The ancient fort of Vindolanda used to be a part of the Roman Empire, though today it’s part of modern Britain. This northern area of the Empire was cold and rainy (and still is!), and has yielded plenty of interesting finds for archaeologists working in the area.
Among the most notable of finds have been waterlogged tablets and tablet fragments. These fragments, excavated beginning in 1973, are covered in Latin—the particular style here often referred to as “Roman cursive writing.”
The tablets, now preserved through conservation efforts and dated to around 100 A.D., have been deciphered to reveal details of daily life in the fort. Some tablets contained lists of supplies, much like a modern day grocery list: Bacon, honey, oysters. Another letter was sent to the fort from a soldier’s family back home, letting him know that more socks, underwear, and sandals had been sent to him.
Other interesting fragments contained descriptions of the native Britons that these Romans encountered during their time at the fort… but the most exciting find for history was the discovery of a handwritten party invitation from the wife of the Fort Vindolanda’s commander to her sister.
While the majority of the invitation wouldn’t have been written directly by the commander’s wife—commanding officers and their family had someone to physically compose their letters while they dictated—the words in italics are known to have been written by Claudia Severa herself.
How do we know this? The handwriting of the majority of the letter is clear and professional, but it changes for these few lines. And this small little portion of the party invitation, while seemingly benign, is actually the easiest known historical sample of Latin writing by a woman!
“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina, greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present. Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper and hail. To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.”
The fragment of tablet the invitation was written on is made of wood, and it’s about the size of a common postcard.
You can view many of these tablets online right here! Vindolanda Tablets Online