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Digitising Vindolanda

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Military Documents: tablets 127-177

From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1983, pp. 73-78

The texts grouped under this rubric are, apart from the reports with the renuntium-heading and the requests for leave (see below), a miscellaneous collection. Some of these documents may have belonged to, or been preserved with, groups of letters associated with individuals; there is an obvious possible connection, for instance, between 154 and the correspondence of Verecundus (210-212); the renuntium texts, almost all of which are attributed to the Period 3 praetorium, might belong with the papers of Flavius Cerialis, as do several of the requests for leave (166-177). It is important to emphasise, however, that we cannot identify these documents as belonging to the official archives of the unit or units stationed at Vindolanda. In this respect there is a clear contrast with the papyri from Dura-Europos and the ostraca from Bu Njem, all or some of which quite clearly do belong to official archives. It is, of course, possible that some of the Vindolanda tablets may be copies of archive documents and it should be borne in mind that two of the official reports originating in the tabularium at Bu Njem were actually found in the praetorium (see O.Bu NJem, pp.5-l0).

(a) Military reports with renuntium-heading

Five fragmentary texts in this category were edited and discussed by Bowman and Thomas (1987), no.2.A-E (and cf. Bowman and Thomas (1991), 65). They are clearly formulaic reports and we have been able to identify a total of 27 texts which are certainly or probably of this type (for other possible examples see 165, 393, 410, 453, 458, 511, 545). Of the 23 tablets which were found in the excavations of the 1980s, 21 are attributed to Period 3 and the praetorium. 136 is attributed to Period 2 (Room C) and 128 is attributed to Period 4 (Room III); in view of the location of the others, however, the inevitable margin of error in attribution, and the tendency of objects to move between strata (see Vol. II, Ch. 1), no conclusion can be drawn with confidence about the aberrant examples. 12 of the 21 tablets from Period 3 were found on the via principalis adjacent to the courtyard designated as Room VIA (129, 132, 133, 134, 135, 137, 138, 140, 141, 142, 145, 146); 7 in the courtyard (130, 131, 139, 147, 148, 149, 150); and 2 by the South Gate (143, 144). These groupings are suggestive of the process of dumping or disposal of out-of-date material; compare the 9 commeatus applications from the 1980s attributed to Period 3, of which 7 were found on the via principalis. If the reports of this type are confined to Period 3, the group might be connected with Flavius Cerialis and belong to his files, but this we cannot demonstrate.

It is noteworthy that all the texts are written along the grain of the wood, as are several other brief military reports (155-157). In only one case (145) does it seem that the text was written on a diptych and in that instance not in columns, but across the fold (cf. 292). There are notches and tie-holes in 137. Some of the texts were certainly not justified at the right. As for the hands, it is striking and important that no two are certainly or even very probably by the same hand; the only possibilities for identity seem to be 136 with 138 and 150 with 153 but neither connection is at all certain. In this respect the contrast with the “rapports journaliers” from Bu Njem and several of the groups of ostraca from Mons Claudianus is striking (O.Bu Njem, pp.41-5, O. Claud. 48-82). Since the closing formula is always, as far as we can tell, written by the same hand as the remainder of the text, we are probably justified in concluding that most or some of these reports were written by the optiones who submitted them (cf. Bowman (1991) and (1994b)), although in three cases they appear to have been delivered by someone else (127, 128, 129); we note that two reports by an optio named Candidus (146, 148) are written in different hands, but the name is a very common one indeed. Like the applications for commeatus (166-177), these are not pro forma chits, but the comparative uniformity of the laconic formulae and the regular use of the idiosyncratic q(ui) uidebunt (see below) suggests that the writers are following an exemplar.

