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Roman military diplomas – path to Imperial citizenship

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman legions became a model for the later organization of tactical associations in the army
Roman legions became a model for the later organization of tactical associations in the army | Photo: Vuk Kostic/Shutterstock

In ancient Rome, during its many years of existence, the army played a key role in conquests, maintaining order, and spreading the empire’s influence. However, with Rome’s expansion, the need to recruit soldiers from various regions and cultures led to the formation of special auxiliary units. These soldiers, often not Roman citizens, had their own path to citizenship through receiving a Roman military diploma.

Roman military diplomas, made of bronze and consisting of two sealed parts, symbolized a transition for these soldiers. After many years of often devoted and risky service, auxiliary soldiers would receive this document, which not only confirmed their merits but also guaranteed them Roman citizenship.
Stories of the bravery of auxiliary soldiers, transmitted by historians like Josephus Flavius, emphasize not only their heroism but also their dedication to the Roman cause. Such accounts are not just history but also evidence of the strength and loyalty that characterized Roman soldiers.

Auxiliary units differed from legionaries in tactics and equipment. Legionaries often engaged in engineering works, while auxiliary units stood on the front lines, often exhibiting barbaric practices that indicated their origins beyond the empire’s borders.

Upon receiving a military diploma, a soldier became a Roman citizen, opening up new opportunities and privileges. However, the history of Roman military diplomas did not end with citizenship. Roman citizenship not only symbolized allegiance to the empire but also presented soldiers with new challenges and responsibilities.

In 212 CE, Emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire, leading to the gradual decline of military diplomas. The distinctions between citizens and non-Romans became increasingly blurred.

The history of Roman military diplomas illustrates the complexity and significance of the army in ancient Rome. These diplomas were not just documents confirming the merits and bravery of soldiers but also symbols of unity and loyalty to Rome, enduring for centuries. For those who received them, they were not only evidence of their service but also guiding lights in their lives and reminders of the bonds that connected them to the empire.

Author: Piotr Pabis (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Cheesman George Leonard, Auxilia. Oddziały pomocnicze cesarskiej armii rzymskiej, wyd. Napoleon V, 2015

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