The Vindolanda Letters were written in ink on postcard-size sheets of wood; there was no local source of papyrus. The longer documents were tied together by punching a hole in the corner. The writing tablets used the local woods – birch, alder or oak taken from young trees.
The fort of Vindolanda was one of the earliest Roman garrisons, and even older than Hadrian’s Wall. Most of the letters, or writing tablets, date from this time (AD 97–103).
The letters enable us to picture community life. We can inspect official correspondence which demonstrated the army’s efficiency, work assignments, the soldiers’ diet and what they did in their time off.
Incoming mail (tablet 346) is also revealing: ‘I have sent you ... pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants.’ It was obviously a bit cold for soldiers on the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire.
In one letter (tablet 291) Claudia Severa invites Sulpicia Lepidina to her birthday party:
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… I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail.
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Listen to a Roman lyrical dance, played on a lyre and panpipes.