Romans in Scotland Roman Alphabet


Romans in Scotland Roman Alphabet
Romans in Scotland
Reconstruction drawing of a Roman fort from 79-212 AD
Scotland, named “Caledonia” by the Romans, was the northernmost
frontier of the Roman Empire. The Romans first reached Scotland in
80 AD under General Agricola. In 142 AD the Romans retreated to
the Firth of Forth, building the Antonine Wall. This was abandoned
after only 20 years and the Romans retreated further south to Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans patrolled the frontier for over 300 years; the
final campaign into Scotland took place around 210 AD.
The Romans built a number of large forts in Scotland as well as many
temporary camps when they were on campaign further north.
Many have been identified by aerial photography.
Fantastic Fact: Most of what we know about the Romans in Scotland comes from archaeological, not historical, sources. Cassius
Dio and Herodian were two Roman historians who wrote a small
amount about Scotland from the Romans’ perspective.
Roman Alphabet
Roman alphabet was created in 100 AD; it was adapted from the
Greek alphabet in order to suit the Latin language.
The Romans brought writing to Scotland. They wrote and spoke in
There are two types of Roman script: cursive and monumental.
Monumental script was in capitals and inscribed onto stone - temples, altars and other monuments - while cursive writing was used
for everyday writing.
Examples of Roman monumental script in Scotland are found on
distance slabs on the Antonine Wall. Pictured above is the distance
slab found at Bridgeness, West Lothian, which commemorates
building the eastern end of the Antonine Wall.
Fantastic Fact: Most European alphabets are based on Roman
alphabet, a legacy of the Roman Empire.
Education in the Roman World
Replica of wax tablet and stylus found at Trimontium, a Roman fort at Newstead, Borders
© Archaeology Scotland
Writing was very important for Roman supply across the Empire.
For the first time in Western Europe, the Romans brought mass
production and the supply of goods to many markets. Writing
was needed for keeping records, stamping goods and for numbering weights and measures.
Romans wrote using reed pens and ink on birch bark, papyrus or
animal skin (vellum) or a wax tablet and a small metal rod
(stylus). The stylus had a pointed end for scratching letters in the
wax and a blunt end to wipe letters away. Students learned to
write on wax tablets.
This text tells us about using wax tablets: My slave who carries my
books handed me my waxed tablets, my writing box, and my writing instruments. Sitting in my place, I smoothed over the tablets. I printed the assigned
Fantastic Fact: The Roman Army used wax tablets to send messages as they were lightweight & secure. A pair of wax tablets
could be closed like a book, tied up with string and secured by
a seal.
Wall painting from Pompeii showing woman with metal stylus and wax tablets. Source: public domain
Some people could not afford education for their children, who remained illiterate.
More boys were educated than girls, as the Romans did not want
women to be as educated as men. They expected women to dedicate their lives to running the household.
Most families sent their children to school; these were private but
the fees were usually low. Most left school by age 10-11; the boys in
order to apprentice and the girls to prepare for marriage…girls got
married as young as age 12.
Wealthy families did not send their children to school but provided
private tutors (freedmen or slaves).
Only the wealthiest boys continued on to the highest level of education at age 14, which prepared them for public careers in law and
Vindolanda Tablets
Stories from the Vindolanda Tablets
©Archaeology Scotland and YAC
The oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain were written in Roman cursive script almost 2000 years ago (in the 1st and
2nd centuries AD) on thin, postcard-sized slices of wood. They
were excavated from the Vindolanda Roman Fort on Hadrian’s
Wall, Northumberland, and are known as the Vindolanda Writing
The tablets survived because they were buried in wet soil which
was sealed off during rebuilding works.
The Vindolanda tablets and other literary sources such as coins,
graffiti, gravestones, Roman papyrus documents from Egypt, and
manufacturer’s inscriptions on mass-produced goods, suggest
that many people in the Roman Empire had basic literacy skills.
Fantastic Fact: Before the Vindolanda tablets were found, we
only knew the names of a few individuals from grave inscriptions and graffiti. The tablets list over 200 people!
Tablet from Vindolanda © Trustees of the British Museum
The tablets are a mix of Roman army documents plus letters from
a variety of places in Britain and abroad. At the time the tablets
were written, we know that the Roman army had a lot of soldiers
from all over the Empire
The letters were written to and from Roman soldiers stationed at
Vindolanda, their families, and educated slaves.
One letter is addressed from one slave to another about payment
of some items needed for Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival.
An account of food supplies which was probably for the fort Commander’s residence gives us an idea of ancient diet: fish-sauce
condiment; lard for cooking; beer – this was safer to drink than
water; and barley to feed the household’s livestock.
Some things never change! In one letter, a man complains that
he hasn’t heard from his friend.
Birch Bark Tablets Activity
Make a replica birch bark tablet like those found at Vindolanda! Vindolanda tablets were made out of alder or birch bark, which was cut
off of the tree and then made into sheaves a few mm thick. When used to write letters, the bark was folded down the middle and then
probably secured with cords.
What you’ll need: two pieces per person of either birch bark or card paper, ruler, pencil, pen and scissors and string
Step 1: If using real birch bark, prepare the wood by gently washing it with washing up liquid and warm water. The bark may be thin
enough to be used as paper at this stage. If the bark is thick, soak it in warm water until you can peel away layers that are paper-thin. Set
the thin pieces of bark on to several pieces of kitchen roll and gently flatten the pieces with your fingers. Let them air dry.
Step 2: Using a pencil and ruler, draw a line down the middle of your paper or birch bark.
Step 3: Fold the paper or birch bark down the middle, following the pencil line. Keeping it folded, cut out two notches on the other side
of the paper/birch bark, so you cut through the two pieces of paper at once.
Step 4: Open up the paper/birch bark once more and write your message using Roman Cursive Script. To seal your tablet, fold it over one
last time and tie it with string. Use the notches as anchors to hold your string.
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Roman Cursive Script
Birch bark tablet from Vindolanda late 1st or early 2nd century AD
©The Trustees of the British Museum. Licensor SCRAN 000-000-656-164-C