There are two types of writing tablets


Stylus tablet                    Ink writing tablet

  1. Stylus tablets – thin blocks of wood with a depression on one side to take wax. The Romans wrote in the wax with a stylus pen and could ‘erase’ or re-flatten the wax to write on the tablet again. Found all over the empire in places where wood survives including Vindolanda.
  2. Ink tablets – thin piece of wood, usually the growth of one tree ring that had been flattened and then written on in ink. At Vindolanda we have found about 1,600 of these and it is the largest collection of Roman writing in the Western Empire. Here are some of the most interesting.


Letter between two women

Claudia Severa asks Sulpicia Lepidina to come to her birthday party on September 11th. She also asks after Lepidina’s husband and children. Lepidina is the wife of the commanding officer at Vindolanda and she is mentioned in two other writing tablets from the site.

What makes this letter special? We know that there are two Commanding Officers’ wives on the frontier with their children. They can attend birthday parties. The closing lines of the letter are written in a separate hand, Severa’s, showing that she was literate (able to read and write). It is the oldest handwriting from a woman in Britain.

Writing exercise

We don’t know who wrote this piece but it is a line from the ancient epic (long poem) the Aeneid (book IX, line 473) by Virgil written sometime between 29-19BC.

Although it is a line of poetry, if you look closely at the picture you can see that someone has written SEG in a second hand. This means ‘sloppy work’.

Vitalis and Tagomas

This tablet is a list of people who owe money. Although it is not complete, so we don’t know its exact date of writing, we know that it came from a time when the Tungrians (modern Belgium) were stationed at the fort. Vitalis the Balniator (or bath house keeper) was probably a Tungrian. The letter also lists some Vardullian (northern Spain) cavalrymen including Tagomas. But what is really unusual is it lists his contubernalis, or his unofficial wife, as soldiers were not allowed to marry at this time.

Atrectus the brewer

In this tablet, which is a long list of people who owe things, we have mention of Atrectus the brewer. Romans were often called by their job and we also have mention of Victor Venetor (Victor the hunter) and as seen above Vitalis the balniator.

Severus to Candidus

This letter is between two slaves, Severus and Candidus getting ready for the Saturnalia. This was the Roman festival that took place around the same time as we celebrate Christmas. The letter is addressed to Candidus, slave of Genialis. It also shows that both men were able to read and write despite being slaves.