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The Roman Army : Soldiers and Civilians

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Tab. Vindol. II Introductory chapters

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The Roman Army

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Digitising Vindolanda

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List of Persons

From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, The Vindolanda Writing Tablets (Tabulae Vindolandenses II), London: British Museum Press, 1994. pp. 29-30

When we come to consider the people attested in the tablets who did not hold military posts, the clearest evidence relates to members of officers' families and slaves.37 The presence of officers' wives is most clearly illustrated by the correspondence of Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Flavius Cerialis, who receives letters from at least two different women, one certainly and the other perhaps the wife of an officer (291-294). There is at least one other letter between female correspondents, as well as one addressed to Flavius Cerialis by a woman (324, 257). Requests by authors of letters that recipients should pass on greetings to people with female names further emphasise the presence of women in the military ambit, some of them surely below the equestrian officer level and thus not permitted to contract legal marriages (310, 353, cf. 346); one such may be concealed in a reference to a contubernalis (181.14). The presence of officers' wives in the praetorium, surprising though it may at first have seemed, must now be accepted as common, if not routine. The only unambiguous evidence for children in the tablets relates to the equestrian officer class (291).38 The status of women connected with men of other ranks is less clear cut, but the evidence of the tablets themselves does not necessarily presuppose their presence within the fort, as opposed to an adjacent settlement.

The presence of slaves is also clearly attested.39 Candidus the slave of Genialis is the recipient of a letter from a slave named Severus, and Rhenus the slave of Similis sends a letter to Primigenius who was no doubt also a slave (301, 347). Genialis is an equestrian officer and Similis is likely also to be one. Primigenius might be a slave of Flavius Cerialis and we may also have letters addressed to a slave of the prefect Iulius Verecundus and to another slave of Genialis named Albiso (302, 303). The evidence of nomenclature is not an infallible guide to status but some examples in letters (e.g. 311) are suggestive and the name Privatus in one of the accounts is very likely to belong to a slave involved in domestic duties in the praetorium (190). It is possible that a separate bathing establishment was maintained for slaves in the fort (322). Although it is known that soldiers below the equestrian officer level kept slaves, the only probable evidence for this in the tablets concerns a centurion who will have been somewhere other than Vindolanda (255).

The case for the presence of freeborn civilians at or near Vindolanda is more difficult to evaluate. The role of independent civilian traders and contractors in the ambit of the army has long been recognised and although it is unsafe to rely on analogy with other, more developed areas, it is not difficult to imagine their presence, perhaps in small numbers, in the northern frontier zone even at this early date.40 It is, however, very difficult to demonstrate beyond doubt the civilian status of particular individuals and unsafe to infer it from their function or activity; we have already raised the question with reference to a balniator, a ceruesarius and a uector, who could perhaps be either military or civilian, and the same may be true of people performing agricultural tasks (180).41 We had earlier suggested that Metto and Aduectus, the sender and the recipient of wagon parts (309), and Octavius and Candidus, the dealers in cereals and leather (343), might be civilian traders or contractors, but the case is not compelling.42

In our view, the most persuasive evidence for civilian presence lies in 180 and 344, two texts written on one tablet or set of tablets. The anonymous writer of the account is clearly also the person who wrote the letter or draft petition; there is no doubt about the identity of the hands. The author of the petition describes himself as an innocent man from overseas (hominem trasmarinum et innocentem) and the whole tone of the appeal suggests a civilian suffering maltreatment at the hands of the military. Unless the writer was drafting this on behalf of someone else, it follows that the compiler of the wheat account, who was presumably a dealer and tradesman, is likely to have been the maltreated civilian.43 If this is so, it might lend weight to the hypothesis that other persons appearing in the group of tablets which includes this and the letter of Octavius (343) are also civilians, but it is impossible to decide how far such hypotheses can be pressed. We can only conclude that the case for the presence of some civilians is, in principle, quite strong.

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