THE EMPEROR’S DIE-HARDS I

Publius Tutilius, son of Publius, of the Olufentina tribe and veteran aquilifer of Legio V, overseer of the veterans, was twice-rewarded by the emperor. He was born in [43 BC] and died in [AD 29]. For himself and for his son Publius Atecinx and his daughter Deminca, and for Andoblato and Gnata, son and daughter of Publius by his will he ordered this done.

The tombstone from Milan, dated to AD 29, of a legionary veteran who led other veterans into his seventies.

From the reign of Augustus on, if a Roman soldier lived long enough to retire he was able to enjoy a remarkable package of privileges and rewards so long as he was honourably discharged at the end of his term of service (honesta missio). Men who had reached this point were discharged on 7 January, but this was probably arranged only on alternate years because of the logistics involved. However, a wounded soldier who was no longer able to serve could still be awarded another form of honourable discharge (missio causaria), but from Caracalla’s reign on (211–17) the benefits were reduced. If he had disgraced himself he was dishonourably discharged and lost any rights to retirement grants (missio ignominiosa).

Many soldiers did not make it to retirement at all. One estimate suggests that around a third of men who enlisted at twenty had died by the age of forty-five, another that as many as half had expired by then, but such figures are hardly surprising in the general context of any pre-modern society. The principal difference is that a Roman soldier in the days of the emperors had better reasons than most to look forward to surviving his term of service. A soldier who survived to retirement, however, might receive not only a gift of money or land, the praemium militia, but also various entitlements called together an emeritum, which made him an emeritus. Emeritus meant someone who had earned his status through merit. They included for example exemption from any obligation to civic duties and tolls. Domitian proclaimed in 94 that veterans be free from liability for ‘all public taxes and tolls [vectigalia]’. A Latin copy of the proclamation, written on a wooden tablet on the occasion of the discharge of veterans from Legio X Fretensis, was found at the Fayum in Egypt. It had been made by one of the veterans, Marcus Valerius Quadratus, who noted where the original stone inscription was displayed in Alexandria.

In Egypt in 103 the veteran Lucius Cornelius Antas produced his evidence of service and honourable discharge to a government official so that his right to exemption from the poll tax could be recorded. Diocletian and Maximianus confirmed exemption from public duties for veterans who had been honourably discharged. Taken together, all these awards were supposed to set a retired soldier up for civilian life, though exactly what he received depended on how long he had served and in which part of the army, as well as the date he retired, since some emperors added extra privileges. However, veterans were not exempt from taxes on inheritance, or from property taxes, and were also obliged to contribute to the upkeep of roads.

Veteran soldiers in general, however, proved to be one of the most valuable resources, not only for the Roman army but also for all of Roman society.

VETERANS DURING THE REPUBLIC

The position had been very different in the Republic when there was no standing army. In those days, soldiers were ordinary citizens fulfilling their duty to the state perhaps only for one campaign. In theory they went home to their farms and businesses after the war had finished, hoping to find their affairs as they had left them. That often turned out not to be the case, but the state had no further obligation. Some carried on in the army, fighting for example in the disastrous Battle of Lake Trasimene. When the consul Gaius Flaminius was killed by the Insubrian horseman Ducarius at the height of the battle, it was veterans who gathered round his body and prevented Ducarius from despoiling it by blocking him with their shields.

One of the risks was that veterans would turn into dangerous bands of bitter landless men once the fighting was over. This had been a principal concern of the reforming tribune of the plebs Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. He had seen how veterans returned home to discover their land had been stolen by wealthy senators and absorbed into their vast estates, and was badly worried by the destabilizing effect this was having on Roman society.

A veteran of the army in the Republic was therefore usually thrown back on his own resources, despite the initiative taken after 107 BC by Gaius Marius to set aside some funds for his men when they retired. We know little about Republican veterans as individuals because in those days the habit of producing funerary inscriptions was far less well-established (at least, very few survive). However, there are some interesting cases of men who overcame the challenges of being discharged and became successful, or notorious. In 63 BC a former centurion called Gaius Manlius became involved in the senator Sergius Catalina’s conspiracy to topple the consuls. Manlius had served under Sulla and gained much military experience, but he was corrupt and had made a great deal of money out of his time in the army. By 63 BC he had spent it all and was eager for an opportunity to make more. Manlius was an extreme example, but he illustrated well the importance of providing for veterans if they were not to become outlaws.

