with a variety of functions. While numerous -aceus adjectives mean roughly 'composed of' the substance described in the nominal base of the word (e.g. betaceus, fabaceus, farraceus, miliaceus, rosaceus), others took on the meaning 'resembling' the substance of the base. Ferulaceus, for example, means both 'of ferula' (Pliny, NH 34.170), and 'like (that of) ferula' (Pliny, NH 27.89). The function of the suffix was further widened to mean vaguely 'belonging to, pertaining to, suited to', etc. Hordeaceus, for instance, could mean 'of barley', but 'barley pears' (pira hordeacea, see Columella 5.10.18) were so called because they ripened at the same time as hordeum (cf. Pliny, NH 15.55). In this expression the adjective means merely 'having a connection with hordeum', and the nature of the connection is unspecified in the formation itself; cf. pulmonaceus, 'belonging to, good for, the pulmo' (Vegetius, Mul.1.12.2, radiculam, quam quidam consiliginem uocant, quidam pulmonaceam), columbinaceus, 'belonging to the dove' (used at Caelius Aurelianus, Acut.2.111 with pullus = 'young of a dove'). There are thus two possible senses of sagaceus, 'like (that of) a sagum', or 'for, belonging to, the sagum'. Since the accompanying noun is lost in No. 44 (521), one cannot specify the sense of the word further.
D. Word Order
The tablets are too fragmentary to throw much light on word order. But No. 39.3 (299) amicus missit mihi ostria, where the subject precedes the verb, the verb the object (SVO), and the dative pronoun is enclosed between verb and object, should be compared both with No. 38.2 (346), ram (= miseram or afferam?) tibi paria, and with various similar passages in roughly contemporary vulgar documents: CPL 303.4-5, misi tibi . . . panes; CPL 304.12-13, misi tibi . . . chiloma; CPL 305.6, misi tibi uasum oliarium; CPL 250.18f., 251.8f., 251.24, 252.13 (= P.Mich. 467, 468, 469). There can be no doubt that by this time in Vulgar Latin the regular position for the object was after the verb27, and that dative pronouns, in juxtaposition with the verb28, were showing a tendency to be enclosed between the verb and another stressed element29. Misi(t) + dative pronoun + object was almost formulaic in the epistolography of the period.