Historical context

The Roman Department of the Zagreb Archaeological Museum contains close to 1200 inscribed lead tags. The number itself is quite impressive but the importance of that collection is even greater when one takes into account the fact that all those lead tags were found on the same site, the modern town of Sisak, the ancient city of Siscia, one of the biggest Roman agglomerations in the region and the largest urban centre in south-western Pannonia.

Some of those tags were offered or sold to the Museum by individual finders or collectors but most of them were found during the dredging of the Kupa river before WWI. Since the dredging was localised in the very centre of the town, i.e. in front of the port quarter, it would seem that all the tags come from a limited area, where, according to the excavations done in the eighties, the port facilities of the Roman town were also situated. The Museum curator in charge at that time, dr. Josip Brunšmid made a complete inventory and started the research work, a task that he unfortunately was unable to finish.

All of those tags are small lead tablets, of a more or less rectangular shape, pierced with a hole (sometimes even two or three perforations) so that the tag could be attached to the merchandise with a small rope or a metal wire.

They all carry an inscription, sometimes only on one side, but usually on both sides. Those inscriptions are always written in capital letters or the older Roman cursive, sometimes even in a mixture of both but not a single tag seems to be inscribed in the new Roman cursive, a detail which has its importance as far as dating is considered. Most of the tags were reused several times and thus one can often see traces of older inscriptions, more or less thoroughly erased by the scribe. For this reason, it is often difficult to distinguish with certainty which inscription is the most recent one. Obviously, when one finds traces of many different inscriptions, the lecture becomes rather uncertain.

Those inscriptions generally follow the same model: on one side, one can read personal names, duo nomina (far more rarely tria nomina) as well as single names, often followed by a patronymic. It would thus seem that both citizens and peregrines are mentioned on those tags, and in some cases even slaves. It is interesting to point out that there is no significant disproportion between male and female persons among over 900 individuals mentioned on those tags. The males are more numerous but females are nevertheless mentioned on almost 40% of the tags. The other side of the tag usually carries an inscription mentioning the merchandise, most of the time in an abbreviated form, as well as a price and quite often an indication of quantity or weight.

Despite the fact that the reading of the personal names can be quite dubious due to several factors, mostly the bad state of preservation of some tag and the mistakes done by the scribe, it is usually far less subject to doubt than the interpretation of the abbreviations. Fortunately, the words appearing on the tags are not always abbreviated which is of great help when you try to interpret correctly at least some of the abbreviations.

There are many different abbreviations on those tags and although many different commercial industrial activities could be in play, there is no doubt that most of them are linked to the wool trade and the textile industry. Words like LANA, PAN(N)UM, TVNICA, SAGVM, P(A)ENVLA, PAL(L)A, PALLIOLUM, LODIX, BANATA and ABOLLA appear more or less regularly without being abbreviated and thus the interpretation of common abbreviations like L, LA, LAN, PAN, T, SAG, PAENV, PAL, LO, LOD, LODI, BANA, AB is not in doubt.

The prices on those tags are a major argument when one considers those lead tags as commercial tags. Those prices were indicating the value of the goods or the cost of a given service like cleaning, fulling or dyeing and they must have been an essential information on the tags since they appear on 81% of them. Actually, only 14% of tags contain no indication whatsoever about the cost. The remaining 5% concern three categories of tags: those whose surface is so damaged and erased that the reading of the inscription is too doubtful to affirm that there is (or that there is not) a price indication, some tags where an X could either be a number or the sign of a denarius and finally, fragmented tags which might have also contained a price indication. There is no doubt that these tags were used in some kind of commercial transactions, either in the trade of goods or in the providing of some services. Considering the inscription, it appears rather certain that the trade in question was closely connected to the textile industry. The most likely hypothesis would be that the tags were attached to garments given to fullers or dyers in order to be cleaned or dyed. Besides garments, it seems that wool was also part of the trade, presumably as raw material to be dyed. By noting all the important details on the tag (name of the client, type of garment or rather, type of service to be provided, its price, sometimes the weight or the size as well), the craftsman could easily return the goods to the right client and know immediately what was the cost of the transaction.