Another rare instance of a known veteran from the Republic was Lucius Orbilius Pupillus. He came from Benevento in Campania and was born about 113 BC. His name preserves his origins; pupillus means ‘orphan’. His parents were murdered by family enemies, though the reason is unknown. His first job was as a public servant, assisting the magistrates, a post that shows he was educated and literate. Around the time of the Social War, when Rome fought its Italian allies, he joined the army, serving as a cornicularius in Macedonia, and then moved on to a cavalry unit. As a cornicularius Pupillus was working in a supervisory administrative role, and clearly using his education.

Pupillus served out his term with the army and then retired to Benevento where he had to forge a living. He took the opportunity to go back to studying, something he had forgone since childhood. Pupillus worked a teacher from then on, moving to Rome in 63 BC to continue the job. He made little money but built up quite a reputation for being bad-tempered and beating the children he taught, earning the nickname ‘The Flogger’. On one occasion, when giving evidence in court, he was asked by the lawyer Varro Murena, a hunchback, what he did for a living. He answered, ‘I move hunchbacks from the sun into the shadows.’ The phrase seems to have been a metaphor for suggesting he moved mediocrities out of the limelight, presumably by exposing their shortcomings.

Orbilius Pupillus seems to have been disgruntled about his teaching experience. He wrote a book about the unpleasantness visited on teachers ‘by indifferent or selfish parents’. He was commemorated in Benevento with a statue near the capitol, which depicted him accompanied by two book boxes and dressed in the manner of a Greek.

That he had served in the army was an important part of the esteem in which Pupillus was held but he had had to make his own way afterwards. Gaius Nasennius was ‘first centurion with the eighth cohort’ of an unspecified legion during the war fought in Crete in 68–67 BC. Crete had been supplying mercenaries to support Mithridates VI against Rome, and also serving as a pirate base. Nasennius returned to his private affairs after the war. He became wealthy in the city of Suessa (modern Sessa Aurunca in Campania), possibly with the assistance of booty or some sort of ad hoc grant when he left the army unless like Manlius (above), he had made money as a soldier. Nasennius subsequently supported the tyrannicides Brutus and Cassius following the assassination of Caesar in March 44 BC. In the early summer of 43 BC he asked Cicero to recommend him to Brutus for a position of some sort (Nasennius was surely too old to fight by then). We have no idea why Nasennius felt able to approach Cicero, but he was not alone in doing so. Cicero wrote Brutus a letter and made much of Nasennius’ personal qualities and wealth. His military service was a key part of Cicero’s endorsement. However, late in 43 BC Cicero was executed on Antony and Octavian’s orders as they pursued their own ambitions and revenge for Caesar’s death, completely defeating Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 BC. Suessa became a military colony at some point in the next few years, settled by veterans from Octavian’s army (see below). Nasennius had backed the wrong side, though nothing is known of the personal consequences for him or his family.

Of course, one solution for an experienced soldier was to reenlist. In the late Republic there were plenty of opportunities. In the latter stages of Caesar’s war in Gaul, Legio XI had proved itself to be an exceptionally promising unit after eight campaigning seasons. But Caesar’s VII, VIII and VIIII legions, made up of veterans, still outclassed them when it came to courage and experience. One veteran of those days returned to his hometown and set his family on a path to history. In 48 BC, when Caesar defeated his arch-rival Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, among Pompey’s soldiers was a man called Titus Flavius Petro from Rieti in Perugia, about 70 miles (112 km) from Rome, who had served either as a centurion or as a volunteer veteran, an evocatus. After he fled from the battlefield and made his way home, Caesar had the magnanimity to offer men like him a pardon and an honourable discharge. Flavius Petro thereafter became a ‘collector of monies’. His son Sabinus also became a tax collector, working in Asia. Sabinus in turn had two sons, Sabinus and Vespasian; the latter was to become emperor in 69.

Quintus Annaeus Balbus was fifty-three when he died, his tombstone describing him as having been a ‘soldier of Legio V’ who had been decorated twice. By the time of his death he was a duumvir at Thuburnica in what is now northern Tunisia, a position that must mean he had been given money and opportunity when discharged as a veteran. The form of the text suggests a late Republican date and thus he may have been one of Caesar’s recruits when the legion was raised from non-citizens in Transalpine Gaul in 51 BC. The legion was serving in Africa by 47 BC by which time the men had all been made Roman citizens, and was called veterana legio quinta ‘the veteran Fifth legion’.

