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Lloyd's Log, September 1987 ~ Writing on the walls of the Roman City

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Lloyd's Log, September 1987 ~ Writing on the walls of the Roman City
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  onthewalls John Maloney explainshow some ecentarchaeological inds inthe City show hatRoman businessmen adtheir problems oo. recesses f wooden tablets by their raised edges. Writing was ormed on the beeswax ythe needle point of a stylus and as the waxhardly ever survives it is fortunate that therecording scribe who used the tablet fromThrogmorton Street was heavy handed o the oftheRoman The oldest legal property docu-ment from I-ondon was recentlydiscovered during archaeologicalinvestigations at a site n the City.Professional rchaeologists romthe Museum of Ilndon recovered he woodenwriting tablet during careful excavation ofwaterlogged Roman deposits rom a site over atributary of the stream (later called theWalbrook) which flowed through the valleybetween wo hills (Cornhill and Ludgate Hill),physically ividing them, until it was coveredover n the fifteenth century. The e:<cavationswere carried out below he 4.5m deep basementof a demolished ictorian building on he cor-ner of Throgmorton Street nd Austin Friars,in advance of redevelopment. Access wasagreed by the freeholders, the DrapersCompang and MEPC Ltd funded thearchaeological rogramme as a necessary tagein the development of the site for new oflicepremises or Morgan Grenfell.The waterlogged onditions ensured he sur-vival of a wide range of discarded Romanobjects ncluding items of metal and leatherwhich rarely survive on most sites. Finds relatedto the wooden ablet nclude several ron slylr(writing implements) and a seal box whichwould have contained lump of compressedwax o secure he bindings ofa twoleaftablet ora package of leaves. Other notable findsincluded a variety of Roman shoe leatherfeaturing outdoor hobnailed shoes, hongedsandals nd ndoor stitched shoesl tems ofper-sonal adornment amongst which were shalebracelets, imported copper alloy hingedbrooches nd bone and copper hairpins (one ofwhich was decorated with a representation fahuman head); and utilitarian obiects uch as aniron tumble lock slide key a copper spatulaprobe possibly used as a surgeon s urette or asa toilet mplement), athe-turned bone gamingcounters and a copper, pocket-sized olding ruleofwhich one arm survived.But undoubtedly the most mportant obiectfound was he wooden ablet featuring egiblewriting, the finest such example ecovered romRoman London to date. The Romanswrote et-ters and documents ofall kinds as hin cover-ings of beeswax contained within the central A tantalising glimpse of Romanlegal machineryat work in extent hat his stylus cut through the wax intothe wood leaving a permanent ecord. Thetablet is of imported fir or cedar and14.5 x 1l cms 4.5 x 53/+ nches). The text sjust over 12 ines ong, containing about 70words in Roman cursive handwriting, not thecapital etters used or public notices. Dr RogerTomlin of Oxford University has so fardeciphered bout hree-quarters fthe text andconsiders t to be a summary of judicial pro-ceedings esulting from a dispute over owner-ship of a piece of property. t was written ingood Latin by a practised scribe and the firsttwo lines are a heading which gives a date nMarch I18, ess han a year after he accessionof the Emperor Hadrian, whose name ormspart ofthe the date. Unfortunately the to<t pro-per begins abruptly ( Whereas . . ) without anyindication ofwhose words are being recorded.The disputed property s dentifiedby reference to the name of aneighbouring proprietor and anadjacent minor road and, mostinterestingly, appears o be ocatedwithin the Roman equivalent f the county ofKent. The man claiming the property is calledLucius Iteius Betucus and the neighbouringproprietor also has an Italian-sounding amq asdistinct from Romanised provincial names.The second paragraph egins: Lucius IteiusBerucus has estified hat he . . . and hat regret- Top: Roman riting ablets nd pens rom he City.Above: ragment f wooden ablet with writing still egible. ondinium  Building ile with nscription omplaining bout absenteeism y Austalis. tably is thc end ofthe leafand the end ofa tan-talising glimpse of Roman legal machinery atwork in l-ondinium. Though the text clearlycontinued as a second leafand oossiblv more.no others were found.Fragments of equallyintriguing correspondencefrom writing tablets havebeen recovered from otherWalbrook sites in the city.Undoubtedly from the moment thatRoman l-ondon was founded there werethose whose principai concern was theprofitable investment of money asindicated by a reference to a financialtransaction, probably the terms of arepayment of a oan: . Which moneyby the terms likewise of the claim shallbe paid to me by Crescens probably anagent acting as an intermed.iary) or bythe person concerned . . . The longestpassage oftext from a tablet appears torefer to the recovery of a debt from adefaulting borrower by seizure of pro-perty and is addressed o lnndinio . Ithas been translated: Rr.rfus, son ofCallisunus, sends greetings o Epillicusand all his fellows. I believe you knowthat I am very well. If you have made thelist please send it. Do look aftereverything carefully so that you squeezethe last penny from that girl. An alter-native, more literal translation ofthe lastphrase would read . . . that you turn thatgirl into cash , and might then be areference to a l-ondon slave market. It is 50 ofconsiderable interest that the writer ofthe 1et-ter appears not to be a Roman citizen but awealthy provincial ofCeltic srcin as ndicatedby his father s name. The head servant towhom he writes and who seems o be in chargeofhis affairs n I-ondon, also has a Celtic name,Eprllicus, and may have been a Briton orperhaps a Gaul Latin, as might be expected,was the natural language for business cor-respondence whatever the srcin of the writer.Imported goods often boretrademarks and an inkinscription on the neck ofalarge storage ar boasted hat  Lucius Tettius Africanus supplies the finest fish sauce fromAntipolis (Antibes) . But perhaps themost fascinating message to survivefrom Roman hndon, transcending thepassing ofnearly two millcnium becauseit expresses an apparently heartleltsentiment, is a grallito wrirten with astick in the damp clay of a tile beforeit was fired in a ki1n. In caprtal lettersand colloquial Latin was scratchedAustalis has been going offby hrmselfevery day these ast thirteen days. Thisrnost humrn of messages fromI-ondinium, is presumably a complaintby a workmate of Austalis, perhapsconcerncd hat the production quotrmay not be met in the iocal tile kilns.Clearly, absenteeism s not a newproblem Jokn Malonelt is tlte Museumof LonJon s excauation ollicel;t or he Ciy of London. Storage ar used or mporting sh sauce.
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