If you lived on the edges of the Roman Empire, chances are you didn't have a party planner or personal assistant at your beck and call. Therefore, you'd have to write your own birthday invitations—or at least parts of them—yourself! That appears to be the case with one tablet found in the extraordinary cache of handwritten documents from the northern British fort of Vindolanda, an extreme outpost for the Roman military. Among these fascinating notes was the first example we have of a woman writing in Latin; dating from about 100 C.E., it included an invitation to a Roman b-day party.
Where in the world was Vindolanda? Image via Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents and The British Museum.
This invite is one of three surviving letters written by a Roman woman named Claudia Severa, wife of a high-ranking official named Aelius Brocchus. Epigraphers believe that Severa herself wrote much, if not all, of the invitation, which was sent to her pal Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the commander of Vindolanda. Severa gushed, "For the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us."
Here's the incredible birthday invitation from Severa to Lepidina. Image via Fæ/British Museum/Wikimedia Commons.
She sent her best wishes to her friend's hubby, a fellow named Cerialis, and bid Lepidina well from her own Aelius and their son. Finally, Severa signed off kindly, writing, "I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail."
We have a few other examples of Severa's writing from Vindolanda. One letter—again to Lepidina—discussed her possibly visiting the friend to whom the correspondence was addressed. Severa excitedly told Lepidina that her husband gave her permission to visit and she can't wait to hang out and have sleepovers (well, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration).
These ladies weren't the only ones in ancient Roman history to write notes to one another. In fact, a good number of upper-class women, whether in Rome or in the provinces, were educated and literate and communicated via written messages, but we sadly don't have the remains of their correspondence. Furthermore, these notes attest to the presence of officers' wives and their families on the frontier with the army. Indeed, especially on the frontiers, writing notes in fancy Latin may have served to confirm these women's elite statuses—at least in their own eyes.
Feature image via the British Museum Shop online.