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Work Military Diploma

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Military Diploma

© 2004 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Upon completion of their military service, Roman soldiers received a diploma in the name of the emperor, in the form of an engraved bronze plaque stating the names of the beneficiaries, and the privileges granted. The present plaque was given in AD 139 to a foot-soldier named Gaius, in the second cohort of Galatians, commanded by Q. Flavius Amatianus. It tells us a great deal about the composition of the Roman army in Palestine, its command structure and the status of the soldiers.

A reward for Roman army veterans

Until the third century AD, it was customary for the emperor to reward his soldiers when they had completed their military service, after a period of twenty-five years. On these occasions, a bronze "master tablet" was produced, stating the names of the soldiers concerned, and the privileges granted to them. Each soldier could then ask to receive a copy known as a military diploma, inscribed with his name alone. The present example comes from Syria, and was found in Afiq (now Fiq), near the Sea of Galilee. The diplomas were generally made up of two rectangular bronze tablets joined by a cord threaded through two holes pierced on either side, and soldered with pewter. One of the tablets was engraved with the text of the law as announced on the master tablet, while the other bore the names of seven Roman citizens, certified by wax seals that have since been lost, endorsing the accuracy and authenticity of the copy.

Standard content

With the exception of the name of the recipient, which personalizes the text, these military diplomas are administrative documents whose content and headings are, for the most part, identical. The name of the emperor and his titulature appear at the top, followed by the name of the army unit concerned, details of where it was stationed and the name of its commander. Next comes a description of the good and loyal services of the veterans, and the privileges granted to them, together with the date and the names of the recipient of the diploma and members of his family designated to share the privileges. The inscription ends with the names of the witnesses and a description of the public place where the original text was displayed: Rome, on the south-east side of the Forum, on the wall of the temple to the divine Augustus, near a sanctuary to Minerva.

The military diploma of Gaius

The present diploma was issued during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus, in AD 139, to a foot-soldier named Gaius. Gaius was originally from Nicaea (present-day Iznik, Turkey), and served in the second Ulpian cohort of Galatians, commanded by Q. Flavius Amatianus. The text of the law inscribed on the exterior face of one of the plaques is an incomparable source of information about the organization of the Roman army, its command structure and the social status of the soldiers. It gives the composition of the auxiliary troops (three cavalry wings and twelve cohorts) incorporated into the Palestinian army after the Barkokeba revolt and the severe repression that followed it, soon after AD 132. The inner faces of the diploma are rapidly engraved with the same text; certain words are abbreviated (although not in accordance with the usual rules), sentences have been partly omitted, and the names of the troop corps often truncated. In accordance with tradition, the privileges granted to Gaius and his descendants were the right to legally-recognized marriage ("conubium") and Roman citizenship.

Bibliography

A. Héron de Villefosse, "Diplôme militaire de l'année 139, découvert en Syrie. Note de M. Héron de Villefosse, membre de l'Académie", Comptes-rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 1897, p. 333-343, p. 348, p. 678-684.

Technical description

  • Military Diploma

    AD 139

    Afiq (present-day Fiq), Golan, Syria

    Syria

  • Bronze, planishing, engraving

    H. 11.8 cm; W. 13 cm

  • Gift of Durighello, 1897

    Br 4088

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public, works n

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Additional information about the work

Two lengthy Latin inscriptions on the back and front of the tablet.