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Vindolanda Tablets

"On the third day before the Ides of September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present."

This letter is from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the commander of Cohors VIII Batavorum at Vindolanda, a remote military fort on Britain's northern frontier. In it, she sends greetings from her husband and small son, and invites Sulpicia to attend her birthday party on September 11. Written about AD 102, the letter was dictated, but in the lower right-hand corner there is a postscript added by Severa, herself: "I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail." Her hand is to be seen in another letter, in which she asks permission of her husband to visit Lepidina, as well as in a small fragment.

Preserved in a waterlogged rubbish heap near the commanding officer's residence, this fragile wooden sheet was written in ink and is one of hundreds such leaf tablets that were shaved from birch or alder logs and then trimmed into postcard-sized sheets. They were discovered in 1973 by Robin Birley and are the oldest handwritten documents in Britain. It now is in the British Museum.

References: Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and Its People (1994) by Alan K. Bowman; Vindolanda Tablets Online, tablet 291 (also 292 and 293).