Financial Scandals at Vindolanda? Probably Not …

The News Post Journal provides a fine example of journalists trying to make extremely tenuous connections to modern political events, in this case, the assorted financial adventures of assorted Members of Parliament. The item is brief, so:

ANCIENT Roman writing tablets found near Hadrian’s Wall, suggest public officials were on the take 1,900 years ago.

No floating duck ponds, second homes allowances or bath plugs in sight -but sinew, ears of grain, high priced leatherware and lavish entertainment.

Writing tablets, dating from the Second Century, uncovered at Vindolanda – the Roman encampment
near Hadrian’s Wall – detail hundreds of expenses claims and receipts concerning the soldiers stationed there and lavish parties thrown by their Commanding Officer.

Five of the tablets – translated by Professor Tony Birley – contain 111 lines detailing entertainment claims at the camp.

Among the items detailed are a hundred pounds of sinew, hobnails for boots, bread, cereals, hides, and pigs.

One official or merchant makes an urgent plea for funds: "As to the 100 pounds of sinew from Marinus-I will settle up. From when you wrote about this he has not even mentioned it to me.

"I have written to you several times that I have bought ears of grain, about 5,000 modii, on account of which I need denarii-unless you send me something, at least 500 denarii, I will lose what I have given as a down payment, about 300 denarii, and will be embarrassed, so I ask you: send me some denarii as soon as possible."

More than 400 tablets were discovered at the site and are the earliest example of the written word in Britain.

The implication of this seems to be that this sinew etc. was to be used in some "lavish party", but that seems to be quite a stretch. The letter in question is Vindolanda Tablet 343 and is readily available — with commentary — online. Here’s an excerpt thereof (go to the page for more):

The whole letter is replete with signs of entrepreneurial initiative. The sums of money and goods involved are very considerable: Candidus is asked for 500 denarii and Octavius has laid out 300 (a year’s pay for a miles gregariusmodii of cereal and hides numbering in the hundreds can hardly be intended for any other market. Octavius (wherever he was) presumably purchased the cereal from local sources. The hides will have come from the military sector since it is surely inconceivable that tanneries operating on this scale can have existed outside it. The reference to the presence of hides at Cataractonium (Catterick, lines ii.15-6) is of great interest and well fits the archaeological evidence for a large tannery there in the period between c. AD 85 and 120 (see Butler (1971), 170, Burnham and Wacher (1990), 111-7). The reference to credit arrangements with a certain Tertius, albeit for a small sum, is also of interest. The evidence for the operation of a cash economy on this scale and for the sophistication of the financial dealings in this region is in general supported by the evidence of the accounts from Vindolanda. in this period). The natural conclusion is that Octavius and Candidus are involved in the supply of goods in a military context on a large scale.

How one can leap from that sort of thing to a headline screaming "Ancient Roman "MPs" were first for expenses scandal" is beyond me.


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