Letters from the past

The Roman fort of Vindolanda

Vindolanda was a “castrum” (Roman stronghold). It is located near the modern village of Bardon Mill, in northern England. This fort had a long evolution during its story. At the beginning it was a small timber building, made by a cohort of Tungrians in 85 AD. It was replaced by a larger wooden fort built by a cohort of Batavians in 95 AD. After the prefectus Cerialis repaired it in 100 AD, it was demolished, then it was built again and at the end the garrison left in 122 AD, when the Roman emperor Hadrian accomplished his wall. While the emperor Antonine was building his fortification in the south of Scotland, Vindolanda became a stone fort, which came out tremendously useful during the war between Caledonians, who settled in Scotland, and the emperor Septimius Severus. According to the archeological finds, this area was so safe that it was developed a vicus (a self – governing village) outside the stronghold, which surprisingly had a Roman bath and a stone altar.

Between the 3rd and 4th century, Vindolanda came across many difficulties. Because of the barbaric invasion, it was abandoned and then a cohort of auxiliary soldiers built it again in 300 AD. Neverthless the vicus was not settled, because of the unsafety of the near border.

In 370 AD it was roughly repaired. This is the last upkeep activity, since the Romans moved from Britain to the mainland (410 AD), Vindolanda lived a slow decline.

A question can be immediately put. Why is Vindolanda so important? Some people could think that it is only a pidding Roman stronghold far away from the worth –  studying places of the ancient world. But, as a matter of fact, the fort of Vindolanda is extraordinary important, because it left us a lot of old letters which describe how the everyday life went on in this place. So I am going to show some letters from the past, which can truly depict the happenings in a Roman fort.

“… the Britons are unprotected by armour. There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.”

The letter 164 may fullfil our expectations of a mail in a stronghold. It describes the fighting characteristics and qualities of the native Britons, referring in particular to cavalry. The historians believe that it could be an intelligence report to the commanding officer by scouts. A more interesting theory point the letter as a note left by a departing commander to his successor. This find is worth – studying also because it refers to Britains as “Brittunculi“, describing them scornfully.

“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 mail 291 was sent from Claudia Severa and invites her friend Sulpicia Lepidina for her birthday. I believe that it is absolutely interesting, not only because this is the earliest example of writing in Latin by a woman, but also for the fact that it reflects the usual life of people in the Roman empire. A lot of people imagine Romans only as warriors and politics. But there were normal people like us, who sent messages to their friend and came to parties.

“… I have sent you … pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants, two pairs of sandals … Greet …ndes, Elpis, Iu…, …enus, Tetricus and all your messmates with whom I pray that you live in the greatest good fortune.”

The letter 346 concerns clothing. I am sure that a mother sent this mail in respond to her son, who wanted to be more  toasty during his military service in Vindolanda.

I believe that these letters are a different way of deeply discovering how the Romans thought and lived.They are a direct evidence of the ancient Roman culture and, due to this fact, they are priceless. In fact, Romans have left to us a lot of monuments, pieces of art and documents which describe their military and political greatness, but finds that show their everyday life are very rare.


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