A Roman veteran’s document found at Deultum

Nicolay Sharankov

The team of Krasimira Kostova found a fragment from a Roman military diploma during excavations in the central part of the Roman city of Deultum (at the present village of Debelt, South-eastern Bulgaria). For three decades of archaeological research at the site, this is the first find of this kind.

Military diplomas got their name because they consist of two bronze tablets hinged together (from ancient Greek “diploō” – “to double, to fold in two”). These documents were issued to soldiers from the auxiliary units who had served the full length of military service (i.e. at least 25 years) and were rewarded with Roman citizenship. Unlike the legions, which were composed entirely of Roman citizens, the auxiliary troops were recruited from all over the empire and included many people who were not Roman citizens. At the solemn act of honorary discharge, the veterans could get the document granting their citizenship engraved on two bronze tablets. During the long years of military service, many soldiers created families, but they were not officially allowed to marry until the discharge, so the military diploma also served to legitimize their marriage. In case they already had children, the latter were also granted citizenship through the military diploma.

The fragment discovered at Deultum is very small, measuring only 4 x 4 cm, but allows us to reveal much about the document it was part of. The diploma contained a copy of a decree by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, issued on July 17, AD 122, for honorary discharge of the soldiers from the auxiliary troops in the Roman province of Dacia Inferior, i.e. “Lower Dacia” (located in the central part of southern Romania). At that time, the province was governed by Cocceius Naso.

Deultum was founded around AD 70 by Emperor Vespasian in the Roman province of Thrace as a Roman colony. The emperor settled here veterans who had served in the VIII Augustan Legion. The newly discovered fragment reveals for the first time that even half a century after the founding of the colony, Roman emperors continued to settle veterans in Deultum in order to support the Roman presence and identity in a city surrounded by non-Roman population.

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