Most of the time, visiting a foreign city and bringing back a pen as a gift won’t go down well with the recipient.
But that tactic may have older roots than we thought; archaeologists have discovered an iron stylus in London, complete with an inscribed joke, that dates back nearly 2,000 years.
Of 200 styluses found at a site under Bloomberg’s new European headquarters, only one – dating back to around 70 A.D. – had a message inscribed onto it.
It reads: “I have come from the City. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able (to give) as generously as the way is long (and) as my purse is empty.”
In other words: I’m broke, but here’s a pen.
“As ‘the City’ referred to is very likely Rome, the stylus suggests a direct link between Roman Italy and the province of Britannia,” the Museum of London Archeology, which oversaw the dig, said in a blog post.
“At this time Londinium lay near the edge of the Empire but, far from a being a provincial backwater, it had grown into an important centre for commerce and governance, interconnected with the wider Roman world,” they added.
“The stylus and its inscription highlights the crucial role that writing and literacy played in allowing traders, soldiers and officials to keep in contact with peers, friends and family, some of whom lived over a thousand miles away.”
The excavation at the Bloomberg headquarters has revealed more than 14,000 artifacts under the streets of London. Around 600 of them are now on display at London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE.
The new building won the Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, last October.
At the center of the 3.2-acre site is a public pedestrian arcade that re-establishes an ancient Roman road and a museum displaying the Roman temple of Mithras in its original location, where it was discovered 60 years ago.