DECIPHERING A ROMAN DIPLOMA
by Doug Ward
OXFORD, OHIO-For people in the Mediterranean world of the early centuries A.D., Roman citizenship was a highly coveted prize. The New Testament book of Acts records that the apostle Paul was apparently proud of his status as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28) and once invoked that status to avoid a severe flogging at the hands of Roman soldiers (Acts 22:23-29).
Acts 22:28 mentions two ways of gaining Roman citizenship. Paul, who hailed from Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia (22:3), inherited citizenship from his father. In contrast, the commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem told Paul that he had paid a substantial amount of money for that distinction.
A third way to attain citizenship was through an extended period of military service. In an Archaeological Institute of America lecture given at Miami University on November 10, 2009, archaeologist James Russell discussed the details of this route to citizenship.
Russell, an Emeritus Professor of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, began his lecture by describing the vast extent of the Roman Empire in the early second century A.D. At that point, the Empire included much of Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. With such a large amount of territory to guard, Rome maintained a standing army of some 300,000 men. About half of these men were citizens who belonged to one of the Roman legions. The other half, recruited from around the Empire, were known as auxiliaries.
In order to attract more of these soldiers, Rome offered citizenship to auxiliaries who served for at least twenty five years. When an auxiliary was honorably discharged after twenty five or more years, he received proof of citizenship in the form of a diploma, which consisted of two inscribed bronze tablets that were folded together and sealed.
A diploma's inscription contained quite a bit of data, as Russell went on to explain. First came the name of the current emperor and the year. Then there was information about the regiments included in that particular batch of diplomas. After that were listed the name, hometown, and classification of the auxiliary. If the auxiliary had a family, the diploma made his marriage a legal Roman marriage and conferred citizenship upon his wife and children. In that case, the names of the wife and children were listed on the diploma. If the soldier was a bachelor, the diploma granted citizenship in advance to the auxiliary's first wife and any children resulting from that marriage.
Two Soldiers' Stories
Professor Russell has done archaeological fieldwork for a number of years on the southern coast of Turkey, in an area that was once part of the Roman provinces of Cilicia and Lycia/Pamphylia. Over the course of his career, he has had the opportunity to publish inscriptions from the remains of two diplomas that were brought to his attention. He discussed both of them during his lecture.
The first of these diplomas was found near the ruins of Cebel Ires, a Roman settlement that was located in the Taurus Mountains near the modern city of Alanya. This diploma was discovered by a Turkish laborer who liked to spend his evenings pursuing the popular pastime of treasure hunting.1 When the laborer showed Russell his find, Russell arranged for its purchase for the local museum in Alanya.
Because about three-fourths of this diploma has been found, Russell has been able to determine quite a bit about its owner's life. This auxiliary was a foot soldier named Galba who came from the Syrian city of Cyrrhus. His wife was Pamphylian, and they had two sons, one of whom was named Valens. His diploma was issued in 138 A.D.
Based on this information, Russell has surmised that Galba was recruited in around 113 A.D. In that year the emperor Trajan was launching an offensive against the Parthian Empire, and lots of auxiliaries were needed for this campaign. It therefore seems likely that Galba's first posting was on the Parthian frontier.
The Parthian campaign, which started auspiciously for the Romans but then floundered, lasted for four years. In 117 A.D. or some time thereafter, Galba was apparently sent to Pamphylia, where he married, settled down, and started a family. Cebel Ires was near the border between Pamphylia and Cilicia, so Galba may have part of a group of soldiers that guarded the border.
A second diploma fragment came from Kalin Oren in Cilicia. This one dated from 136 or 137 A.D. and was granted to a foot soldier named Pappas. The fragment does not include his hometown, but his name provides a clue. The name Pappas was a common one in Asia Minor, so he may have returned to his boyhood home after completing his military commitment. No wife's name is listed-perhaps Pappas was a widower-but he had four sons, two of whom were named Paulus and Gellius. Paulus and Gellius were familiar Roman names, reflecting Pappas's desire to become a Roman citizen.
The diploma fragment indicates that Pappas served in Alexandria, a large and wealthy city, early in his military career. Later he was sent to Judea, probably in 132 A.D. when the Bar Kokhba revolt broke out. So Pappas's last years as an auxiliary would have been the most difficult, spent in the grueling conditions of the Judean desert. He apparently was discharged when the war ended, then went home to Cilicia.
Both Galba and Pappas worked hard for their diplomas, paying for their citizenship with twenty five years of their lives. They would have treasured their status as citizens, just as the apostle Paul did.
Paul knew, though, that there was a prize of infinitely greater value than Roman citizenship: citizenship in the eternal Kingdom of God. He wrote to the early Christians in Philippi, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Phil 3:20-21, NIV). A place in that Kingdom is the most valuable treasure of all, worth any sacrifice. In the same letter Paul also wrote, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10-11).
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On 15 Nov 2009, 17:21.