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Tab. Vindol. II Introductory chapters

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Military documents

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Correspondence of Verecundus

Correspondence of Saecularis

Correspondence of Genialis

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Correspondence of Priscinus

Correspondence of Lucius

Miscellaneous correspondence


Tab. Vindol. II Abbreviations and Bibliography

Digitising Vindolanda

Tab. Vindol. II Addenda and Corrigenda

Tab. Vindol. I Introductory Chapters

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Shorthand texts: tablets 122-126

From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1983, pp. 71-72

The five texts described below clearly belong together and seem to be written in a combination of letters and symbols. Rather than regarding them as normal script written extremely cursively, we feel confident that they are in fact examples of Latin written in shorthand.

The evidence for the knowledge of shorthand in the late Republic and early Empire is surveyed in detail by Boge (1973), 47-68. Boge accepts the traditional theory that shorthand was a discovery of Cicero's freedman Tiro. Others have been less inclined to accept this at its face value (e.g. Coles (1966)). In the most recent study of the subject, Teitler (1985), 28-9 and 172-3, s.v. TIRO, leaves the question open. What is important is that there is general agreement that shorthand was known and used in the Roman world by at least the middle of the first century AD (the evidence of Seneca, Apoc. 9.2, would appear to be decisive). Since our tablets have been found in a military context it is relevant to note that Vegetius 2.19, in discussing litterati milites, remarks that in some cases when recruiting troops, in addition to examining their physical condition, notarum peritia, calculandi computandique usus eligitur (although Teitler (1985), 210-11 thinks that notae might simply mean the "letters of the alphabet"). Further evidence for the use of shorthand in military circles is provided by Digest 29.1.40 (Paulus). In general on the litterati milites see Teitler (1985), 44-9, who regards the presence of shorthand writers in the army as certain by the third century.

The history of shorthand in the classical and early medieval periods is summarised in Bischoff (1986), 110-2 and (1990), 80-2 (where the numbering of the footnotes is incorrect). He gives a good bibliography in (1986), 316-317 (see also (1990), 244). Add now P.F.Ganz (ed. 1990), a collection of articles of which the most relevant for our purposes is that by D.Ganz, pp. 35-51.

So-called Tironian notes are preserved in a number of Latin manuscripts of the Carolingian period, see Schmitz (1893). A recent collection of the various signs is to be found in Costamagna, Baroni and Zagni (1983). In what is still the most thorough treatment of the subject, Mentz (1944), three different systems are analysed: System A = the so-called Tironian notes. These are to be seen in use in Merovingian and Carolingian charters from the seventh century onwards and in manuscripts of the ninth and tenth centuries. System B and System C are only attested in papyri from Ravenna, the earliest evidence being from the sixth century; they both use a syllabic system, different from the system employed for true Tironian notes. On them see Tj?der (1954-82), I 128-9, and II 260 (note 29 to P.30, 91). Earlier than the above is the use of shorthand symbols at the head of an inscription which records a constitutio of AD 362 (CIL 3.459). Cf. also P.Reinach inv.2140 = CLA V 699, assigned to the fourth or fifth century.

The relationship between these systems and the shorthand in use during the early Empire is unknown. See Ganz's remark, (1990), 37, that "Traditionally this vocabulary [i.e. the system of shorthand used in the classical period and in late antiquity] has been identified with the commentaries which are preserved in the Commentarii Notarum Tironian[ar]um... However, our earliest evidence for the use of shorthand in official documents reveals that the elaborate shorthand system taught by the Commentarii was not used by the urban bureaucracy of Ravenna". Whether the tachygraphic writing on our tablets represents Tironian notes as known from the Carolingian period (Mentz's System A), or whether, as we think less likely, it represents either of those known from Ravenna, or whether it represents something different from any of the known systems, we do not feel competent to judge. It would, we feel, be hazardous in the extreme to attempt any transcription of these tablets. Even if they are essentially the same as the attested Tironian notes, we can hardly suppose that the signs would have been made in the same way 500 or more years earlier and on a different medium. Hitherto the idea that the Romans were acquainted with shorthand in the classical period has been no more than a conclusion drawn from the literary evidence and from the existence of inscriptions referring to notarii and the like. The importance of the tablets from Vindolanda is that they provide documentary confirmation that shorthand was used in military circles on the frontier of the Roman world by about AD 100.

As we have not offered any transcription, we include plates of the better preserved examples. We should warn the reader that in some cases the "writing" is so enigmatic that we cannot be sure that the plates present the tablet the right way up. For other possible examples see 376 and 401.

Shorthand texts: tablets 122-126


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