Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.07.66

Margaret Roxan, Paul Holder, Roman Military Diplomas IV. BICS Suppl. 82.   London:  Institute of Classical Studies, 2003.  Pp. xx, 313; pls.  ISBN 0-900587-93-8.  £75.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Ross H. Cowan, Glasgow (
Word count: 1629 words

The bronze diplomas granted to auxiliaries, marines, praetoriani and urbaniciani, normally at the completion of service (though early grants were made to serving soldiers), conferred citizenship (for auxilia and classiarii) and the right of conubium. Diplomas have long been used as evidence for movements of auxiliary units and the garrisons of provinces, battle honours, the social history of the Roman army, the privileges and settlement patterns of veterans, the titles and acclamations of emperors, and as a sometimes unique source for equestrian officers and provincial governors. The 121 complete or fragmentary diplomas in Roman Military Diplomas IV (hereafter RMD IV) add considerably to our knowledge in all these areas. Just over half of these diplomas have been previously published elsewhere, but in gathering the documents together RMD performs an essential function. The numbering of the diplomas and pagination of the volume continues that of RMD I-III. One cannot hope to comment on every diploma, so I will concentrate on a selection of interesting examples.

RMD IV 203 is the now the earliest diploma known to have been issued by Vespasian (26 February AD 70), recording a special grant of privileges to serving beneficiarii of the Ravenna fleet. The defection of this fleet to Vespasian in October AD 69 played a prominent part in the collapse of the Vitellians, and from its personnel was drawn legio II Adiutrix (Tac. Hist. 3.12, 3.50). The desire to maintain the loyalty of this fleet to the Flavian cause is again demonstrated by RMD IV 205 (5 April AD 71), a special grant to navarchs, trierarchs and remiges before they had completed their usual term of service. The editors suggest that the singling out of the remiges demonstrates they were more than just rowers (in fact ordinary sailors/marines were referred to as milites), but in fact junior officers. The recipient of the diploma, Velagenus, was a centurion; presumably we should then count fleet centurions among the remiges? The commentary does not make this connection, perhaps wisely: maybe remiges should be understood in the sense of nautae, sailors of all other ranks. Indeed, the commentary is a little contradictory on the matter of command on a warship. As a centurio, Velagenus probably commanded the 'marine' element within the crew concerned with fighting duties,1 but the trierarch was the captain (cf. p. 397, n. 1, but at n. 7 the centurion commands the crew). The commentary unwittingly gives the impression that Velagenus was in command of a ship or at least on a par with the trierarch in seniority, which certainly was not the case.

The findspots of the Ravennate diplomas are unknown, but a contemporary example given to a veteran of the Misene fleet (RMD IV 204, 9 February AD 71) was dredged up from the River Sava in Croatia. The diploma records that the recipient, the veteran centurion Liccaius, was settled at Paestum, but the findspot demonstrates that this extra reward from a new emperor grateful for the support of the fleets in civil war was not appreciated.2 The far-flung findspots of the diplomas of four other Misene fleet veterans of AD 70-71 granted plots at Paestum (CIL XVI 12, 13, 15 and 16), show that the veterans preferred to return to their original homes or to settle in the vicinity of familiar Misenum.3

RMD IV 213 records the honourable discharge of Valerius Celer of cohors XIII Urbana. He also would have fought in the battles of AD 69, but in May AD 85 he found himself being discharged in Mauretania. The date and location ('in Africa') of his discharge means that Velius Rufus' command of XIII Urbana and a field army in a campaign against rebellious Mauretanian tribes (ILS 9200) must be moved forward from the reign of Vespasian to the period immediately before AD 85. Celer was left behind as a remansor, as was usual with City troops approaching the end of their service (cf. Herodian 7.11.2), and was presumably concerned with policing duties while part of the cohort had crossed over to Europe to fight in Domitian's German and Dacian campaigns (ILS 2127).

RMD IV 215 (20 February AD 98) highlights auxiliary units awarded the title pia fidelis [[Domitiana]] for their part in the suppression of Saturninus in AD 89, and the date of issue places Trajan still in Germania Inferior 23 days after Nerva's death. RMD IV 222 (25 Spetember AD 111) confirms that ala I Pannoniorum, previously attested in Moesia Inferior in AD 99, remained there for at least another 12 years before transfer to recently conquered Dacia. The diploma records the earliest appearance in Moesia Inferior of cohors I Flavia Numidarum equitata. The effect of the dilectus is also evident on this document. The recipient was a Gaul serving in ala II Hispanorum et Aravacorum, hence not a local recruit; he was probably conscripted for Domitian's Dacian wars. Here we should also note the recipient of RMD IV 226 (AD 114), a Rhenish Boius probably recruited originally to a local cohort but transferred to cohors I Cretum sagittariorum as a result of Trajan's Dacian wars. The diploma also records the previously unattested equestrian officer C. Vibius M[---]us, presumably a praefectus. RMD IV 223 (AD 112) is of importance for the battle honours of cohors II Batavorum, the title civium Romanorum demonstrating that its men had won a block grant of citizenship for their courage in the Dacian wars. The other titles recorded here, pia fidelis ('loyal and faithful'), could be a subsequent Trajanic battle honour, but might alternatively be connected with the suppression of the revolt of Saturninus in AD 89. From these epithets we can infer acts of extreme courage (such rewards and titles were not granted lightly) and battles lost to the literary record. RMD IV 229 (AD 116) is a 'delayed diploma'. Here Trajan's preoccupation with the Parthian War and Jewish revolt is evident: veterans discharged in AD 115 were still awaiting confirmation of their privileges a year later.4

