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Diploma

Diploma of an Isaurian named Lualis, from Weissenburg (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Diploma of an Isaurian named Lualis, from Weissenburg (Germany)
Diploma: Roman expression for an official act, especially a documenting granting citizen rights to a man who had served twenty-five years in an auxiliary unit.

The Latin word diploma is derived from the Greek diploô, "to fold", and can be used to describe all sorts of folded document, including impressive diptychs of ivory and ordinary pieces of papyrus or parchment. However, the expression is especially used to describe an official, sealed document, written by a magistrate or a private person. Letters, signed declarations, passports, checked copies, vouchers, and wills can all be called diploma.

According to a senatorial decree that is mentioned by the Roman author Suetonius (Nero 17), diplomas were only to be accepted when they were signed and had been bound by a cord that had thrice passed through the holes. There were several elements that made the document official:

  • the name of the man who gave the diploma (e.g., the emperor),
  • the people who received it,
  • the act itself (e.g., a granting of rights),
  • further specifications,
  • the date
  • the names of witnesses, who had to be Roman citizens.
The most common diplomata are those in which the full Roman citizenship is awarded to a man who had been serving for twenty-five years in one of the auxiliary units and was honorably discharged (diplomata honestae missionis). These acts were usually written by the imperial official who was called a libellis ("minister of petitions"); the originals were exposed on the wall of a temple in Rome and the demobilized soldier received a copy.

Many diploma's have been published in volume XVI of the Corpus Inscription Latinarum. An example is the following diploma from the year 103, which was found in Malpas (50 km south of Liverpool) and is now in the British Museum.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Military diploma. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Military diploma. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

The emperor Caesar Nerva Trajan Augustus, son of the deified Nerva, Germanicus, Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in the seventh year of his tribunician power, four times Imperator, father of the fatherland, five times consul,

to the horsemen serving in the four squadrons and eleven cohorts that are called:

  1. the First Thracian squadron
  2. Tampius' first Pannonian squadron
  3. Sebosius' Gallic squadron
  4. Vettonius' Spanish squadron
  1. the First Spanish cohort
  2. the First Vangionian cohort, 1000 strong
  3. the First Alpine cohort
  4. the First Morinian cohort
  5. the First Cugernian cohort
  6. the First Baetasian cohort
  7. the First Tungrian cohort
  8. the First Thracian cohort
  9. the First Bracarian cohort
  10. the Fourth Lingonian cohort
  11. the Fourth Dalmatian cohort
and are now in Britain under [governor] Lucius Neratius Marcellus, and have served no less than twenty-five years, and who are mentioned below,

has granted citizenship,

for themselves, their children, and their descendants, and has granted the right of marriage with the wives they had when the citizenship was granted to them, or, in the case of unmarried men, with those they may afterwards marry (but not more than one wife to one man).

19 January, in the year of the second consulship of Manius Laberius Maximus and the second consulship of Quintus Glitius Agricola.

[Copy] for Reburrus, son of the Spaniard Severus, decurion in Tampius' first Pannonian squadron, commanded by Gaius Valerius Celsus.

Copied and compared with the bronze tablet affixed at Rome to the wall behind the temple dedicated to Minerva by the deified emperor Augustus.

[Witnesses]
Quintus Pompeius Homerus
Gaius Papus Eusebes
Titus Flavius Secundus
Publius Caulius Vitalis
Gaius Vettienus Modestus
Publius Atinius Hedonicus
Tiberius Claudius Menander

 
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