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The Tolsum Writing-Tablet


The Tolsum Writing Tablet. Fries Museum, Leeuwarden (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
The Tolsum Writing Tablet: front (Fries Museum, Leeuwarden)
Tolsum Writing-Tablet or Tabula Tolsummiana: oldest written text from the Netherlands.

In 1914, laborers digging in the "terp" (artificial dwelling hill) of Tolsum found a wooden writing-tablet. Because the people who used it, pressed their stilus very hard, the letters can still be read as scratches in the wood, even though the original layer of wax has vanished long time ago. The first scholar who tried to read it, C.W. Vollgraff, believed it was a contract about the sale of a cow, and dated it to the year 116. Although his reading has become accepted and can even be found in the Fontes Iuris Romani Antejustiniani (FIRA), there were always serious doubts. In 2009, a new reading was proposed, and the writing-tablet turns out to be the second half of a loan-note.

Many details remain unclear. Is the name of the second signatory a Batavian with a native name, Miunnius, or did this man have the Roman name Marcus Junnius? Is Giricaemium a place name, or is it the name of a tribe ("among the Giricaemi"). Who is to receive what from whom?


FRONT

... CARO  IVLIAe  SECVNDAE
QVOS  EA  REDdERE
DEBeO  QVA  DIE  PETIE-
RIT  AVT  AD  QVEM
EA  RES  PERTINEBIt
ACTVM  VII  Kalendas  MAR-
TIAs  GIRICAEMIVM
Caio  FVFEO  GEMIN-
iO  COnSvle.  INTERPRETA-
QVADRATVS              VIT
[I declare to have received ... from] Carus, [slave of] Julia Secunda, which I am obliged to pay back to him/her (or to whomsoever this matter pertains) on the day on which he/she shall ask for them. Transacted on 23 February at Giricaemium, in the consulship of Gaius Fufius Geminius. Quadratus acted as interpreter.

BACK

Titvs  CASSIVS  TRibvnvs  LEGionis  V
MIVNNIs  MILes  Nvmeri
BATAVORVM  BONVMOTI
CATVRIS  SECvndae
IPSIVS
Titus Cassius, tribune of the Fifth Legion;
Miunnius, soldier of the Batavian auxiliaries, subunit of Bonumotus;
Caturix, slave of the said Secunda.
Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier.
Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier (order; review)
The Tolsum Writing Tablet. Fries Museum, Leeuwarden (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
The Tolsum Writing Tablet: back (Fries Museum, Leeuwarden)

The name of Gaius Fufius Geminius is important. He was consul in 29 CE, together with Lucius Rubellius Geminus. The date is, therefore, 23 February 29, in the winter after the Frisian Revolt (Tacitus, Annals, 4.72-74). If this tablet is originally from Tolsum (and was not brought to the terp on a later date), the Romans regained control of the Frisians and restored normal economic relations within months. This is corroborated by the excavation in Velsen, which was attacked during the Frisian revolt, but remained Roman and saw a new building phase in 35. Probably, Tacitus' statement that Tiberius accepted the loss of territory and suppressed the bad news, is unfair: the Romans never lost control of the northern coastlands.

Literature

  • In May 2010, the journal of the Frisian Academy, It Beaken, published a special issue on the Tolsum Writing-Tablet, "Het geheim van Tolsum. Een herinterpretatie van een Romeins schrijfplankje". All articles are in Dutch, except for the most important one: A.K. Bowman & R.S.O. Tomlin, "The 'Frisian ox sale'. A writing-tablet from Tolsum", in It Beaken 71 (2009) 211-236.
  • Another article is A.K. Bowman, R.S.O. Tomlin, K.A. Worp,  "Emptio Bovis Frisica: the 'Frisian Ox Sale' Reconsidered", in the Journal of Roman Studies 99 (2009), 156–170.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2010
Revision: 6 June 2010
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