Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 16:25 UK

Roman era reveals expenses claims

Vindolanda Tablet
The Vindolanda tablets suggest Roman officials submitted expense claims

Ancient Roman writing tablets suggest public officials were involved in expenses scandals 2,000 years ago.

Writing tablets uncovered near Hadrian's Wall detail hundreds of expenses claimed by Roman officials, Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd said.

Five of the translated tablets contain 111 lines detailing entertainment claims at the Roman camp of Vindolanda.

The items include ears of grain, hobnails for boots, bread, cereals, hides and pigs.

The wooden writing tablets - which date from the 2nd Century - were discovered at Vindolanda, the Roman encampment near Hadrian's Wall in 1973.

'Fiddle expenses'

Professor Tony Birley, who translated the tablets, said they detail hundreds of expense claims and "lavish parties" held for officers.

He said: "Officers were paid very well - they could buy goods duty free so they would often fiddle expenses by buying items at a cut price then selling them at a profit."

The wooden tablets, which are held at the British Museum in London, depict a business letter written by an official or entrepreneur supplying goods to the Roman army.

It reads: "As to the 100 pounds of sinew from Marinus - I will settle up. From when you wrote about this he has not even mentioned it to me.

Discovered by Robin Birley in 1973
Mainly found in a waterlogged rubbish heap in the pre-Hadrianic fort
The Vindolanda site appears to have been occupied by the Roman army in AD85
Voted the UK's favourite treasure in BBC2's Meet the Ancestors

"I have written to you several times that I have bought ears of grain, about 5000 modii, on account of which I need denarii - unless you send me something, I will lose what I have given as a down payment, and will be embarrassed, so I ask you: send me some denarii as soon as possible."

Professor Birley said it was thought the writer had been beaten by centurions for supplying "dodgy" goods.

He said punishment against officials caught fiddling their expenses was a "matter of luck."

"If you were ranked highly you might just get sent off to exile - but if you were poorer, or further down the ranks, you would get the chop," he said.

Tom Higgins, the director of communications at Hadrian's Wall Heritage, said: "The tablets show desperate pleas by officials so I think the Roman legions were quite tight with their money."

More than 400 tablets were discovered at the site and are some of the earliest examples of the written word in Britain.

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