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Londinium-The Bloomberg Square Project-Writing Tablets

Now that work on the site of the Bloomberg hub in the City of London is drawing to a close, and the feverish activity of up to sixty archaeologists are endeavouring to take the fullest benefit of this re-development opportunity, it is a good time to take stock of our current knowledge of the finds made.  Although the artefacts un-covered are striking, in their numbers if not in their individuality, it is perhaps the appreciation that hitherto the names of only fourteen residents of Londinium were known, this in a settlement occupied by Roman visitors from the second invasion in A.D 43 to the early 5th century.  This number is set to grow in the wake of the current exploration.


The Bloomberg site stands close by Mansion House underground railway station in central London.  Although it was developed in the 1950’s and some archaeological work was then undertaken, it is only now, following the acquisition of the site by Bloomberg and on which its landmark base is to be built, that a window of opportunity has again opened.  That so much has been preserved deep underground, which in other circumstances would have quickly decayed, is due to the flowing River Walbrook, which created ideal conditions for the preservation of wood and leather, with the consequence that a large quantity of shoes, and more importantly fragments of wood has been discovered.

The earliest evidence of the codex form dates from the early Roman occupation.  The ‘book’ or Codex comprised, in its simplest form, of two pieces of stilus writing-tablets stitched together.  The stili might have a bed within which wax could be poured to form a re-usable writing surface, or consist of simply the wood itself onto which a message might be written with ink.  In either case there exists the possibility of discovering, through the use of modern technology, both the essence of the communication and, perhaps more tantalisingly, the identity of the writer. Although some four to five hundred stilus writing-tablets have been found in Britain hitherto, prior to the current excavations, only a few of them have proved to be legible [1].

The Bloomberg site has to date revealed upwards of 100 fragments of writing tablets. Some of the content has already been examined and found to include mundane texts such as shopping lists and party invitations, whilst others show more detailed and fascinating transactions, including a contract for the sale of a slave girl and the transfer of a five acre wood in Kent.  Hopes are high among those leading this work at the Museum of London that the group of 14 known residents of Roman London will be increased.

It is my intention to follow the progress of the analysis of the writing tablets.  Should anyone have insights into this or related work, do please contribute.

[1] R.S.O Tomlin, – The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 1 c.400 – 1100. Cambridge University Press, 2012. P337

Stili from above work

Map of Walbrook Ward from Noorthouck’s History of London.  1773



Posted by on April 14th, 2013 | Comments Off on Londinium-The Bloomberg Square Project-Writing Tablets
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