1,898-year-old Roman Military Diploma Gives Citizenship Rights

Archaeologists have found an ancient Roman military diploma dating to 123 AD in Turkey’s ancient city of Perre (modern day Adiyaman). The latest round of excavations, which have been carried out intermittently in this city since 2001, have unearthed a bronze plate with a Latin inscription that translates into a commendation and reward for military service to an individual.

Adiyaman Museum Director Mehmet Alkan told the press that “In the translation of the diploma, which is in the form of a bronze plate, it was identified that Calcilius Antiquus, who had served in the military for 20 years in Syria, was granted Roman citizenship and the right to marry,” reports Arkeonews.

The pieces of the Roman military diploma found in ancient Perre or modern-day Adiyaman in southeastern Turkey. (Anadolu Agency)

The pieces of the Roman military diploma found in ancient Perre or modern-day Adiyaman in southeastern Turkey. ( Anadolu Agency )

The Roman Military Diploma and Ancient Perre

According to the Hurriyet Daily News , Perre was one of the five largest cities of the Kingdom of Commagene (163 BC – 72 AD), and it retained its importance in the Roman period. The Kingdom of Commagene was established in southwestern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) by King Ptolemaeus, who belonged to the Hellenized branch of the Persian Orontid dynasty. Ptolemaeus had earlier been a regional satrap under the Seleucid Empire (312-63 BC). The Kingdom of Commagene was thus a Hellenistic political state that was greatly influenced by ancient Persian and Armenian cultural traditions.

Anatolia came under Roman rule after the Mithridatic wars fought between Rome and the Kingdom of Pontus between 88 BC and 63 BC. Roman control was reinforced by a loose command in which local authority was allowed to govern while being accorded military protection from Rome.

Perre continued to be a key city in the region even in the Roman period. Its stature owed to religious and geopolitical reasons. It was an important junction on the roads to Kahta, Samsat, and Urfa, and served as a stopover for travelers and merchants. Roman writers mention the beauty of the city’s water.

It is most famous for its 200 rock-cut tombs that are interconnected by passages. Large mosaics found in the city have fascinating heart motifs, 3D globe-like designs, and intriguing octagonal geometric patterns. However, after the Byzantine period , the city lost its prominence and was never great again.

Excavations to uncover the remains of the ancient city began in 2001 and have continued off and on since then. In 2021, archaeologists unearthed a Roman fountain, large blocks of stone, water ducts and many architectural structures including a 1,500-year-old bakery . Interestingly, a tandoor, a cylindrical clay or metal oven used in cooking and baking, was found in the northeastern part of the bakery structure .

Another example of a Roman military diploma from 80 AD, in Austria’s Carnuntum Museum collection. (MatthiasKabel / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Another example of a Roman military diploma from 80 AD, in Austria’s Carnuntum Museum collection. (MatthiasKabel / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Perre Roman Military Diploma

The military diploma was found inscribed on a bronze plate. Daily Sabah reports that it was found on 24 May, the last day of the excavations for 2021. The Latin inscription on it was translated with the help of ancient history and languages expert Professor Mustafa Hamdi Sayar.

“We found a bronze plate when we were about to finish the excavations in the ancient city of Perre. Its translation revealed that the bronze plate was a military diploma. It was written in Latin, and we saw that the person named Calcilius Antiquus served in the Syrian state for 20 years, and therefore, it was a diploma in which he was given Roman citizenship and the right to marry at the same time. We saw that this diploma was given in 123 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian,” said Mehmet Alkan said to Arkeonews.

Almost 100,000 such diplomas are believed to have been awarded, said Alkan, of which only around 800 survive. “It is said that 100,000 copies of these diplomas were printed in the world. However, we learn that there is information about most of them being melted in furnaces. It is known that there are 800 of these diplomas in the world and more than 650 of them have been studied. It is an exciting development that the last of these ones was found here. With the discovery of this diploma, our excavation ended this year.”

While the 2021 archaeological season in Perre led to many exciting discoveries, the team hopes to continue its winning streak in 2022.

Top image: The bronze plate pieces of the Roman military diploma found in the ancient Anatolian city of Perre or modern-day Adiyaman, Turkey. Source: Anadolu Agency

By Sahir Pandey


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