Although we have by no means solved all the problems of reading and interpretation, the formulaic elements in the texts can now be more securely identified and understood. We first offer some comments on the formulae and the variations, before considering the general characteristics and significance of the reports.
Date. The reports are dated by month and day and there is no reason to doubt that all reports began thus (although 130 is an oddity). The date is preserved at least partially in 13 texts and there are month-names in 127 (probably June), 130 (January/?February), 132 (June), 133 (December/February), 135 (probably March), 136 (April), 143 (December), 151 (July). It is striking that there is no example in the months August-November but this may well be pure chance.
renuntium. This is once written as renutium (136). It occurs immediately after the date in 9 examples (127, 131, 133, 135, 136, 140, 143, 147, 149; 130 again appears to be an oddity) and there is no problem in supplying or restoring this pattern in all the others. The lexica cite two examples of renuntius meaning “reporter” (Plautus, Trin. 254, C.Th. 3.7.1). It might be explained grammatically as a noun meaning “report” in the accusative case as the subject of an implied verb (cf. ‘Accounts and lists’, Vol. II)). The construction with the name of the unit following in the genitive is paralleled in RMR 64.1, Pridianum coh(ortis) I Aug (ustae) pr(aetoriae) Lus(itanorum) eq(uitatae).
coh(ortis) viiii Batauorum. This is found in 14 texts but only 3 examples are complete (134, 135, 143, cf. 127, 137). coh(ortis) is abbreviated in all cases except one (127). The numeral is wholly or partly lost in 7 cases (130, 132, 133, 139, 140, 144, 149) and Batauorum is wholly lost in 3 (132, 144, 149). We have now abandoned our earlier belief that there might also be evidence for an Eighth Cohort (Bowman and Thomas (1987), 133, cf. Vol. II, Ch. 2) and in no case do we now doubt that the Ninth is the unit concerned (in 128 and 136, the only examples not attributed to Period 3, the name of the unit is lost).

omnes. We originally suggested that the next word might be immunes, those exempt from regular duties, but we no longer believe this to be the case. With some hesitation and a great deal of caution we suggest that what we have is omnes, which makes good sense. We cannot be sure that we have the same word in all examples and in no case can omnes be read with absolute certainty. For the individual readings see the notes ad locc. in 127, 130, 135, 137, 142, 149, 150.
ad locum/loca. The singular is found in 4 texts (130 twice, 139, 140, 151) and the plural in 7 (127, 134, 135, 141, 142, 145, 149), but there is no obvious difference in meaning. The word should presumably be taken to mean military stations or posts (see Breeze and Dobson (1987), 140-1) rather than local tribal meeting-places (see S.S.Frere, Britannia 11(1980), 422-3 against PNRB 212). We note that OLD, s.v. ad, 18b translates the phrase ad locum “at duty stations”, citing Livy, 27.27.2, ut ad locum miles esset paratus. It is also used as a synonym of castellum (cf. 178.1) and of a castrum [sic], see TLL VII.2 1582.25.

q(ui) uidebunt. This is very problematical. What is written is quidebunt; it occurs in full in 6 texts (130, 134, 135, 139, 145, 150) and is probable elsewhere. The reading is inescapable but difficult to explain. We have considered understanding it as one word, quidebunt (cf. Bowman and Thomas (1987), 134-5), but we can see no way of explaining this linguistically. Since confusion between 3rd person plurals of 2nd and 3rd conjugation verbs does occur in vulgar Latin (e.g. ualunt for ualent, see CEL 142.40 note, and Adams (1977), 51) we could understand it as debent (see VRR II, 33) although we have not found the form attested for this verb; but it is still difficult to construe it and to see what it would mean. In Bowman and Thomas (1987), 134-5 we noted that there might be an abbreviation mark after q in one example (139.2). We now think that this should be taken seriously as an abbreviation for q(ui). That the abbreviation is not elsewhere marked is not a serious difficulty given the erratic use of such marks in the Vindolanda texts; it is possible that it is also marked in 145. This will then be followed by the future verb uidebunt in the sense of “see to” (see OLD, s.v. 19).

et impedimenta (sometimes inpedimenta). This is found certainly or very probably in 14 examples (127, 130, 134, 145, 137, 139, 142, 145, 146, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153) and is no doubt universal. It has various meanings in a military context but it is perhaps most likely to refer to baggage, kit or equipment (see TLL VII.l 530, cf. Caesar, BG 6.35.1). impedimenta is followed by a uacat in 134, 139, 145 and 146. More problematic are 127, 130, 135, 138 and 150 (see the notes ad locc.). The reading of 127.4 is difficult (see note ad loc.) but this is the only instance in which the traces are substantial enough to allow us to hazard an interpretation; if we have an abbreviation pr, we can only suggest that it might represent pr(aesentia) (“they will see to the baggage which is present”).

