In Roman Britain, the time period covered by the tablets begins in 85 CE and ends in 128 CE. This period spans the reigns of Domitian, Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian, starting with Agricola's campaign in Scotland and finishing with the beginning of construction on Hadrian's Wall. The province was unique within the empire for its substantial military garrison, which at its peak included more than one tenth of Rome's armed forces in less than four percent of the empire's territory. David Mattingly claims that about one-eighth of the native British population was killed in battle against the Romans during the time between Caesar's battles in Britain and the start of the period covered by the Vindolanda tablets (see An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 93). Certainly, the losses were great.
Throughout the first three centuries CE, the most consistently militarized zone in Britain was the northern strip in which Vindolanda lies. This military presence enabled many large construction projects for roads and fortifications and was perhaps initially formed to create bases for deployment further north. This presence explains the high density of forts and operational centers in this area whose names are found in the Vindolanda records. Geographically, this is where the Tyne-Solway isthmus is located and where Hadrian's Wall would be built.
The map on the right shows locations in Britain mentioned in the tablets. Some places cannot be determined for certain. The purple arcs show popular routes that people and goods would have travelled by between the south and north in Roman times.
© 2014, Nikhil Mulani