1,700-Year-Old Bronze Document Found in Roman Fortress
For more than half a century, Warsaw archeologists have carried out excavations in Novae (near Svishtov).
Every year their research presents more information about the life of the members of two armies of historic significance: the Eighth Legion of Augustus and the First Italian Legion. In Novae the relics of the camps were maintained two thousand years ago.
In this summer, archeologists came across significant artifacts during excavations in the ruins of a luxurious centurion’s house (a Roman officer).
“It was a fragment part of a document certifying that the emperor granted Roman citizenship to a legionary after he completed his service”, says the head of research at Novae Prof.
Piotr Dyczek from the Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Centre of the University of Warsaw. The partially preserved certificate was engraved on a bronze plate. Archaeologists have not yet deciphered the entire text.
In total, approx. 1,000 similar documents are known from the entire area of the Roman Empire, but very few are from the Danube region. This one dates back to over 1,700 years ago when Emperor Gordian III ruled (238-244 AD).
The full document usually consisted of two “pages”. They had small holes at the long edges, through which the chain was threaded to connect attach the two parts.
“Interestingly, not everyone could look inside the document, not even its owner, because each time after checking its content, officials would seal the chains”, says Prof. Dyczek. The goal of this procedure was to prevent copying and forging these important certificates.
In the early years of the Roman Empire, only Roman citizens, people from the Apennine Peninsula, could serve in the Roman army. This changed in the 3rd century AD.
Rome needed more soldiers to defend its borders, which is why barbarians who were allies of the Empire, people from outside the original borders of the Empire, were also allowed to enlist.
Over time, the Empire expanded its borders and troops were recruited in the new lands, even though they were not Roman citizens.
“After a minimum of 25 years of service, legionaries who became veterans were rewarded in various ways. For example, those who were not Roman citizens could obtain citizenship”, says Prof. Dyczek. Why was this so highly valued?
The archaeologist explains that citizenship opened the way to social advancement: a veteran, whose document Polish researchers found, could successfully run for important public offices and, for example, be elected mayor.
Professor Dyczek suspects that the owner of the document was 40-45 years old at the time of receipt (because legionnaires enlisted about the age of 20). “This means that he still had some 20-30 years ahead of him and could get rich thanks to his citizenship”, he adds.
A copy of citizenship certificate was archived in Rome in the form of papyrus. But the key was the original document held by the owner. “Its loss could even be treated as a loss of identity”, Prof. Dyczek emphasizes.
The head of research hopes that in half a year when cleaning and conservation of the document are completed, we will learn the name of the awarded veteran and details of his life.