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How literate were the legionaires? I would think people were much more literate during the classical periods compared to the medieval period.
Thanks,
Johnny
I find the title of this thread ironic.

As far as I know, the French have been able to read for quite some years.

Don't take offense at the above statements. It's only a little ribbing all in good fun.
The Vindolanda tablets suggest that at least the auxiliary officers were able to read and write.

I recently visited Bu Njem, where about 150 ostraca were found, written by scribes of III Augusta. They included a couple of messages apparently written ordinary legionaries. I now remember one about the arrival of several Garamantes (a native tribe) accompanying donkeys, Egyptian postmen (!) and a runaway slave.
Quote:They included a couple of messages apparently written ordinary legionaries. I now remember one about the arrival of several Garamantes (a native tribe) accompanying donkeys, Egyptian postmen (!) and a runaway slave.
Now that's something I'd love to read. Do you know if they've been published anywhere?
Yes: Robert Marichal, Les Ostraca de Bu Njem (1992 Tripoli = Libya Antiqua, suppl.9).

...N]OVEMB INTROIERVNT
GAR]AMANTES DVCENTES ASINOS N(umero) IIII
ET EGIPTIOS N(umero) II FERENTES LIT
TERAS AT TE GRASAZEIHEME OPTER
SERVV FVGITIVV

[Document 71]

(Gtasazeihemus Opter may be the name of the slave or a recipient of letters)
Quote:Yes: Robert Marichal, Les Ostraca de Bu Njem (1992 Tripoli = Libya Antiqua, suppl.9).

...N]OVEMB INTROIERVNT
GAR]AMANTES DVCENTES ASINOS N(umero) IIII
ET EGIPTIOS N(umero) II FERENTES LIT
TERAS AT TE GRASAZEIHEME OPTER
SERVV FVGITIVV

[Document 71]

(Gtasazeihemus Opter may be the name of the slave or a recipient of letters)
Star geezer. Thanks Jona!
Interesting....
Thanks,
Johnny
theres a book out from men writting home type letters isnt there? musta been able to read and write... bet they had good teeth too! ahhhh are all the modern myths ruined now? Wink
It's hard to say. For an overall look, check out W.V. Harris: Ancient Literacy. Literacy rates are almost impossible to measure, but the indications are that especially among urban populations, reading and writing were common basic skills transmitted through generations the way we pass on bicycle riding.

If you're asking from a re-enactment perspective I would say any given Roman legionary can be justified to be literate. It was not particularly rare, especially at low levels (basic literacy with little practice or facility at writing and no deeper understanding of grammar or spelling conventions is all over the walls of Pompeii). Anyone in tactical command almost had to be at least passively literate, given the amount of paperwork the Roman army generated, An illiterate optio or signifer is just not thinkable. Since these were often 'ex caliga', that means a significant proportion of the rank and file could read and write.

Actual facility with the written word, understanding of style and grammar, and the ability to write legibly, if possible in two or there languages, were marketable skills and would be found among the soldiers following an administrative career track, scribae, tabularii, notarii, cornicularii, and quite possibly beneficiarii and speculatores as well.

It is important to keep in mind that literacy in the Ancient world was not, like today, an entree to the civilised world. It was possible, if unusual, to be a member of the upper class and functionally illiterate. I think a good analogue would be computer skills. They are very useful in everyday life, and almost everyone has some. Some have greater facility than others, but only a few ever develop them to the level that makes them professionals. A few don't have any and nonetheless get along fine most days. The emphasis modern schooling places on turning us all into professional-grade scribes skews our understanding of what being literate entails both socially and technically.
Certain steles go to pains to show soldiers with scrolls in their hands or writing tablets stuck in their belts, which suggests to me that they were advertising the fact that the soldier depicted could read.
In Masada they found fragments of an papyrus. Each side contains an incomplete hexameter verse in Latin.
MASADA II No. 721
On the front page they read:

[An]na [ s ]or[o]r quae me susp[ensam insomnia terrent....]

This is Virgil, Aen. 4. 9, the beginnig of Didos first speech.

On the backside they read only:

]des titubantia...ri

So they didn t know the context, in Virgil it occurs only once, also in Horace, in Ovid seventeen times, Manilius once, Columella once, Lucan twice, Silius Italicus four times and so on....

A writing tablet from Vindolanda containing Virgil Aen. 9.. 473 written ca 100 A.D. Bowman and Thomas 1986, 1986, 122, 1987, 130ff

INTEREA PAVIDAM VOLITANS PINNA

http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk/4DLink2 ... yEnglish=1

Bye
Malko
__________

Christian
I was bumbling around in JSTOR and accidently came across an off-hand reference to a fascinating study on female literacy. They studied Egyptian papyri from the first three centuries after the Roman conquest. They used signatures – whether the woman signed herself, was able to make her initial, or had someone else sign for her – as ways to judge the literacy of the population. (Yes, I suppose the theory could be challenged, but it was still interesting.)

They found 65% of women were illiterate, meaning someone had to sign a contract for her. 30% were literate and could sign for themselves, and 5% were semi-literate, meaning they could make their initial.

So if 35% of women were literate or semi-literate, can this be extrapolated to soldiers? Would they be more likely to be literate, because men presumably had more formal education? Or would they be less likely, because they were out of civilian business life?
Boys were much more often educated than girls. The higher the income level, of course, the more likely the boys would have received the better education.

And in some areas, it's likely that not many were educated. As the army became more and more "barbarian conscripts/volunteers", and less and less Italic, the number of illiterates probably rose.
Carlton - The analogy of computer "literacy" sounds like a very good comparison.

Having good literacy and good penmanship are certainly needed skills for an army that runs on a lot of paperwork.

It seems like literacy and proficiency in a language, or several even, back then as it is today, can open many doors to better futures and opportunities compared to those who don't earn a good understanding of the language. Seeing as many soldiers came from farming backgrounds/families, being in the army and learning (or improving) literacy probably helped improve their lives and career paths better than if they had stayed at home.

Pretty compelling.
I know this thread is about legionaries, but you might be interested to see a papyrus written by an auxiliary in the reign of Trajan, "To Marcus Rutilius Lupus, Prefect of Egypt, from Gaius Valerius Saturninus, recruit" (P. Thead. 31), apparently in his own hand.
[attachment=7078]P-Thead-31.jpg[/attachment]
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