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Some letters from Londinium were read

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Some letters from Londinium were read
Some letters from Londinium were read | Photo: MOLA

Archaeologists excavating the site where Bloomberg’s new London headquarters is to be built in 2016 found 405 handwritten tablets. 87 of them have already been read.

On one of the broken wooden tablets, where the text has been preserved in its entirety, we can read: “In the consulship of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus for the second time and of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, on the sixth day before the Ides of January [8 January 57 CE]. 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…”.

In another one we can read a man’s handwritten complaints to a certain Tytus, who was probably a pig breeder. The sender of the letter complains about Tytus’ animals circulating around the market square with impunity. Scientists estimate that the plaque could have been created in the years 43-53 CE, i.e. during the conquest of Britain by Claudius.

Another plaque shows a carpet dealer who highlights the unfair loan he has been given. However, despite the injustice, she faces the problem and does not bother about it.

All letters were written on wax tablets. The advantage of writing on wax was that when heated, the notes disappeared and the tablet literally became tabula rasa. Sometimes the writers used so much force that the stylus pierced the wax and gouged the wood as well. This allows us to read the content. But given the fact that wax tablets have been used over and over again, scientists face a “real mess” on the wood. Luckily, as many as 87 wooden tablets have survived and there are not so many grooves on them.

To make the inscriptions in the wood more visible, the plates are photographed and exposed from different angles. Scientists usually take a week to read and understand the meaning of the text.


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