TMA 01

Read the : Vindolanda tablet 248 below. Then, in no more than 1,500 words, write a critical analysis of it as a source of evidence, using the following to help you to structure your answer:

  • briefly provide its context
  • discuss any points of significance in respect of the following:
    • content
    • form
    • what this source reveals about the northern frontier of the Roman empire and the military community associated with it.

Vindolanda tablet 248

TVI Publication No. 21

Vindolanda Inventory No. 188

A letter from Niger and Brocchus to Cerealis.

Vindolanda tablet 248. Accessed via Vindolanda Tablets Onlin © Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, The British Museum and other copyright holders. (To open a link in a new window or tab, right-click and select Open in new window/tab. Or, to open in a new tab, hold the Ctrl key as you select it.)


‘Niger and Brocchus to their Cerialis, greeting. We pray, brother, that what you are about to do will be most successful. It will be so, indeed, since it is both in accord with our wishes to make this prayer on your behalf and you yourself are most worthy. You will assuredly meet our governor quite soon. (2nd hand) We pray, our lord and brother, that you are in good health … expect … (?) (Back, 1st hand) To Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the cohort …’



1   Niger et Brocchus Ceriali

2   suo salutem

3   óptamus frater it quot

4   acturus es felicis-

5   simum sit erit autem

6   quom et uotis nostris



8   conueniat hoc

9   pro te precari et tú

10  sis dignissimus con-

11  sulari n(ostro) utique ma-

12  turius occurres

13  op<t>amus frater

14  bene ualere te

15  domine [traces] no. exspec



1  [Fl]au[io] Cerial[i

2  [prae]f(ecto) coh(ortis)

3  [traces?]

Guidance notes

This assignment is related to Block 1 and associated materials. Before attempting this question you should listen to the audio recording ‘Working with inscriptions’ and complete Block 1, Unit 4, Activity 4.4.

You are already familiar with source analysis and the types of information that can be gained from reading the Vindolanda tablets from your work in Block 1, Unit 4, Section 4.2. Over the course of Block 1 you have developed the skills required to analyse different types of source from a critical standpoint and to think about how primary evidence can be used to answer particular questions about the Roman empire. This question employs the same structure as the source analysis activities that you completed in Block 1, Unit 3 and in Activity 4.4. These activities will help you to pick out the significant details of the source in your answer. In preparation to write your answer, first identify the points which you think are significant and then note down why you think they are significant. Thinking of the broader issues to which the source relates will help you to develop your discussion and assess the value of the source. Remember to consider what you are asked to relate the source to and what topics it can (or cannot) be used to explore.

You will have to make a judgement as to how to balance your answer between content, form and what the source reveals about the northern frontier of the Roman empire and the military community associated with it (in other words, its value as a source of evidence for this subject). You will need to discuss critically the significance and value of the source; saying that Flavius Cerealis is prefect of the cohort is simply extracting an apparently factual statement from the text (content). You will need to go further and discuss the significance of this particular text. For example, what does it tell us about who was living in this part of the Roman empire? What information can be gained from it about the activities which took place on the northern frontier? How reliable is it as a source of evidence for these questions? To help with this you may also wish to refer briefly to other sources that you have studied in Block 1. Do not just paraphrase or copy out the information that you can identify within the text or the notes on the Vindolanda Online website (‘Niger and Brocchus send their greetings to Cerealis’), but explain the significance of this information (‘The fact that this letter was written by Niger and Brocchus suggests that …’).

Note that there is much which cannot be known for certain about an archaeological source like this, for example, the precise date at which the tablet was written or the details of the people with which it was associated. You are entitled to suggest your own interpretations of these uncertainties and their consequences, as long as you can justify them. You might, for example, wish to consider whether the contextual evidence for the tablet and where it was found offer any clues that you might use to interpret it. Do these impact upon your assessment of its value as a source of evidence for what can be known about the northern frontier of the Roman empire and the military community associated with it?

If you refer to any additional sources or secondary scholarship, such as the Vindolanda Tablets Online website, be sure to provide references and make sure that you follow the Harvard system carefully when formatting any references and bibliography. See the section on Using sources in the Assessment Guide.