Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier

Years ago, I was in the British Museum and saw scraps of the famed Vindolanda writings — actual ink on wood documents from the Roman Empire.

So, of course, I had to buy a book on them at the gift shop and read it shortly before going to England again.

A retro review from May 20, 2006 …

Review: Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier, Alan K. Bowman, 1998. Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier

This book will tell you some interesting things about the social life of Roman army officers and their families, the manufacturing and building activities the men of the Roman auxiliaries did when not fighting, the process of Romanizing conquered provinces, and the networks of trade that sprung up to supply the Roman army in Britian. All this comes from some remarkably preserved bits of wood almost 2,000 years old.

But this isn’t a friendly, popular archaeology book. Its bibliography and notes and organization clearly indicate an intended audience of scholars. The text seems to be organized as if nobody will read the book cover to cover. Specific conclusions and facts are repeated from chapter to chapter. I suspect it was thought that its intended academic audience would simply read whatever chapter was titled in line with their speciality.

Still, those who have seen the Vindolanda writings on tv or at the British Museum may be curious to see full translations of many fragments, and students of Roman military administration or Roman Britain will certainly want to take a look. The book also includes several photos of the actual fragments and explains why the script doesn’t seem to much resemble what we think of as Roman writing. Indeed, one of Bowman’s major emphasis is what the Vindolanda fragments tell us about the evolution of Roman writing from Old Roman Script to New Roman Script.


More reviews of books related to Roman history are at the Rome page.

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