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was a Roman fortress located in northeast England, beside Hadrian's wall near modern Bardon
Mill. Dating to
around 122 CE, it was home to auxiliary infantry and cavalry, eventually
sheltering the Fourth Cohort of Gauls. A small civilian
settlement grew up around the fortress, and this vicus lasted until about 420 CE.
The thin, postcard-sized
found at Vindolanda, with letters, inventories, and reports written on
them in black ink, offer an intimate look at the life of this Roman military establishment.
Their messages were written by scribes, military leaders, wives and
family members, ordinary soldiers, and slaves. While
many of the tablets are too badly damaged to provide much information, a
few have survived relatively intact. To view them all, visit
Vindolanda Tablets Online.
Vindolanda tablet 191
Some of these
tablets are requests for -- or inventories of -- supplies, and these
tell us something about the edible
plants and plant products familiar to this army. Quantities were often specified; a
about 2.3 gallons; a sextarius, 1.4 cups.
important, especially wheat (frumenti) and barley (hordea).
Other wheat products that appear in the notes on the tablets include
halica, emmer wheat prepared as grits or as a drink made from grits.
ceruesia, appears several times, and we are even told the name
ceruesarius, or brewer: Alectus.
For British Celts, the grain used for brewing was called
bracis, which was barley
or perhaps emmer wheat.
was both a beverage and an important source of nutrition. The hypocaust heating
systems introduced in Romano-British villas were later used as
malting ovens to make beer. During the malting process the maltster, or braciarius, allowed grain to germinate, then
gently heated it to stop germination.
From the Vindolanda tablets:
frensaem (odios) duos
bruised beans, two
si potes formonsa inuenire centum
apples, if you are able
to find well-formed
oua centum aut ducenta si ibi ·
aequo emantur ...
eggs, 100 or 200, if
found at a fair
[ ]rio mulsi si
honied wine sauce
a modius of
Wine (uini) and wine dregs,
faeces, (used as cream of tartar), also appeared frequently.
-- which literally means "sour," and was either vinegar or sour
wine, was a popular item, and what appears to be a kitchen inventory
small vinegar saucers.
One letter asks for
apples, well-formed; this is the only fruit named on a tablet.
tablets mention olive
oil -- eoli, olei -- as well as
olives themselves, oliuae.
Faba (beans), fabae frensae (ground beans) and
lentis (lentils) appear, as well as radixes, radishes.
Seasonings were clearly important, and
these appear as condimenti, alliatum (garlic sauce), condit[or]
(pickling or preserving liquid), sal (salt), piper
(long pepper), and ligust (lovage). Sweetening was provided
by mellis, honey.
The menu, as seen
through the narrow lens of these tablets, is surprisingly limited. But
the tablets are primarily concerned with imported foods, and with foods
purchased with cash, rather than foods grown locally or obtained through
barter, and perhaps this explains the narrow range of foodstuffs named.
A list of all the foods
mentioned on tablets 118-573 is provided here; this list included:
Dregs of wine (used as cream of tartar)
Emmer (brewing wheat)
Honied wine sauce
Long pepper, Piper longum
Vinegar or sour wine