Roman Military Diploma, Rare!
Copper alloy; 60mm x 60mm/39gm
Con/ about As Engraved; glossy green/brown patina; conserved not waxed
If you are not familiar with such diplomas…read on.
Roman Military Diplomas. Diplomata were citizenship and/or military discharge certificates, in some ways the "greencards" of Roman times. In Roman times foreigners had to serve for minimum 25 years (army) or 26 years (fleet) or longer in the auxiliary military forces (infantry = cohorts, infantry mixed with light cavalry = cohors equitata, heavy cavalry = ala, fleet = classis, or pretorian cohors). In contrast the Roman legions (up to ca. 30 elite units mainly distributed along the borders of the empire, of ca. 5000 "legionaries" each) were reserved for Roman citizens. This distinction is thought to have lost its importance when Caracalla granted Roman citizenship in the early third century to all living in the Roman empire (except to the slaves of course), known as the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212 AD.
Roman Military Diplomas (more than 1000 are known and published to date) were/are found all over the Roman empire, mostly but not exclusively in the border provinces. As Diplomas also show the origin of the recipient, we know that the middle and lower Danube region, Pannonia for example, was a major recruitment area for non-citizens into the Roman auxiliary forces in the first and second century AD. While some veterans seem to have stayed close to their last place of service, many veterans, especially from the Danube region, seem to have returned to their home provinces after serving all over the vast Roman empire. We can conclude that from diplomas whose find spot is known. But there is no clear rule, a diploma could be found anywhere in the Roman empire, regardless of place of origin or service.
The massive barbaric invasions in the third century AD destroyed many Roman settlements, some never to be inhabited again, thus conserving diplomas that would otherwise have been melted down eventually for their metal value. Still only a fraction of 1% of issued diplomas seems to have survived.
A diploma or constitution is a legal document issued by the emperor in Rome. In case of Roman Military Constitutions, the emperor granted Roman citizenship to specific veterans and their families, after a long and honorable service.
The legal process is thought to have been...:
1) The office of the Commander of an auxiliary unit lists all those soldiers of his ala or cohorts ready for retirement or deserving citizenship
2) He sends the list to the governor of his province
3) The provincial governor's administration bundles all such requests for that province and sends the list for this province to Rome
4) The imperial administration office in Rome draws up an imperial constitution for that province to grant citizenship to all the veterans on the list
5) The emperor personally approves and grants the rights
6) A large bronze plate is written up listing all included veterans and placed publicly in Rome (i.e. at the Minerva Statue behind the Divus Augustus Temple)
7) Individual bronze copies (diplomas) are written in Rome for each veteran with his name (possibly but not likely at cost of the veteran)
8) The copies are checked, confirmed, wired, and sealed by 7 witnesses
9) The diplomas are sent to the governor in the province (more likely than sending them straight to the unit)
10) Diplomas for a specific unit are sent on from the Provincial capital to the unit commander
11) The unit commander hands out the diplomas to the veterans (likely in some sort of a ceremony)
What was the Importance of the Diploma for the Veteran's Family ?
Auxiliary diplomas from Claudius to the early 140s also name the veterans wives and kids if they had any and the legal text covers not only the veteran, getting Roman citizenship, but also his family.
Certain legal constraints need to be considered here:
Roman soldiers (legionaries and auxiliaries) could not get married during their military service, and mostly they were too young when enlisted to already be married. From Septimius Severus onwards marriage during the service seems to have been allowed.
Non-Roman Citizens could only join the Auxiliary forces, the Praetorian Fleets, and the Praetorian Cohorts, but not the Roman legions who were restricted to Roman Citizens. Major recruiting grounds for the legions seem to have been Italy, Spain, and also Gaul from which we find very few auxiliaries mentioned on diplomas. Major recruiting grounds for the auxiliary forces were the Balkans (Dacians, Thracians, Erovisci, Pannonians, etc.), but also Northern Africa and Syria. Through Caracalla’s widening of the citizenship all these areas are thought to have received Roman citizenship.
Roman citizens could not legally marry non-citizen women (foreigners, slaves, lupanar status women), creating issues once an auxiliary got Roman citizenship at the end of his 25-year service. Equally for a legionary who partnered with a non-citizenship woman.
Children from such an illegal relationship were not Roman citizens and could not fully inherit from their father
The Veteran received however in the diploma the right to marry officially (connubium) a foreign woman without Roman citizenship (but only one and only once). The veteran's possible unofficial liaison with such a woman was thus legalized, she herself did not get Roman citizenship. Such women can be found on diplomas with their father's name and their place of origin. For unknown reasons very few wives are specifically mentioned on auxiliary diplomas after the early 140s, maybe because more and more veterans were able to marry Roman citizens even in the provinces, offspring from other veteran families.
Other important information on the diploma included:
Name of the unit the soldier had last served in (one of those units listed in the text above).
Name of the commander of this unit, sometimes his origin
Rank of soldier, ex- if a veteran, e.g. expedite, exgregalis, exequite, excenturione
Name of soldier, his father, and his origin
Name of his wife, her father, her origin (if applicable)
Name of their children, sons and daughters (if applicable and diploma issued before ca. 140 AD)
A complete diploma consists of 2 bronze plates of rectangular shape, between 10x12 and 21x16 cm depending on the status of the recipient (centurion, praetorian perfect, etc.), with text on both sides, bound together by bronze wire and sealed with witnesses seals. The seals were covered by three bronze strips to protect them from mechanical wear. Less important soldiers such as common legionaries and auxiliaries received a much simpler diploma consisting of a single plate inscribed on each side.
Now, let’s discuss this diploma…if you have yet to fall asleep.
What you see concerning this particular fragment is that it is not plow broken. Rather, it has been folded and purposely broken into four pieces for the recipient to share with his wife and relatives. This is one of the four. Most likely the diploma was ca. 10x12cm before the folding and sharing.
As for our following translation, remember that the ancient Romans never used commas nor spacing in their writing.
In the first photo, we have the obverse right edge of the diploma…with the top and left side broken away.
This translates to:
POSTEA DUXISSENT - After married
PR K IUN - Last day of May
SECUNDO COS - Second Consulship
CUI PRAEST - To whom
NUS VOCONT - The call
In the second photo, we have the reverse bottom edge of the diploma, broken as noted above.
This translates to:
NE EMERITUS - Not merited
UAS NO AU - You are not of
AUR FORS - And force…
CUM UXORIBVS - With wife
EST CIUITAS IIS - This is their citizenship
Sadly, the recipient’s name, his cohort or legion, nor the Roman emperor under whose auspices this diploma was created is missing. Most likely the emperor was either Trajan, Hadrian or Antonius Pius, ca. 2nd century A.D.
But what do we know about this fellow? He was married and he did not merit something or another, but he and his wife did receive their citizenship!
Is this rare? Of course! As per posting only six recorded such diplomas have been reported found in Pannonia. This one makes number seven!
Difficult to photo, the second example is with a flash.