Provincial Pen Pal

Digs & Discoveries November/December 2019

(©️ MOLA)

Long before pressed pennies and postcards, a resident of Londinium (Roman London) received a witty souvenir from the empire’s capital. An iron stylus—a writing implement used to press letters into wax or clay tablets—dating to about A.D. 70, unearthed from a trash dump along a lost tributary of the Thames, bears a personal message in Latin etched along its sides:

I have come from the City. I bring you a welcome gift 

with a sharp point that you may remember me. 

I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able (to give) 

as generously as the way is long (and) as my purse is empty. 

In the decades following the conquest of Britain, Londinium experienced an influx of Roman soldiers and merchants, who brought with them goods from all across the Roman world. “This stylus is a clear demonstration of a personal connection between someone in Londinium, which lay close to the edge of the empire, and someone who had been to Rome, which lay at its heart,” says Museum of London Archaeology senior finds specialist Michael Marshall. “The gift’s recipient, or a friend or family member, may have been the owner of this stylus.”

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