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Signaculum – Roman immortals?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Signaculum | Photo: AMELIANVS / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives Works 3.0 License

The army of ancient Rome could use the so-called dog tags, which would contradict the popular opinion that they were used for the first time in history during the Civil War. The Roman dog tag was called signaculum and every legionnaire was to receive one after being recruited.

It is worth emphasizing that such metal plates were used to mark goods at markets, slaves or dogs.

According to some records, military dog ​​tags were usually made of lead and were worn around the neck. It is unknown when and whether such markers were introduced in the Roman army. The only information about their use comes from the hagiographic text “Martyrdom of Maximilian” from the 5th[przypisy id=”1″] or 8th century[przypisy id=”2″]. We read in it that in 295 CE, Saint Maximilian of Numidia was conscripted into the Roman army against his will, and a signaculum was placed around his neck. However, the man tore off the tag, claiming that he would only be a servant of Christ. However, we do not know the date of this work[przypisy id=”3″].

However, what speaks against the “Roman dog tags” is the fact that it has not been possible to discover a reliable text or historical record confirming the wearing of such dog tags by legionaries, much less any preserved “tag” of a Roman legionary. If such dog tags were present, then surely an appropriate system would be used, guaranteeing that every soldier would have his own immortal. Then millions of such immortals would have been produced for hundreds of years and we would certainly find them in various parts of the Empire. Today, for example, we find pits filled with tons of secondary material. Why we are not able to find signaculum among the finds?

Another argument against the thesis is that in ancient times we could not talk about strong artillery forces. The very idea of ​​immortals appeared at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries to identify bodies after mine explosions or intense artillery fire, which massacred and made it impossible to identify bodies. Then, through the immortals, it was possible to find out who was killed on the battlefield. In ancient times only “Greek fire” could cause significant damage, making it impossible to identify. Pragmatic Romans, therefore, would not see a greater sense in the purposeless creation of a huge mass of metal. Hence, in the absence of evidence, the existence of “Roman immortals” can be considered a myth.

  1. Constantine Zuckerman, Two reforms of the 370s : recruiting soldiers and senators in the divided Empire
  2. Timothy David Barnes, Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History
  3. Southern Dixon, The Late Roman Army, 1996, s. 74-75

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