Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Words from London's Roman Past (Part I)

     Some of Great Britain's oldest writing has been discovered -- accidentally, while building a new office near a London subway. (Tube, for you Brits out there.)
     English regulations require an 'architectural assessment' whenever new construction is done. No doubt that can be irritating and time-consuming, but in this case, it found something wonderful:

Messages, inscribed on wood, from the Roman era. From the early 100s, when Roman legions inhabited Britain...and protected civilized people from all those savage Celts out there. (Like my ancestors, incidentally. The Brick's, too.)

Some examples from the article:

(AD 65-80) “…Classicus, prefect of the Sixth Cohort of Nervii.”
A lot can deduced from this fragment of text because the name “Classicus” is so rare. The only individual we know of by that name is famous for being the leader of a cavalry regiment that joined a revolt against Roman rule in what is now Germany in AD 70. In this older fragment he is leading a lesser regiment, which fits in with the known way in which Roman military careers progressed.
(AD 65–80) ‘In London, to Mogontius…’
A letter written from London addressed to someone called Mogontio is the earliest reference to the city.
(AD 43-53) “…because they are boasting through the whole market that you have lent them money. Therefore, I ask you in your own interest to not appear shabby. You will not thus favour your own affairs…”
This seems to be passing on business advice. The word “market” probably refers to a forum, the centre of Roman public life. It’s not clear whether the place referred to is in London, elsewhere, or even a metaphorical usage. Michael Speidel of the Mavors Institute in Basel, Switzerland, says it’s not unreasonable to think London had a forum by then; the Romans often built town plazas very quickly after founding a town.
(AD57) “In the consulship of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus for the second time and of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, on the 6th day before the Ides of January. I, Tibullus the freedman of Venustus, have written and say that I owe Gratus the freedman of Spurius 105 denarii from the price of the merchandise which has been sold and delivered. This money I am due to repay him or the person whom the matter will concern…”
This might be Britain’s earliest IOU. 
The tablets date between A.D. 43-80. Some even show what seem to be kids practicing their alphabet.

These are similar to other wood tablets with writing, found at the excavation of a fort near Hadrian's wall. Those tablets were thought to be the oldest extant -- but they're are at least 40 years more recent, according to experts.

The archeologists found some other unusual things -- but those are the subject of Part II.


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