Ancient Roman texts shed light on earliest Londoners in one of UK’s most important archaeological discoveries
Roman tablets discovered during an excavation in London include the oldest hand-written document ever found in Britain, archaeologists have revealed. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) said it had deciphered a document, from 8 January AD 57, found at the dig at Bloomberg’s new headquarters. The first ever reference to London, financial documents and evidence of schooling have also been translated. Over 700 artefacts from the dig will go on display when the building opens. According to MOLA, the tablets reveal the first years of the capital “in the words of the people who lived, worked, traded with and administered the new city”. Director Sophie Jackson said the findings had “far exceeded all expectations” and would allow archaeologists “to get closer to the first Roman Britons”.
Earliest reference to London
Researchers believe this tablet, is the earliest ever reference to London predating Tacitus’ mention of London in his Annals which were produced about 50 years later.
Dated AD 65/70-80, it reads “Londinio Mogontio” which translates to “‘In London, to Mogontius”.
Earliest readable tablet
This tablet was found in a layer dated by MOLA to AD 43-53 so is thought to have been from the Romans’ first decade of rule.
In translation it reads “…because they are boasting through the whole market that you have lent them money. Therefore I ask you in your own interest not to appear shabby… you will not thus favour your own affairs….”
Evidence of schooling
The letters on this tablet show part of the alphabet: “ABCDIIFGHIKLMNOPQRST”
Archaeologists believe it is writing practice, or a demonstration of literacy or letterforms, and possibly the first evidence of Roman schooling found in Britain.
Earliest dated document from Roman Britain
This tablet reads: ” 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 (8 January AD 57).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…”
According to MOLA, it is the earliest intrinsically-dated document ever found in the UK, and is a financial document written on 8 January AD 57.
The documents were written on wooden tablets which would have been covered in blackened beeswax.
Although the wax has not survived, the words were etched into the wood below using styluses.
The area is around the buried Walbrook River and objects were trapped in soaking mud which helped to preserve the wood.
Once excavated, the tablets were kept in water, then cleaned and freeze-dried.
Dr Roger Tomlin, who translated the documents said it had been “a privilege to eavesdrop” on the people of Roman London.
The London Mithraeum exhibition will open at the site in autumn 2017.