The legacy of Trajan's Dacian and Parthian wars is apparent in some Hadrianic diplomas. The recipients of RMD IV 239 and 240 have the origo Dacus and may have been POWs of the first and second Dacian wars who were pressed into Roman service. It is suggested that the Ulpius of RMD IV 247 gained his imperial gentilicium and citizenship for valour demonstrated during the Parthian war. RMD IV 237 is a fragmentary example of a rare issue of special diplomas granted to Palmyrene archers in AD 120 and 126 (cf. RMD I 17; RMD II, App. II, pp. 217-219). Effectively mercenaries, these sagittarii had been recruited from the semi-independent kingdom of Palmyra in c. AD 113 to serve in Trajan's Parthian war, or in c.119 in the newly divided Dacia. By way of reward they were granted citizenship after only six years.

The origines of the early Severan praetorians of RMD IV 302 (March AD 204) in Scupi and RMD IV 303 (February 206) in the Pannonian municipium Aelium Mogentiana, suggest prior service in legions VII Claudia5 and I Adiutrix. Indeed the latter praetorian, Iulius Passar, might have marched with Severus on Rome and entered the new praetorian cohorts in June AD 193 (Herodian 2.14.5), consequently serving less than 13 stipendia in the Guard. The commentary (based on the remarks of the original editor of this diploma) suggests that he enlisted in the legion in either AD 191 or 187, having completed the 'standard' 16-year term of a praetorian or the 20 years after which a legionary might -- but only in special circumstances - claim veteran status.6 Neither suggestion is satisfactory. If Passar enlisted in AD 191 or 187 he would not have completed 16 or 20 full stipendia, and other epigraphic evidence suggests that Severan praetoriani served a minimum of 18 years before missio honesta was granted, be this combined legionary and praetorian service or praetorian service alone (direct recruits re-appear in the Severan cohortes praetoriae within a few years of the reformation).7

The matter of the disappearance of auxiliary diplomas after AD 203 is considered in 'Appendix I: Discharge Certificates' (pp. 609-613). It is concluded that after the Constitutio Antoniniana diplomas served only to identify men honourably discharged from the praetorians, urban cohorts, equites singulares Augusti and the praetorian fleets; simple (at least in formula, otherwise very similar to contemporary diplomas) discharge certificates were issued to auxiliary veterans, who required a less grandiosely worded document to ensure their privileges, presuming that they were to settle close to their old forts. But the most interesting document is the bronze discharge certificate issued to a legionary veteran in AD 230 (RMD IV, App. I.3). It is the first legionary example of such a certificate in bronze: following the Constitutio Antoniniana legionary veterans were clearly concerned to have a more durable form of document to prove their status as honestiores.

Despite the occasional quibbles noted above, there is little to find fault with in this excellent catalogue. The reviewer was slightly irritated by the continual reference to Devijver's Prosopographia Militiarum Equestrium with regard to equestrian officers instead of to the relevant individual inscriptions, but that is all. RMD IV improves on volumes I-III with its clear B & W and, most importantly, colour plates of many of the diplomas. The indices are thorough and the revised chronology and notes on all the diplomas published in RMD vols. I-IV (pp. 367-385) make this volume essential for the study of the auxilia.

Sadly, Margaret Roxan died in 2003.8 Paul Holder brought the volume to publication, preparing nine of the diplomas himself and supplementing the notes. He is to be commended on an excellent job. It is a fitting tribute to Roxan, whose research demonstrated the extraordinary amount of information that can be drawn from these humble bronze plaques.


1.   The formula of the diploma highlights that all classiarii were considered fighting men: expeditione belli fortiter industriesque gesserant.
2.   The Ravenna veterans were similarly granted land in Pannonia.
3.   See L. Keppie, 'Colonisation and Veteran Settlment in Italy in the First Century AD', PBSR 52 (1984), 98-104 = L. Keppie, Legions and Veterans: Roman Army Papers 1971-2000, Mavors 12 (Stuttgart 2000), 284-90, with addenda on 324f.
4.   Importantly, this diploma shows that Trajan had received 13 acclamations by 16 August AD 116, indicating that Ctesiphion had been captured by this date, with the Mesopotamian campaign ending soon after.
5.   The praetorian recipient of RMD IV 319 (AD 242) may have been the son of a miles of legio VII Claudia, indicating the continuity of recruitment to the Guard.
6.   Presumably the 20-year claim is made with CJ 5.65.1 (AD 213) in mind, rather than the 20 years required by Augustus from AD 5/6 (Dio 55.23.1). After AD 193 all legionaries served for 26 years and discharges were made annually, cf. CIL III 6580 & 14507.
7.   For example, 18 years combined legionary and praetorian service: ILS 2103 (discharged AD 208); 18 years direct praetorian service: CIL VI 2579 (discharged AD 218-22). For more examples and discussion see R.H. Cowan, 'Aspects of the Severan Field Army, AD 193-238' (Ph.D. thesis, University of Glasgow 2002), 7-52.
8.   Obituary in The Guardian.

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