Alan K Bowman, 1994.
Quotes Auden’s poem Archaeology:
The archaeologist’s spade
Delves into dwellings
Vacancied long ago,
Of life-ways no one
Would dream of leading now,
Concerning which he has not much
to say that he can prove:
the lucky man!
Knowledge may have its purposes,
But guessing is always
much more fun than knowing.
Refers to the letters of Claudius Terentianus, an Egyptian who was in the Roman army in the second century. These were sent mostly to his father and were excavated at Karanis in Egypt. I like the list of things he sends his father in one letter:
a bag well sewn, in which you have two mantles, two capes, two linen towels, two sacks and(?) a linen covering. I had bought the last together with a mattress and a pillow, and while I was lying ill on the ship they were stolen from me. You have also in the bag a cape of single thickness; my mother sent this to you. Receive also a chicken coop, in which you have sets of glassware, two bowls of quinarius size, a dozen goblets, two papyrus rolls for school use, ink (for use) on the papyrus, five(?) pens, and twenty Alexandrian loaves. I beg you, father, to be content with that. If only I had not been ill, I was hoping to send you more, and again I hope so if I live.
And this letter explaining that he is going with the army to Syria:
Since they were nothing to me – (I say this) in the presence of the gods – but words, I conceived a hatred(?) of no one. I went . . . by boat, and with their help I enlisted in the fleet lest I seem to you to wander like a fugitive, lured on by a bitter hope. I ask and beg you, father, for I have no one dear to me except you, after the gods, to send to me by Valerius a battle sword, a . . ., a pickaxe, a grappling iron, two of the best lances obtainable, a cloak of beaver skin(?), and a girdled tunic, together with my trousers
And this description in another letter:
Saturninus was already prepared to leave on that day when so great a quarrel broke out. … He paid no more attention to me than to a sponge stick, but (looked only) to his own business and his own affairs.
I like the vulgar phrase “no more attention than to a sponge stick”.
To go back to Vindolanda, here is a sock excavated there: