Neapolis was a major ancient hub, established as a trade port by the Greeks of Cyrene in the fifth century before it became a port when the Roman Empire conquered North Africa. Now, a city known as Nabeul stands where the metropolis once was, built on top of most of the remains, making them inaccessible and likely mostly destroyed. However, researcher Mounir Fantar discovered multiple tanks in this ancient city in 2017, leading him to theorise that Neapolis was an exporter of a fish sauce called garum.
Two years later, stone tablets discovered in Carlisle, Cumbria, during Channel 5’s “Ancient Mysteries” series confirmed his suspicions.
The narrator said in October: “Neapolis was actually the epicentre for the mass production of fish sauce.
“But how did its producers in Neapolis, on the southern boundary of the vast Roman world, manage to reach its markets thousands of miles away?
“The answer can be found in a unique collection of documents that suggest Neapolis was part of the ancient world’s greatest supply chain, one that would power the Roman military machine as it conquered over two million square miles.
“This evidence was uncovered at the opposite end of the Roman Empire, at the furthest reaches of England.
“We are on the very northern part of the Roman Empire, on the border of the frontier of the Empire.”
The series went on to reveal how Vindolanda tablets were uncovered.
It added: “Around the early second century AD, the largest Roman army in the entire Empire was stationed here, on Hadrian’s Wall, struggling to keep hold of its newly occupied territory.
“The British really didn’t want to be conquered, so over 30,000 soldiers and their families and communities were stationed permanently in Roman Britain.
“For the past 13 years, Dr Andrew Birley has supervised investigations at Vindalanda Fort, one of 16 heavily defended garrisons that ran the length of Handrian’s Wall.
“He’s found evidence it was manned by soldiers from across the Empire.”
Archaeologists then made a stunning find within the tablet collection.
The series continued: “Among the meany treasures, archaeologists have uncovered around 500 letters sent to and from Roman troops based at the fort.
“Many contain requests for favourite foods from back home, the find reveals that, even here, soldiers were being sent a variety of goods from their home countries.
“Among the most sought after products was garum.”
At the time of their discovery, the tablets were the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.
Written on fragments of thin, postcard-sized wooden pages with carbon-based ink, the tablets date to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
The documents record official military matters as well as personal messages to and from members of the garrison of Vindolanda, their families, and their slaves.
Highlights of the tablets include an invitation to a birthday party held in about 100AD, which is perhaps the oldest surviving document written in Latin by a woman.
The excavated tablets are nearly all held at the British Museum, but arrangements have been made for some to be displayed at Vindolanda.