Beer and Romano-Brittonic tablets from VindolandaArticle 3 of 8 Barley and wheat for the brewers of Vindolanda

3 - The Celtic beer in Vindolanda and its surroundings (tablets 186 and 190)


The beer trade was local at Vindolanda. The beer was brewed from barley and wheat, either as raw or malted grains. We have no brewing recipes, no ratio from wheat to barley, and no ratio from total grains used to the beer brewed. In tablet 185, we are talking about green malt from which the rootlets are removed by threshing or rubbing. This technical precision implies an advanced brewing method. The brewers' spent grains (dregs) are sold as fodder, probably mixed with barley. The tablets do not give any hint as to how the beer was flavoured, if at all at that time. The editors of the Vindolanda tablets translate ceruesae as "Celtic beer", to suggest a beer brewed locally by Brittons of Celtic culture. However, we do not know what "Celtic" means for a beer, from a technical point of view, other than to be drunk by people of Celtic culture. This comment does not in any way lessen the exceptional value of the Vindolanda texts, nor the remarkable work done by academics and engineers to read, understand and preserve these texts. They confirm that the beer was made from different kinds of grain, with advanced malting processes. This has undoubtedly made it possible to brew different beers of varying density and taste. But the tablets are silent on this subject. It should be noted that the technical principles of brewing did not differ much in Britain from the little we know of Gallic brewing at the same time, especially the malting process using various cereals.

Ceruesa is a less common word than ceruesia or ceruisia (see fragment 737.2. Ceruesa without the i is certainly written on the tablet 190 lines 7, 10, 21 and 24, below; ceruesa is well attested (see OLD; TLL; Holder, Altceltischer Sprachschatz, sv). This Celtic beer is known to have been drunk in the army. Davies (1971, p. 133) cites evidence that it was made with malt.

The tablet 186 records pork, salt, beer and shoe nails, with quantities and market value, all bought by Gracilis, Audax and Similis. Cer[u]ese (beer) is given for a brew of wheat or barley, alone or mixed in the same brew. This tablet provides clues to a local brewing of beer with malt (braces) also made and sold locally. These staple foods were either purchased or produced under direct military control, with a combination of both means of supply.

One metretam of beer is sold. This container with a capacity of 100 sextarii (54 litres) is specified in lines 12 and 23. The container metretam is measured in sextarii in the other Vindolanda texts (ceruesa in T. 190). Note the volume of beer (54 l) delivered for a few people, and its regular consumption, month after month, from November to February, in the preserved and readable sections of the text. This account covers several months, between the end of year 110 and the beginning of the following year, two years designated according to the names of the consuls of Britannia.


Tablet 186
1 _[ ] per traces ... par Gracilis (?)
2 [ ]. m(odios) xxx[..] ...... ... modii 30+ ...
3 [ Decem]bres per Gracilem November/December, by Gracilis,
4 [ ]. p(ondo) c ..[ ..., pounds 100 ...
5 [...]..[Dece]mbres per Gracilem November/December, by Gracilis,
6 [..].. p(ondo) xxii (asses) .. ... pounds 22, asses ..
7 [c.3] K(alendas) Ianuarias Gracili clauos 00 January, to Gracilis, nails
8 caligares n(umero) c (asses duos) for boots, 100, asses 2
9 [ K(alendas) I]anuarias per Audacem 00 January, by Audax,
10 salis p(ondo) lxxxv[ ].ii. 85+ pounds of salt, asses 12+ (?)
11 [ K(alendas) I]anua{ui}rias cer[u]ese 00 December, beer,
12 metretam (asses) viii one metretes, asses 8
13 [CAL]PURNIO PISONE VETTIO During Calpurnius Piso's consultate
14 [B]OLANO CO(N)S(ULIBUS) uacat and Vettius Bolanus':
15 [c.5 Ia]nuarias per ...a..m 00 January, by Audax (?),
16 [ c.6 ] (assem i) . meat of goat (?), ..., as 1 (?)
17 [c.5 Feb]ruuaris per Gracilem 00 february (?), by Gracilis,
18 [ c.7 ]..met.r.[c.3]s ...cum (asses) . ..., asses ..
19 [c.4] Februuar[i]as per Gracilem 00 february (?), by Gracilis,
20 [c.4]..m e. porc.. traces ... pork (?) ...,
21 [p]er Audacem porcine p(ondo) xi .. by Audax, 11 pounds of pork (?) …
22 [..Id]us Februuarias per Similem 0 february, by Similis,
23 ceruese metretam ... one metretes of beer, ...
24 [ c.7 ]as per Auda[c]em 00 february (?), by Audax ...


