Low content day: birchbark letters

I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility to, er, not posting things on this blog. But today I am sick and knackered, so it is going to be a mostly link-heavy post today.

As you may know, our access to details of the private lives of individuals in history is mainly dependent on how perishable and/or well-preserved their means of communication was. In preliterate societies, that means you’re pretty much up shit creek. Oh, you can establish quite a lot with archaeology, but obviously not as much as you can with archaeology¬†and written sources. And in many early societies, it’s rare for letters to be preserved even if they were relatively common. That’s why when you get something like The Vindolanda Tablets, a collection of everyday correspondence from people in and around a Roman fort in northern Britain, it’s so exciting. This one is probably the most famous:

Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.

But preservation is a hit-and-miss thing. A huge number of letters or notes written on birch bark from Novgorod, for instance, have been preserved simply because soil conditions kept them nice and wet and prevented the air from getting at them. There are loads of fascinating letters, including financial transactions, love letters and crime reports. You can read a little bit about them here.¬†One particularly charming group of documents appear to be schoolwork from a kid called Onfim, complete with his doodles. There’s a fun page about them here.



The left image shows Onfim’s schoolwork, while the right is on the back of the page; he’s drawn a fearsome wild beast with a sign that says “Greetings from Onfim to Danilo.”

So there you go. Not much for today, but it’s been a long day and I have that thing where my everything hurts.

Low content day: birchbark letters