AUGUSTUS’ PROVISIONS FOR VETERANS

The prospects for veterans started to change and become more reliable once the wars of the late Republic came to an end. The answer to dealing with veterans for a Roman general was to settle conquered territory and money on them. Octavian, after he became emperor as Augustus, bragged that he had ended up with about ‘half a million Roman citizens who had sworn the military oath to me’. Following his victory over Antony at Actium in 31 BC he had no need of an army of such size. Indeed, he had to get rid of most of it so that he could claim to have restored the Republic and brought peace. He said that he had settled 300,000 veterans ‘in colonies or sent them back to their home towns . . . and to all of them I gave land or money as a reward for their military service’. Augustus did not do this all at once. The first 120,000 men were paid off in 29 BC, the others at later dates in his reign.

Perhaps among them were two men of Legio XI, a legion founded by Julius Caesar and which served Octavian throughout the period 42–31 BC. The two were exceptional instances of soldiers who had fought for Octavian at the Battle of Actium. One, Marcus Billienus, was so proud of being ‘in the naval battle’ that he took the cognomen Actiacus, becoming Marcus Billienus Actiacus, as if a British or American veteran had added ‘Trafalgar’ or ‘Midway’ to his name. After Billienus retired from military service he settled in the colony of Este in north-eastern Italy, where he rose to be elected as a decurion in the town council. He was not the only man to adopt the name: Quintus Coelius Actiacus, who also served in Legio XI, must have been at Actium too, because like Billienus he too was settled at Este.

Augustus paid out 600 million sestertii to buy land for retired soldiers in Italy, and a further 260 million for land in the provinces. He boasted that ‘in the recollection of contemporaries I was the first and only person to have done this’ – meaning that his predecessors who had founded colonies had not actually paid out any money to do so. He added a further 400 million sestertii to the amount allocated to soldiers who were discharged. In 29 BC Augustus paid out 1,000 sestertii to every veteran already settled in a colony, using the war booty he had amassed to cover the cost.

Dealing with veterans was obviously an expensive commitment, but an essential one.

It took time to develop and regularize such a system of payments, insofar as anything was ever regularized in the Roman army. There was also a vested interest for the state in delaying discharge, since a shortage of troops at a crucial moment would be hard to make good with new recruits. However, one of the reasons the Rhine garrison mutinied in AD 14 was because the veterans had not been released and had been forced to stay on. Some of the older soldiers were still serving more than 30 years after enlisting. Promises had to be made that anyone who had served 20 years would be discharged.

Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson and successor, was notoriously mean, although his reputation was in large part created by Roman historians who took any opportunity to criticize him. Suetonius said that Tiberius ‘carried out discharges of veterans rarely, waiting to seize the money when they expired, dying of old age’. Nero, on the other hand, established a colony for praetorian veterans at Anzio, forcing the richest of the primi pili centurions to move there too. However, later in his reign his extravagance had reached such astronomical heights that he had to suspend retirement grants to veterans, as well as pay to the serving soldiers. This was a disastrous decision which benefited his rival Galba.

Nonetheless, in the centuries that followed hundreds of thousands of retired Roman soldiers went back to their communities, stayed near the fort where they had been stationed, or settled in new lands. They took with them their retirement grants and the skills they had gained. So long, that is, as they had been honourably discharged. Soldiers who had been dishonourably discharged, or had been discharged on medical grounds, were not entitled to any of these privileges.

Not all soldiers wanted to leave the army. Some like Publius Tutilius of Legio V, who appears at the start of this chapter, stayed on in the army, providing invaluable experience – or at least he would certainly have thought so. He stayed perhaps 30 or more extra years, finishing up under Tiberius as a curator in command of other veterans still with the legion. They were probably organized into a wing of their own attached to Legio V.

DIPLOMA

Retired auxiliaries and members of the fleets had, in relative terms, a great deal more to look forward to than legionaries. For the most part auxiliaries had had to wait until their term of service was up to become Roman citizens. This changed when Caracalla made all free men of the Roman world into Roman citizens in 212. Until then the award of citizenship had been one of the greatest incentives for the majority of auxiliaries to serve. Some auxiliary units were made Roman citizens as a special honour to reward achievement, although some of the more irregular units had no such entitlement.

When an auxiliary soldier was honourably discharged, usually as one of a group, his name and details were inscribed on a bronze tablet in Rome, a place many had probably never visited and probably never would visit, on a wall at the back of the temple of the deified Augustus. (The temple is long lost, but is thought to have been in a valley below the Capitoline Hill at the north-west end of the forum.) However, there seems to have been a specialist industry that would supply copies of the discharge as personal souvenirs, along with the details of the emperor, the units, the province involved and the date. Made on bronze plates, many have survived though they are often badly damaged and incomplete. These records of soldiers’ discharge reflect the importance of written evidence in the Roman military world, providing the proof of a soldier’s legal status and that of his family. Today the plates are known as diplomas (Latin plural is diplomata), but the ancient name for them is lost. An oddity is that they are only known for praetorians and auxiliaries, including members of the fleet. Legionaries neither received nor commissioned such copies.