The tablet 190 is an account of barley (hordei) and beer (cer[u]esae). It makes the economic link between the grain trade and the manufacture of the locally fermented and brewed beverage. Indeed, an ceruesarius (brewer) exists in Vindolanda (T. 182.ii.14 ) where malt (bracis) is found (T 343.iii.25-8). Here the beer volumes are low (20 June = 17 l; 23 June = 25.8 l; 24 June = 25.8 l + ...). Nothing can be deduced from the respective volumes of barley and beer, as the barley is not explicitly delivered and exclusively used for brewing.

This account belongs to Period 3 and comes from the domestic administration of the praetorium, not from the supply of troops. The barley thus provides no indication of the use of fodder for horses, and does not prove that the 9thBatavian Cohort was equestrian.

Tablet 190
2 ] m(odios) [.]ii (denarii) s(emissem)  ... modii 3 (?), denarii ½
3 ].i..m (denarii) s(emissem)  ... denarii ½
1 a]d sacrum (denarios) [  ... for the celebration, denarii …
2 ]m ad sacrum (denarios) [  ... for the celebration, denarii ...
3 ]atam ad sacrum [  ... for the celebration ...
4 Uacat  
5 m?xiii K(alendas) Iuli[as 19 June
6 horde[i of barley ...
7 ceruesa[e of beer ...
8 x[ii] K(alendas) Iulias 20 june
9 hordei m(odios) iiii [ 4 (more ?) modii of barley
10 ceruesae m(odios) ii 2 modii of beer
11 [xi K(alendas) Iu]lias hordei [ 21 june, xxx of barley ...
12 ].m ad hor[ ... in granary (?) ...
13 ].tum ...
14 ]m(odios) ii ... 2 modii
15 x K(alendas) Iulias 22 june
16 hordei m(odios) v s(emissem) (?) modii of barley
17 allatus uini ..ssec[ Allatus (?), wine from Massique (?) ...1
18 viiii K(alendas) Iulias 23 june
19 hordei m(odios) v s(emissem) 5½ modii of barley
20 uini m(odium) i (sextarios) xiiii 1 modius 14 sextarii 14 of wine
21 ceruesae m(odii) iii 3 modii of beer
22 viii K(alendas) Iulias 24 june
23 hordei m(odios) vi.[ 6 modii (more) of barley
24 ceruesae m(odios) iii (sextarios) ... 3 modii x sextarii of beer
25 uini m(odium) i (sextarios) xii of wine, modius 1 sextarii 12
26 aceti (sextarios) ii 2 sextarii of acidified wine
27 per Priuatum by Privatus,
28 muriae (sextarium) i s(emissem) 1½ sextarii of fish-sauce
29 per Priuatum by Privatus,
30 axungiae (sextarios) x mut[(uo) 10 sextarii of pork fat, as a loan (?)
31 domino ad stipes to the lord of donations
32 per Priuatum by Privatus
33 uini m(odium) i ad sacrum 1 modius of wine for the celebration
34 d<i>uae of the goddess (?)
25 uini (sextarios) xii 12 sextarii of wine
36 per Priuatu[m by Privatus
37 vii K(alendas) Iulias 25 june
38 hordei (sextarios) .i. 11½ (?) sextarii of barley
39 domini Brigae man[se]- the masters in Briga
40 runt have stayed


The tablet 649 shows that the Britons were in charge, if not of making the malt, at least of transporting it by cart to Vindolanda: " You will receive by carts of Britons ... coming from Rac[]romaucus 381 modii (3.284 l.) of ... malt (bracis). In addition, they loaded 53 modii (457 l.) into each individual cart. The container they are transporting contains 63 modii ..." (Bowman, Thomas 2003, 106).


1 A famous italic vineyard between Latinium and Campania.


Beer and Romano-Brittonic tablets from VindolandaArticle 3 of 8 Barley and wheat for the brewers of Vindolanda