History is still being discovered in The City

Tablets dating back to Roman times have been found in an archaeological dig in The City.

No matter how many times you stay in serviced apartments in The City of London, the area continues to surprise and excite. Steeped in history, there are so many secrets for the Square Mile to reveal and it appears they are coming to light even now.

Recently, the oldest written documents ever to be discovered in Britain were unearthed and it was in The City where they were found. They date back to Roman times and consist of hundreds of waxed writing tablets.

The Roman city of Londinium was established around 43AD and occupied mainly the area known as The City of London today. Its residents used the tablets for note-taking, accounts and legal documents instead of paper.

londinium statue

Archaeologists made the discovery during excavations to build new European headquarters for Bloomberg in The City. It’s a wonderful connection between the area’s past and its future, as it continues to evolve to suit the needs of business and the population.

Of the 410 wooden tablets that have been unearthed, 87 have been deciphered. The content includes names, events, business and legal dealings, as well as alphabet and numeral practice, which could have been carried out by a young Roman wishing to achieve proficiency.

The discovery is particularly important, as previously only 19 legible tablets originating in London have ever been found. This new collection provides valuable insight into Roman rule in Britain right from the start and what life was like in The City at this time.

Businessmen and soldiers were living in the city and nearly 100 people are mentioned by name in the tablets. They include a cooper, a brewer and a judge, as well as slaves and freemen. One of the tablets is a contract from October 21st 62 AD, to transport 20 loads of provisions from Verulamium, which is modern day St Albans in Hertfordshire, to London.


Among the discovery are some particularly important tablets. A financial record dated January 8th 57 AD is the earliest handwritten document to be found in Britain with a date attached. Another of the tablets contains the earliest ever written reference to London in around 65-80 AD.

It takes specific conditions for wood buried in the ground to actually survive for this long. These tablets were well-preserved due to the wet mud of the Walbrook River, which was once a major feature of London. Now, it is a buried river, which are surprisingly common in the capital.

Romans would write on wax enclosed within recesses in the wood and while this has long gone, some of the writing went through onto the wood behind. It is these impressions made by a stylus implement that historians can read today.

Sophie Jackson, archaeologist and director at independent charitable company Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), which led the dig, said: “We always had high high hopes for the Bloomberg dig, situated in the heart of the Roman and modern city and with perfect wet conditions for the survival of archaeology, but the findings far exceeded all expectations.
“The writing tablets are truly a gift for archaeologists trying to get closer to the first Roman Britons.”

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