renuntiauit. This is found in 139, 146, 148, 152 and presumably in 137 and 137. In 127, 128 and 153 we have renuntiauerunt. No doubt the verb was universal. In most cases it begins a new line, sometime after a uacat of one line; this is not the case in 138 and may not be true of 130 and 135. The verb is followed by a name in 146 and 152 and by a name + optio + (century of) [name] in 137, 138 and 148. There is no reason to doubt that every report had a comparable statement. There are important variations in 127 and 128, where (a) the optiones are not named but the subjects of the verb are not only optiones, but optiones et curatores and (b) there is an additional statement in the form of the verb detulit followed by a name, which must refer to the person who physically delivered the report to its destination; this also appears in 129 and we note that the word is used for submission of a pridianum in ChLA XI 501. Given the fragmentary state of many of the texts it is obviously possible that these elements will have appeared in more than three examples. It seems probable that we have two alternative forms of closure: either renuntiauit + name of optio + century of [name], or renuntiauerunt optiones (et curatores, no doubt) without names, followed by the detulit formula.

A reconstruction and translation of the full form of this type of report, as we understand it, would run as follows: iii Idus Martias. renuntium coh(ortis) viiii Batauorum. omnes ad loca (-um) q(ui) uidebunt et impedimenta [?praesentia] renuntiauit Candidus optio (centuriae) Felicionis, or renuntiauerunt optiones et curatores. detulit Iustinus optio (centuriae) Crescenris; “13 March. Report of the 9th Cohort of Batavians. All who ought to be at their posts are there, and they will see to the baggage, which is present (?). Candidus, optio of the century of Felicio, submitted the report [or The optiones and curatores submitted the report. Iustinus optio of the century of Crescens delivered it].” As this volume was about to go to press R.E.Birley kindly informed us that he has excavated another, complete example of this type of report in a Period 3 context ( The reading of the text confirms our reconstruction and is as follows: xvii K Maias / renuntium / coh viiii Batauo/rum omnes ad loca qui/debunt et inpedimenta / renuntiarunt optiones / et curatores / detulit Arcuittius optio / (centuriae) Crescentis; cf. in particular 127-128.
As for the general significance of these texts, we can only suggest that they are routine regular reports made by the optiones who were required to inspect and verify that all personnel and equipment was “present and correct”. These may have applied to the fort at Vindolanda itself, or perhaps to small groups, either outposted to nearby fortlets possibly under the command of optiones (see 154.16 note), or engaged in special tasks under the supervision of curatores, or both. There is no evidence elsewhere for reports in this form but the danger of arguing from silence to the conclusion that this procedure was peculiar to the Ninth Cohort of Batavians is obvious. There may be some support for the widespread existence of such reporting procedures in the evidence of Polybius for the organisation of the army of the Republic (6.34.7-36.9): the guards on night-duty receive written tesserae before going to their posts and the men chosen by the optiones to inspect the guards get written orders from the tribune, visit the posts collecting the tesserae from the guards and deliver them to the tribune at daybreak.

We note Fink’s remark (RMR, p.181) on pridiana, that they are “the one sort of military record known to have a specific technical meaning”. It would appear that the renuntius (?) is a second example.

(b) Miscellaneous documents

There are seven texts which may be described as military reports of one sort or another. Of these, the most extensive and most important is 154, the strength report of the First Cohort of Tungrians. Although the nature of this document is clear enough, we do not find it easy to offer for this or for the other reports a precise classification of the sort suggested by Fink, RMR, pp.179-82, cf. Bowman and Thomas (1991), 62-6. There are four texts which may be daily reports (155-158) recording the activities of groups of personnel on a particular day; the term Image of Greek text (Appian, BC 5.46) might be appropriate to these and they do bear some resemblance to the “rapports journaliers” from Bu Njem (O.Bu Njem 1-62). It is noteworthy that, unlike 154, they are written along the grain of the wood and parallel to the long edge of the leaf, perhaps on a half-diptych. Another fragmentary report appears to concern a turma (159). It should be noted that we have no records of the movements of small groups and individuals like the “comptes-rendus” from Bu Njem (O.Bu Njem 67-73, cf. Tomlin (1986)). Of the remainder, 163, in a capital hand, may be the heading of a list and 162 could be something similar. 164, describing the fighting characteristics of the native Britons, may be a memorandum sent to a unit commander. 161 might be a straightforward list of names of military personnel.
For other texts which are possibly military documents see 365, 367 and 491.

