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Roman Law as applied in Britain

Bloomberg tablet 30: ‘I ask you in your own interest not to appear shabby,’ dated to CE 43-53. Image credit: Museum of London Archaeology.

Recently, new texts, wax tablets, have surfaced that throw unexpected light on the legal system in place in Roman Britain.

The word "surfaced" has its literal meaning here. They were dug up on the site of what was to become Bloomberg's European headquarters in London. The "Bloomberg tablets" include:

• WT 29: a letter from a slave to a master about cattle as investment;
• WT 30: a letter about a loan that has seemingly affected someone’s financial reputation;
• WT 35: a note of a deposit (!) using the term arra of 200 denarii.
• WT 44: a written acknowledgement of a debt incurred as a consequence of a sale of goods;
• WT 45: a lex locationis for the transport of goods from St. Albans to London;
• WT 50: a receipt for rent collected by a slave in relation to two farms;
• WT 51: a praeiudicium together with the source of the jurisdictional competence (the Emperor)
• WT 55: some sort of promise (maybe a stipulation?)
• WT 57: a procuratio (with some aspects of legal representation?)
• WT 62: some sort of act that required seven witnesses (maybe an mancipatio?)
• WT 70: an account listing amounts of money lent to slaves.

That last one strikes me as odd. Someone was lending money to slaves? So slaves were borrowing money and were expected, in the normal course of business, to return it?

That cuts sharply against received notions of slavery. One does not lend money to chattel. It seems the sort of relation that can only exist between legal persons. Maybe I'm confusing ancient slavery with the antebellum US version.  Dear reader, does this WT 70 strike you as weird, or not?

By the way, background information about the discovery can be found in the news story to which I've linked you above. But that particular list of the documents above comes from The Edinburgh Legal History Blog.  Posted July 1.


  1. The Wikipedia entry, "Slavery in ancient Rome," states, "Skilled or educated slaves were allowed to earn their own money, and might hope to save enough to buy their freedom." So I suppose that they could borrow money. Regarding skilled or educated slaves, the Wikipedia entry also states, "Accountants or physicians were often slaves."


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