Inv.no.85.032. 78 x 186 mm. Plate VI. Bowman and Thomas (1987), no.4 and Plate XVC. R.E.Birley (1990), fig. 23. VRR II, Plate VII.
This diptych contains six lines of writing on one face of one half of the tablet. There is neither a heading nor any other indication of the nature of the document but we cannot exclude the possibility that it is only part of a text the rest of which was written on other leaves (if so, presumably the end, judging by the fact that the lower quarter of the upper half of the leaf and the whole of the lower half is blank). The hand is a reasonably lucid cursive, not unlike that of 291, but less elegant. Interpunct is employed several times. The indentation in lines 4 and 6 is odd and we can see no obvious reason for it.
Our best guess is that this is a military memorandum of some kind which describes the fighting characteristics and qualities of the native Britons with particular reference to cavalry. It might be an intelligence report directed to the commanding officer by exploratores (cf. Rankov (1987)), or possibly a piece of information provided with a view to the recruitment of natives, attested in the time of Agricola (Tacitus, Agr. 29.2). There is evidence for a British ala in Dacia in AD 110 (CIL 16.163; but note the remarks of Kennedy (1977) and cf. Reynolds, Beard and Rouech, JRS 76 (1986), 136). The first appearance of numeri Brittonum coincides with earliest occupation of Hesselbach on the Odenwald Limes c. AD 95-105 (see Hassall (1978), 45, Baatz (1973)). This suits the date of the Vindolanda text very well; in the ed. pr. we noted that its archaeological context placed it c. AD 92 but it has subsequently been reattributed to Period 3.
A more attractive alternative is to envisage it as a note or a draft of a note left by a departing commanding officer (cf. line 1 note) for his successor. This kind of instruction is recommended in a letter of AD 344 from Valacius the dux of Egypt to Flavius Abinnaeus, an ala commander, as he was about to relinquish his post (P.Abinn. 2.6-7): de singulis etiam pro tutela publica obseruandis instruere [cura] ne quam sub primitiis saltem suis erroris titubantiam incurat ("take care to instruct him in all the rules to be followed to guarantee public safety, in order to safeguard him from liabilities and mistakes, at any rate in the early days of his tenure").
The cursive hand and the fact that the text is written across the grain of the wood and transversa charta makes it unlikely that it is a literary text (cf. A.R.Birley (1991b), 99, note 54), but it is perhaps worth bearing in mind that we do have Greek narrative texts on papyrus which describe military engagements, see Turner (1950) and cf. P.Ross.-Georg.III 1.
Especially noteworthy in the Vindolanda text is the occurrence, for the first time, of the patronising diminutive Brittunculi (line 5, contrast Brittones in line 1). This remains the only published text from Vindolanda which refers explicitly to the native Britons collectively or individually (cf. 180, introduction and note Inv.no.1108, VRR II, 29). The information which the text offers is of some interest in view of the paucity of evidence for native British cavalry in this period. Our literary sources describe British essedarii, charioteers who went into battle with pugnatores whose role was to leap from the chariot at the appropriate time and engage on foot (Caesar, BG 5.16, 4.24.1, 32.5, 33, Pomponius Mela 3.6.52, Silius Italicus 17.417, Arrian, Tact. 19.2-3), cf. Stead (1965). That these were still prominent in Agricola's time (presumably only in the newly acquired or unconquered regions) is indicated by Tacitus' account of the battle at Mons Graupius (Agr. 35.3) and he elsewhere notes that the essedarii were persons of higher rank whilst the pugnatores were their clientes (Agr. 12). But it seems reasonable to assume that if our text were referring to these they would have been described as such in more detail. Tacitus certainly implies the presence of conventional cavalry too in the British forces at Mons Graupius (Agr. 36) and our Vindolanda text might be taken as an additional important indication of their prominence and character in the frontier region at the end of the first century AD.
' "... the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins. '