Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and Its People Review ´ 2

Summary Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and Its People

Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and Its People Review ´ 2 ✓ Over three hundred letters and documents have recently been discovered at the fort of Vindolanda written on wooden tablets which have amazingly survived nearly 2000 years Painstakingly deciphered by Alan Bowman and J David ThE in the Roman Empire From the military documents we learn of the strength and activities of the units stationed at Vindolanda The accounts testify to the lifestyle of officers and ordinary soldiers with payments for pepper and oil towels and tallow boots and beer Then there are snapsh. A surprisingly interesting academic analysis of the Vindolanda tabletsA military strength report a grocery list a birthday invitation the Vindolanda wooden tablets a mix of personal and bureacratic documents excavated in one of the Roman forts in Britain are a small glimpse into life of the Roman provincial garrison For an untrained eye it's a interesting source but no In Life and Letters Alan Bowman expands this small glimpse into an open window not only in Roman life but also into how archaeological and textual analysis of ancient sources is done It is almost fascinating to see how every word name and place gets picked apart to extract every bit of information possible for example a name could state the origin and social background of the soldier the time of his family enfranchisement gaining of citizenship be cross referenced against known literal sources headstones military movements etc Handwriting diet social interactions romanization of provinces military movements during peace military and civil society interactions logistics almost everything that could be tied to information in the tablets gets reflected in this bookLife and Letters is by no means a comprehensive account of Roman life Roman military or even life in the Vindolanda fort yet it is surprisingly informative and illuminates a lot of aspects that never make it to generally written books As a lot of narrow academic books it has a high price for a mere 167 pages but I can safely recommend it to lovers of Roman Empire history

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Over three hundred letters and documents have recently been discovered at the fort of Vindolanda written on wooden tablets which have amazingly survived nearly 2000 years Painstakingly deciphered by Alan Bowman and J David Thomas they have contributed a wealth of evidence for daily lif. When Rome reached a certain point in its conuest of Britain around the end of the governorship of Agricola in AD 85 a policy decision was reached that the Picts in the far north of the island against whom Agricola had led several expeditions without much effect simply weren’t worth the trouble Eventually the result was Hadrian’s Wall begun about AD 122 but before the construction of that permanent boundary the Roman army established a string of forts of assorted sizes somewhat farther south and stretching across Britain from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth These constituted Roman Britain’s northern defenses for thirty odd years which in historical terms is a pretty thin slice of time The best preserved of the forts is Vindolanda about thirty miles east of Carlisle which has attracted antiuaries and archaeologists since the late 16th centuryBut then in the early 1970s a systematic and well founded program of excavation was begun and a discovery was made that turned our understanding and appreciation of that period of British history and Roman military history on its head The recovery of several hundred very thin wooden shingle like tablets with texts written in ink Before this it was assumed that the reports and accounts of the Roman army in Britain something that every army in human history has produced in uantity would have been written on papyrus as they were in the eastern part of the empire and which could not be expected to have survived But any papyrus in Britain would have been imported and at considerable expense so in retrospect a substitute made from local timber makes perfect senseBowman is a paleographer and the man responsible for the translation and explication of most of the tablets For this volume he has selected thirty eight of the most important often fragmentary texts and provided the original Latin and the modern English translation of each plus a discussion of the context interpretation and implications Many of the tablets found are redundant in their routine subject matter of course which is the nature of military bureaucracy For instance it was always assumed that specific units from particular legions were assigned to each of the forts in the line and stayed tidily put rather like the colonial British Army in the 19th century The strength report of the First Cohort of the Tungrian auxiliaries however makes it obvious that each fort was home to a number of much smaller and diverse detachments from a wide scattering of legions and their auxiliaries and that these assignments changed regularly as units were redeployed not unlike a late 20th century army actually Other tablets include commissary inventories correspondence between officers and their families often including discussions of commercial transactions under way and even invitations to birthday parties from officers’ wives to their friends at the post In fact there turns out to have been a surprising degree of literacy among all ranks and in their familiesThe book includes chapters outlining the Roman army’s occupation strategies the technical terminology found in the tablets and the deduced lives of the officers men and associated women at Vindolanda There are plates of all the tablets under discussion and a lengthy bibliography to guide further study All this should be of interest to anyone with a background in Roman Britain or roman military studies And there are still new tablets being found

Alan K. Bowman · 2 Summary

Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier Vindolanda and Its PeopleOts of domestic life in letters between the officers' wives including a birthday invitation see front cover Most fascinating of all is the evidence for a high level of literacy in the Roman army where even someone of humble rank receives a letter from home promising him a parcel of soc. This book was thoroughly researched by an academic which can sometimes mean it's fascinating for the general public or fascinating only for the author In this case it was a mix of both If you are as huge a nerd about Roman culture as I am then you would find it interesting The two largest takeaways from my end were 1 the education level of Roman soldiers on the frontier was high; communication was as important to the Roman military as organization; 2 The soldiers had respect for nature and animals around them You could argue it was because they had to that man was at the mercy of nature during ancient times But we still are today and it is remarkable to see these battle hardened men empathize with forms of life they used for labor and as companions in battleI would have already been to collect them except that I did no care to injure the animals while the roads are bad p138Related to 1 many of the soldiers on the front were not descendants of traditional Roman families they were the newer class ethnically and geographically less connected to the nucleus of Rome This may have impacted their ethic on the frontier Vindolanda was just about as far as Rome made it north close to Hadrian's Wall Bowman comments in the introduction The main instrument of domination and romanization included units and officers whose origins were not at the romanized center of the empire Italy Spain southern Gaul but in regions that were still only tenuously controlled at the end of the Julio Claudian period a mere 30 years before the appearance of Cerialis and his cohort at Vindolanda p 27 Perhaps this is akin to a non native speaker of a language teaching that language the newer Roman citizens may have been motivated to prove their loyalty further becoming fluent serving the empire on the remote frontier But perhaps as may be observed in their freuent correspondence ordering beer they were a bit less attuned to developments on the front beyond their social standing back home and therefore less invested in the glory of the Roman empire There are many parallels to the United States today and how we interact in the world are we there because we care or because we can be thereThere is an etymological relationship between ethic and ethnic and we live at a turning point in human history where are able to choose both our identity and biology There is a resulting blur between the ethnic and our collective ethic what binds us together and what motivates us