Roman, Imperial Period, ca. 1st to 3rd century CE. A complete cast bronze military diploma, with an Aramaic inscription in seven lines. When people from the Roman provinces had served in the Roman army for twenty-five years, they were rewarded for their service with a discharge granting them Roman citizenship and the right to marry. These were recorded on two bronze tablets that were fastened together with wire ("diploma" is Greek for a two-page folded document). Most of these tablets that we know of record the names of veterans of foreign birth who were discharged together; a copy was issued to each one. The missing top half would have recorded the date of the discharge and the Emperor giving it. This document would have been treasured by its owner, who had survived over two decades of war and disease, perhaps in an outpost far from home, in order to gain these rights. Size: 5.4" W x 7.35" H (13.7 cm x 18.7 cm)
Roman citizens would have been deeply familiar with inscriptions, many of them written in the languages of the provinces: Punic, Syriac, Hebrew, Demotic, and, like this one, Aramaic. Most were inscribed on wood, but there was also a great quantity inscribed on bronze. Unfortunately for us, the vast majority of these were melted down during the late Roman period and the Middle Ages, and it is estimated that between .3 and 1% of all diplomas have survived to the present day.
Provenance: private Davis collection, Houston, Texas, USA
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