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Military Units


Soldiers and Civilians



List of Persons

From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, The Vindolanda Writing Tablets (Tabulae Vindolandenses II), London: British Museum Press, 1994. pp. 32-35

Our survey of the military activities recorded in the tablets deals with four main topics: general organisational role and the administration of units and personnel; the administration, use and manufacture of goods and supplies; communications; judiciary and policing role.

For the general organisational role of the army in the frontier region, two brief items of evidence need to be noted. First, the reference to the organisation of a census (304), which should certainly be regarded as an activity which often involved military personnel in newly acquired territory. Second, the presence of a centurio regionarius at Luguvalium (250) who must certainly have been a key figure in the organisation of this sector of the frontier and may, indeed, himself have been involved in the census-taking operation.

There is a good deal of evidence for the administration of units and personnel but, perhaps not surprisingly given the nature and location of the deposit, virtually none for pay-records or rosters of individuals and their duties, so well represented in the papyri from Egypt and Dura-Europos. The complete strength report of the First Cohort of Tungrians (154) is uniquely important and indicates a degree of fragmentation of units which is surely a very important characteristic of the frontier zone at this period. Other reports indicate the dispositions of particular groups performing specific functions (155, 156, 157, see further below) and may be compared with the "rapports journaliers" found at Bu Njem.54 A list of individuals (161) is fragmentary and uninformative. We may note the request that some individuals whose names are lost should be removed from a list (345), and it is worth emphasising the inclusion in the strength report (154) of categories of men unfit for service. Medical facilities were available at Vindolanda which had its own hospital, and there is also a reference to a ueterinarius (155, 181).

A striking novelty is the large number of reports with the renuntium heading, clearly made at regular intervals, perhaps daily; these were submitted by optiones and seem to be straightforward checks on personnel and equipment (127-153). One unfortunately incomplete letter appears to refer to the occurrence of a numeratio at Vindolanda, but it is unclear whether this is a "pay-parade" or a muster of a more general kind (242). Some new light is cast on Vegetius' statement about the care with which leave was granted and recorded by a group of applications for leave submitted by individuals to the prefect of the unit (166-177). There may be two references to deserters, both in lacunose contexts (226, 320), and another perhaps to a malcontent who was at large in the region and posing a threat to someone's peace of mind (256).

Three letters in particular illustrate the way in which individual careers might be affected or influenced by contacts: two letters which shed some light on the connections of Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians, with the provincial governor and perhaps with another superior officer (248, 225), and one recognisable example of litterae commendaticiae, for someone probably called Brigionus, a romanised Celtic name, who might be of humble station (250). This is the closest we come to having direct evidence for recruitment of local Britons into units originally raised elsewhere. A note which describes the fighting characteristics of the Britons (164) might possibly be relevant if it was compiled by or for someone who was interested in recruitment (units of Britons were certainly being raised at this time).55

The administration of goods and supplies is more abundantly attested than any other aspect of military activity, thanks to the large number of accounts, and here we can only indicate some of the more interesting items of evidence, excluding those which we consider more relevant to the domestic administration of the praetorium (see below, p.119(XREF-IIALWP6)). It is in general compatible with the picture of the Roman army "managing the supply of its own specialised requirements, an intermediate stage between importing its own supplies into newly occupied territory and the full economic integration of the frontier region".56

There is a good deal of evidence for procurement and dispensation of food supplies, a central feature of the papyrological documentation from Egypt.57 Wheat is distributed to individuals and groups who might have been scattered about in the vicinity of the fort in a variety of positions and tasks (180). Trade on a fairly large scale in the cereal known as braces is attested and it is more than likely that such activities involved military officers, civilian traders and local Britons at different stages (343, 348). There are also signs of the provision of beer probably brewed locally (182, 186, 190), for which the braces may well have been the basis, and of meat products (182, 191). There can be no doubt that such staples were supplied by a combination of purchase and direct production under military supervision (180, 183) and the record of revenues of the fort (178) is interesting. By-products such as tallow (sebum, 184) could also be produced locally. More exotic items, such as pepper (184), indicate the vital role of imports, presumably available for purchase as additional luxury items.