(c) Applications for leave

This group of 12 texts (166-177) contains applications for leave (commeatus). The small amount of evidence for leave in the Roman army has been discussed by Bagnall (O.Flor., pp. 19-20), Speidel (1985) and Davies (1989), 67. It is evident that this was a regular provision, although given sparingly and only for good reasons according to Vegetius 2.19: quando quis commeatum acceperit uel quot dierum, adnotatur in breuibus. tunc enim difficile commeatus dabatur, nisi causis iustissimis adprobatis (cf. Suetonius, Galb. 6, pari seueritate interdixit commeatus peti). The documentary evidence from Egypt includes reasons for a grant of leave, indicating the purpose for which it was requested (P. Wisc.II 70, ChLA XI 467), a pass showing the length of time for which it was granted (O.Flor. 1), and an indication that a soldier serving in Bostra expected to be able to get leave for long enough to visit his family in Egypt (P.Mich.VIII 466) and an instance of an application for leave being refused (Karlsson and Maehler (1977), no.1.16-7). For additional references see: Vegetius 3.4, Digest, 14, RMR 9.2m, n, 24b, 34-7, 47.ii.18-9, 53b.6-7, P.Oxy.XIV 1666, SB VI 9272 = JJP 9-10 (1955- 6), 162 no.2, ChLA XI 467, 500, O.Claud. 137.

The applications from Vindolanda add a new category of evidence. Although most of the texts are mere fragments, we have no reason to doubt that, apart from 175 in which the order of words is quite different, all the texts follow the same formula: rogo domine (name) dignum me habeas cui des commeatum; the only variations are the omission of the name of the recipient in 176 and the addition of te after rogo in 173. The name following domine is preserved in 8 texts; 6 of them have Cerialis (166-171), the others appear to have Flauiane (172) and Priscine (173). The use of dare with commeatus in this sense is several times attested, e.g. Festus, Verb. 277.27 (= p.345.3 Lindsay), commeatus dari dicitur, id est tempus, quo ire et redire qui possit, Livy, 21.21.6, si quis uestrum suos inuisere uolt, commeatum do (said by Hannibal). For rogo domine dignum me habeas we should compare the text published by Speidel and Seider (1988) (= CEL 149), rogo domine [dig]num me iudices ut pr[obe]s militem in cohorte u[t po]ssim etc. Before rogo domine etc. 6 texts (166, 168, 169, 171, 172, 176) have the name of the applicant with his unit subdivision, without the name of the addressee or salutem. Of the other texts 170 is almost certainly blank before rogo, and the same may be true of 167 and 173. However, it is clear that the hand responsible for writing the name of the applicant is always the same as that which wrote the body of the request; therefore these requests did not simply exist as pro forma chits on which a blank was left for the name of the applicant to be inserted (as is the case in O.Flor. 1, and compare O.Claud. 48-82). It is also noteworthy that, although for the most part only small fragments are preserved, the hand is very probably different in every one of the examples (only 169 and 174 are at all similar). After the formula quoted above, in 174 and 175 the place at which the leave is to be taken is added and the same is likely to be the case in 176 (cf. 171); the other texts all break off before this point but it is probable that this information was included in all applications. After this, it is possible that the purpose for which the leave was requested might be stated (see 176 and cf. P. Wisc.II 70, ChLA XI 467, but contrast 174 and 175). If we are correct in believing that 177 is another such application it might add a request for the commanding officer at the place which the applicant was to visit to be informed. The applications do not mention the length of time involved, which suggests that this would be fixed by the authorities on the basis of the place and reasons specified; note the phrase finitum commeatum in ChLA XI 500, which must mean “limited furlough”, see Speidel (1985), 283. There is no clear case of an application being written on a double leaf, like a letter; 174 has a notch in the left edge, as may 170 and 172. Since these applications were not as personal as letters it may have been the custom to write them on open half-leaves. 175 has something on the back indicating the name of the applicant.

Most of the applications are attributed to Period 3, and six of these mention the name of Cerialis as the recipient. Of these, three (168, 169, 170) were found in the via principalis, adjacent to the courtyard designated as Room VIA, and it may well therefore be the case that three other examples from the same location, in which the name of the recipient is not preserved (174, 175, 176), were also directed to him; 177 was also found in the same area. The other two tablets from Period 3 come from Room IV (166) and the courtyard, Room VIA (167). 172 is attributed to Period 2 and directed to Flavianus (perhaps Hostilius Flavianus, known as a correspondent of Cerialis from 261); 173 is probably directed to Priscinus who was at some time probably prefect of the First Cohort of Tungrians. It therefore seems likely that Flavianus was also a prefect and that such applications were, at Vindolanda at least, normally addressed to the unit commander.

Military Documents: tablets 127-177

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