Praetorian discharges were also commemorated in inscriptions displayed on the wall at the temple of the deified Augustus, close to a statue of Minerva. Surviving diplomas record that a distinctive formula was applied to praetorians. No such diploma from a date before the mid-70s is known, but it is unlikely that the special form of address had changed. On 2 December 76 a member of the Praetorian Guard called Lucius Ennius Ferox was given his honourable discharge by Vespasian. In the recorded text, found at Tomi in Moesia Inferior, the emperor addressed the praetorian directly, referring to his ‘courageous and loyal performance of military service’ in ‘my Praetorian Guard’. He was commemorated for having done his duty. This emphasized the close personal relationship that was supposed to exist between the emperor and his praetorians, and reflected the oath these soldiers had taken.

The praetorian was granted the right of marriage to any woman, and regardless of her status their children would be Roman citizens. This privilege was only conferred once; subsequent wives and children would not be eligible. In another praetorian discharge diploma also found in Moesia Inferior and dated 7 January 228, in the reign of Severus Alexander, Marcus Aurelius Secundus of Cohors I Praetoria was commended for his loyal service and awarded these marriage rights. It is odd that the existing wives of auxiliaries were allowed the same rights as the wives of praetorians, but the praetorian entitlement may have been based on the assumption that such men would only have been living with Italian women who were Roman citizens. Until c. 140 existing children were included, but not thereafter. The terms for veterans of the fleet were much the same, except that their existing children were still admitted to the citizenship, though they had eventually to prove their wives were the mothers of the children.

On 19 January 103, in the reign of Trajan, auxiliary soldiers who had served 25 years were discharged in Britain from four cavalry regiments and eleven cohorts during the governorship of Lucius Neratius Marcellus. The auxiliaries (apart from one cavalry regiment whose men had already received the award) were awarded citizenship for themselves, their children and their descendants. If they were already married those marriages became legal, and a first marriage after discharge would also be legal. All this information is recorded on a diploma made for Reburrus, son of Severus, who had risen to the position of decurion in Ala I Pannoniorum Tampiana. The diploma added the key certification at the end which read ‘copied from the bronze tablet set up at Rome behind the temple of the deified Augustus, near (the statue of) Minerva’. Reburrus’ diploma, which is well preserved, must have been an extremely important possession which validated his status in retirement. However, it was found in a field near the village of Malpas in Cheshire, Britain, in 1812, about 12 miles (20 km) south of the legionary fortress of Legio XX at Chester. The find spot makes it possible Reburrus had settled somewhere in the vicinity of a legion to which the regiment had once been attached, quite possibly during Agricola’s campaign into Scotland between c. 78 and 84.

Diplomas also turn up in such incongruous locations that Reburrus may have had no connection with Chester at all, though he was undoubtedly in Britain in 103. Another possibility, but one that is impossible to prove, is that there was a market for militaria such as diplomas both in antiquity and in more recent times, in the same way that medals from the First and Second World Wars are enthusiastically traded today. Moreover, the metal was recyclable in antiquity. One fragment that turned up in Cirencester had been cut down from a diploma into a small circle of bronze. It probably came from a local antiquarian’s collection, but the Roman metalworker who used it to make a disc had probably acquired it as scrap bronze. Another diploma, found at the city of Volubilis (capital of Mauretania) in Morocco, had also been cut down to serve as a lid.

Why legionaries’ formal discharge was not recorded in the same way is unknown, unless there was no legal aspect of their status or rights that needed confirming. Not all legionaries were satisfied with this. On 22 January 150 the legate of Syria, Villius Cadus, was sent a special request by 22 Egyptian members of Legio X Fretensis. They had begun their military careers in the fleet at Misenum in Italy but Hadrian had transferred them to the legion, a move that would have required making them Roman citizens. Their careers over, they wanted to return home to Egypt with written proof that they were legionary veterans. Lucius Petronius Saturninus composed the petition on behalf of his fellows, and it was written out by a man called Pomponius. When Villius Cadus received it he endorsed it as requested, including the lines:

Legionary veterans do not normally receive a written document. However, you want it to be made known to the prefect of Egypt that you have been discharged from your military oath by me on the orders of our emperor [Antoninus Pius]. I will give you your bonus and written document.

1 thought on “THE EMPEROR’S DIE-HARDS I

  1. Pingback: THE EMPEROR’S DIE-HARDS I – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.