Clothing supplies are also documented, for which it is less likely that Vindolanda will have been a primary producer, although it probably possessed the facilities for refurbishment and repair. The despatch and receipt of tunics and other kinds of cloaks and garments is well-attested (207, 255), and there are signs of the provision and repair of footwear in the form of the boot called coturnus (184), the purchase of 100 nails for boots clauos caligares (186), and perhaps in the activities of sutores in the workshops (155). It is possible that some tanning was done at Vindolanda but in any case the clear evidence for contact between Vindolanda and Catterick in the context of the supply of hides is very significant and underlines the role of the latter as a major manufacturing base for leather (343).58

Concern with military equipment of various kinds and with the raw materials from which they could be made is attested. Two accounts refer to the purchase of iron, although the use to which it was put is not clear (182, 183). Large quantities of sinew (neruum, 343) might be intended for the manufacture of catapults or ballistae, and it is possible that the use of the term membra (198) has something to do with such machinery. The manufacture or repair of tents might also be attested (155.10), to which the provision of goat-skins might be relevant (309), although a variety of uses could be envisaged. Metal-working facilities must have been available and the repair (and possibly manufacture) of weaponry could have taken place at Vindolanda, although it is unclear on what scale (160, 184.ii.21). Finally, we should note the evidence for the despatch to Vindolanda of large quantities of vehicle components -axles, spokes, seats etc. - which were evidently made elsewhere (309).

It hardly needs emphasising that building was an important element in the activities of the army at all times and might be expected to bulk large in the period of consolidation in the frontier region. Groups of soldiers and building specialists are attested at Vindolanda constructing a bath-house, a hospital (ualetudinarium) and a guest-house or residence (hospitium), and there may be a reference to the construction of a bridge elsewhere (155, 156, 258). Raw materials needed to be collected or processed: lead, rubble, clay for wattle fences, lime to be burned (155, 156), and attention is paid to the purchase and storage of supplies of timber (181, 215). Three texts are concerned with matters relevant to the transport of stone, requiring the organisation of animals and wagons, perhaps on a large scale (314, 315, 316).

As a whole, the evidence from Vindolanda reinforces and illustrates in detail the summary picture of military requirements in the frontier zone, recently catalogued as: land for military installations and surveillance posts, territoria providing agricultural and pasture land, as well as timber and fuel, stone quarries and mines for metal-ores.59

The evidence for concern with transportation underlines another very important aspect of the military presence: the way in which the army affected the distances over which economic activities and transactions took place. Our most explicit evidence concerns the contact between Vindolanda and Catterick (343, cf. 185), but references to London, which must have been the port of entry for the luxury goods found at Vindolanda, and to Gaul are equally suggestive (154, 310, 255). The presence of the letters themselves and the range of places mentioned is our best evidence for the high degree to which military posts on the northern frontier were integrated into the communication network, with important consequences for our view of the military and economic organisation of the region.

The list of identifiable place-names includes many of the major sites in the northern military command and gives us a good guide to the range of contact: Luguvalium (211, 250), Coria (154, 175), Coria Textoverdorum (?) (312), Bremetennacum (295), Eburacum ( 575, stilus), Isurium, Vinovia, Cataractonium (185, 343), Londinium (154, 310), perhaps Lindum (295). Economic contact is explicit in the case of Cataractonium but it is surely an implicit and ubiquitous general feature of the communication network which is, perhaps incidentally, well illustrated by a record of expenses on a journey between Vindolanda and Catterick (185) and by the despatch of clothing, money or a gift of oysters (346, 312, 299). There are, unfortunately, also several place-names which we cannot identify, including Ulucium (174), Cordonoui (or -uae or -uia?) (299), and Briga (190, 292). The evidence for the movement of small groups of soldiers and the carrying of letters (252, 263, 300, 295) is sufficient testimony to the use of the military roads and the postal service. This makes explicit what is implicit in the character of the collection as a whole - the accumulation at Vindolanda (which was surely not unique, as the discoveries at Carlisle now demonstrate60) of a large quantity of correspondence coming from a variety of places; no source outside Britain can be identified but there is incidental evidence for contact with Gaul and with Rome (255, 283).61

Finally, there is a small but important quantity of evidence for broader aspects of the administration of justice. The possible evidence for concern with deserters has already been noted. More formal action is attested in 344 which shows a victim of brutal treatment, perhaps at the hands of a centurion, complaining, surely to the provincial governor, after having failed to make contact with the prefect of the unit, his beneficiarius and perhaps the other centurions.62 Flavius Cerialis may have received a number of petitions, brought to him by a man named Cluvius Faber (281). Another fragmentary text appears to concern the theft of a balteus and may have been dealt with internally at Vindolanda (322). We can hardly expect to find evidence for the formal aspects of a judiciary system as it existed in the towns of the more romanised provinces, but the provincial governor will obviously have exercised the full necessary range of judiciary powers. A very interesting but fragmentary draft of a text which uses the word cognitionem may be relevant here (317) but no further detail can be extracted.

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