Roman soldier asks commanding officers for more beer and a holiday

The armed forces in India invoke envy for their access to good quality alcohol at slightly lesser prices. If you thought this was a new trend (post independence). Or perhaps, a trend only prevalent in India, you are in for a pleasant shock. It seems that army bosses around the world kept their soldiers happy by supplying them with adequate alcohol. And, even 2000 years ago, soldiers were requesting for more holidays. Arguably, even today, things are not different. So, whether we take a look at the Indian soldier today or the Roman soldier of two millennia ago, demands are same.

Roman soldier
Image Source :

According to the results of excavations in the UK, soldiers’ demands for more alcohol dates back to the Roman empire. During that era, soldiers unhappy with the supplied stock of alcohol requested their bosses for more. Most noteworthy amongst these excavations are various letters about 2000 years old, revealing all details. The excavated items date back to the 1st Century AD. These are perhaps one of the oldest excavations containing confidential correspondence between soldiers and army bosses. Importantly, the latest find reveals soldiers wanted more holidays too.

Letter written by Roman Soldier Masclus asking for a holiday
Letter written by Roman Soldier Masclus asking for a holiday. Image Source :

Recently, 25 letters unearthed by the CEO of Vindolanda Trust, Andrew Birley, throw light on such demands. The letters are from the area around the Hadrian’s Wall complex. These letters also include a letter asking for a holiday by a roman soldier called Masclus. Interestingly, soldier Masclus, on a previous occasion demanded more beer from his commanding officers.

The letters, though found roughly from the same area belong to two different excavations. 25 years earlier, in a separate but equally noteworthy find, Andrew Birley’s father discovered Maslcus’ letters. In that first find, Soldier Masclus was asking for more beer.

Letter written by Roman soldier Masclus asking for a holiday
Emperor Hadrian’s Wall to keep the barbarians separate. Image Source :

In the past also, hundreds of letters were discovered from the Roman Fort Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall. Today, the British museum houses these letters. The letters from the Roman era are some of the most interesting documents unearthed. Not only are the letters personal, but they also give a detailed account of the Roman army life in 1st Century AD.

Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian runs for 135 kms. Hadrian visited Britain in 122 AD. During that time, Britain was a part of the north-west frontier of the Roman empire. It remained with the empire for 300 years. The likely purpose of building the wall, according to historians, was to keep the barbarians separate from the Romans.

Messages From Roman Soldier to Army Bosses

Written in ink, Roman soldiers conveyed messages to seniors in forms of letters and lists. Soldiers used double oak leaves and thin sheets of birch for their correspondence. Amongst the unearthed letters, some were legible and some not. Seems like the well preserved ones are legible. Due to ineligibility, remaining letters will be scanned by infrared. Infrared scanning enables antique letters to be read properly. This is a lengthy process. And, because of the time consumed, the infrared reading results will be revealed in three months time.


Roman soldier asks commanding officers for more beer and a holiday
Excavations at ancient Roman site at Vindolanda. Image Source :


The Vindolanda Trust

The 2000 year old Roman letters discovered by the Vindolanda Trust unravel many mysteries about life during that era. Therefore, this is a rather noteworthy discovery by the trust. The Vindolanda Trust preserves the Roman remains in the central sector of Hardian’s Wall World Heritage Site. It also administers the Vindolanda Roman Fort and museum, the Roman site Carvoran and the Roman Army Museum. Most important of all, the trust encourages people to come and participate in excavations, historical and archeological research.

If You Would Like to Read More

The main sources for this article are – Cache of 25 letters and More Holiday Please! In addition to those, for more information about Hadrian’s Wall, do visit – Hadrian’s Wall. For further reading about Vindolanda Trust and excavations, you may also check out – Vindolanda Trust.

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