Sulpicia Lepidina was the wife of Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians, stationed at Vindolanda[Note 1] in Roman Britain about the turn of the 1st century AD. She is the first person known to have received a birthday party invitation.
Sulpicia Lepidina received two letters from Claudia Severa, wife of Aelius Brocchus, commander of a nearby fort[Note 2]. One of the letters from Severa is an invitation to a birthday party, which is perhaps the best-known of the Vindolanda tablets now at the British Museum. The invitation is partly written by a scribe and partly by Severa herself. Along with another tablet (a fragment with a closure[Note 2] written in Severa's hand), the invitation is thought to be the oldest extant writing by a Roman woman found in Britain, or indeed anywhere. The subject-matter of the letters is social and personal, and Severa calls Lepidina her sister.
The letters were written in ink on wooden tablets[Note 3] found during excavations at Vindolanda in the 1970s. Their preservation was due to the waterlogged soil conditions on parts of the Vindolanda site.
- Vindolanda was previously known by the name of the nearby farm Chesterholm, and is situated just south of the Roman Stanegate road, 2 miles (3 km) SW of the fort of Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, England
- Aelius Brocchus is deduced to be the prefect (commander) of an unknown fort within easy reach of Vindolanda
- The tablets are of thin wood, about the size of a postcard. Many are fragmentary and all are difficult to read and decipher. On many the ink faded on exposure to the air, and special techniques have to be used to read the text.
- Alan Bowman and David Thomas, Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1983, pp. 256
- Mount, Harry (2008-07-21). "Hadrian's soldiers writing home". The Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk). Retrieved 2011-02-23.
The real prize of the Vindolanda tablets, though, are the earliest surviving letters in a woman's hand written in this country. In one letter, Claudia Severa wrote to her sister, Sulpicia Lepidina, the wife of a Vindolanda bigwig - Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians: 'Oh how much I want you at my birthday party. You'll make the day so much more fun. I do so hope you can make it. Goodbye, sister, my dearest soul.'