The Vindolanda Tablets Online site presents “writing tablets excavated from the Roman fort at Vindolanda in northern England” in a rather complicated interface that takes getting used to, but once you start accessing the tablets themselves, scrupulously transcribed and translated, it becomes addictive. To help you out, the Finding Tablets in the database page says:

In order to browse or search the tablets for more specific information, for example the texts written by the same person, texts in which a certain word, term or name occurs, or that refer to a particular subject or come from the same archaeological context, follow ‘search’ or ‘browse’ from the side menu. Within ‘search’ there is also a tool for finding tablets using the alternative numbering systems by which they have been identified, the numbers used in Vindolanda Tablets I and the Vindolanda archaeological inventory numbers (see The print publication and the online edition for more details). Remember too that the scholarly introductions to the tablets can also be searched.
There are two main categories of search, ‘Latin text search’ and ‘General text search’, as well as a search by tablet number.

For the Latin search you use the dictionary form (nom. sg. for nouns, 1 sg. pres. for verbs); the general search “allows you to search the English translations, commentaries, notes and cataloguing data (‘metadata’) for each tablet, via a text box.” They thoughtfully provide a highlights page to get you started; the third item, tablet #164, reads:

1 _nenu…[.]n. Brittones
2 nimium multi · equites
3 gladis · non utuntur equi-
4 tes · nec residunt
5 Brittunculi · ut · iaculos
6 mittant
“… 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.”

It’s wonderful to see the actual tablet, with its Latin text inscribed by a clearly pissed-off soldier. (Via Plep.)


  1. I first read about the Vindolanda tablets in a 1977 issue of “Scientific American” written by two British archeologists. The spidery writing on the wooden tablets shown in the article immediately struck me as bizarre. It was not the printed Roman letters that you normaly see inscribed on monuments and funeral stele. I wrote the two archeologists in England asking for more information on the writing and the type of Latin the tablets were written in. Today, this would probably not be necessary but even as late as 1977 there was a paucity of information on Roman and Celtic archeology in western Europe.
    The two professors told me that the writing on the Vindolandia tablets were in a Roman cursive simalar to the ones found in Pompeiian inscriptions. . (I never knew that the Romans had cursive writing) .They also told me that the quality of the Latin the on the tablets was quite good (I thought that the Latin would be somewhat poor that far away from Rome and might provide some cluses as to what British Vulgar Latin was like).
    The tablets seem to records and requests of goods and merchandise that the Roman Army stationed near Hadrian’s wall used. One tablet is by a soldier talking about how cold it was in northern England and asking his relatives back home to send some socks. Another is by a soldier requesting more beer for him and his messmates. This implies that these particular soldiers may not have been Roman or Italian since the Romans were primarily wine drinkers like the Greeks and Phoenecians.
    “Vindolandia” is an Old Celtic name which is difficult to translate into English. The nearest equivalent is probably “The fair heath or shrubland.” Modern Breton has lann “heath” and gwen “white; fair’ from the same roots.

  2. The tablets seem to (BE) records and requests…

  3. Re: 5 Brittunculi · ut · iaculos – I’ve also seen ‘Brittunculi” translated before as “Silly Britons” which might be more accurate.

  4. Do the tablets really work??

  5. There are some of these on display in the British Museum, London.

  6. “There are some of these on display in the British Museum, London.” – Glyn
    Thanks Glyn for that slapdash of information.
    In looking at some of the Vindolanda tablets I’ve noticed that a few phrases on them like pretio lardi “for the price of bacon,” pretio caballi “for the price of a horse,” Reditus castelli “for the revenues of the fort” and mi domine “My lord” actually depart from Classical Latin and come a little closer to the modern Romance languages like Italian and Spanish etc.. I’m told that Latin reached its apex (high point) in the early 1st century B.C., just before Julius Caesars time .By Caesar’s time the language was beginning to become corrupt, a process that would continue until the end of the Roman period (476 A.D).
    Most linguists consider the modern Romance languages to be improvements over the ancestral Latin in a lot of ways, however, I’ve noticed that strict Latinists still tend not to like them.

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