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A Roman military diploma was a document inscribed in bronze certifying that the holder was discharged from the Roman army and/or had received Roman citizenship from the Emperor for his honorable service. [1]. It was issued during the Principate period to retiring veterans who had served in those corps of the Roman armed forces which enlisted non-citizens: mainly the auxilia, but also the Roman navy, the Praetorian Guard Infantry and the equites singulares Augusti (Praetorian Guard cavalry) and the cohortes urbanae (the city of Rome's public order guards). All these recruited mainly peregrini: inhabitants of the Roman empire who were not Roman citizens, the vast majority of the empire's population in the 1st and 2nd centuries. After 25 years' honorable service (26 in the navy), the veteran was entitled to Roman citizenship and its considerable benefits (including exemption from the poll tax)[2].

The most prestigious corps however, the legions, recruited Roman citizens only. Diploma for the legions are therefore restricted to exceptional periods like the Civil War of 68/69 AD where two legions I and II Adiutrix were formed out of navy soldiers without Roman citizenship [3]. After that crisis all these received diplomas rewarding them with Roman citizenship.



The diploma was a notarised copy of an original constitutio (decree) issued by the emperor in Rome, listing by regiment (or unit) the eligible veterans. The constitutio, recorded on a large bronze plate, was lodged in the military archive at Rome (none such has ever been found, presumably all were melted down). The first known diploma dates from the year 52 AD, in the rule of the emperor Claudius (r. 41-54), who appears to have regularised the practice of granting Roman citizenship to peregrini auxiliaries after 25 years' service.

In 212, the Constitutio Antoniniana, issued by the emperor Caracalla, granted Roman citizenship to all the inhabitants of the empire, thus ending the second-class peregrini status. This should have made military diplomas redundant, and indeed the last known auxiliary diplomas date from 203 AD. But oddly, diplomas of the fleets, Praetorian cavalry and the cohortes urbanae continued to be issued until the late 3rd century. This might be explained by the fact that foreigners from outside the Roman empire were still recruited for those units.

Rights granted

The veteran's children also received citizenship, but not his female partner. Soldiers were forced to live in various forms of informal partnership with foreign (=non.Roman citizen) women, as they themselves were not Roman citizens yet, and as serving soldiers were not legally allowed to marry anyways until the time of emperor Septimius Severus (r. 197-211). But on discharge, the veteran was granted conubium (the right to marry) a single non-citizen woman (this was needed as Roman citizens were not normally permitted to marry non-citizens). From c.50-140 the emperoro granted citizenship to any children born during the recipient's term of service. But after c. 140 only children born after his discharge were eligible (unless the veteran had registered children from before his military service). Also one exceptional constitutio from Hadrian is known through 3 diploma where a soldier's parents and siblings were also granted Roman citizenship.


The diploma consisted of two bronze tablets hinged together. Inscriptions would be engraved on each side of both plates. The full text of a diploma is listed on the outer side of the so called tabula 1; the outer side of tabula 2 shows the names of seven witnesses and their seals covered and protected by metal strips (those seals rarely survived being of organic material). The same text as tabula 1 was repeated over the two inner sides. The plates would then be folded shut and sealed together: the external inscription would be legible without breaking the seals. The internal inscription is the official notarised copy of the text on the constitutio published in Rome. The double-inscription and seals were presumably to prevent forgery or alteration.[4] A likely procedure: the holder would take the sealed diploma with him to the province or civitas (city / county) he intended to retire in. He would then present the diploma to the keeper of archives either at the provincial governor's headquarters (or perhaps at his local civitas offices). In case of doubt or signs of manipulation of the outer text, the archivist could right there break the seals and check that the data on the internal inscription matched the external one. If all was in order, he would then enter the diploma holder's name onto the register of resident Roman citizens.


Over 800 diplomas from the Principate have been found and over 650 published, providing a rare corpus of Roman documentary material, whose survival is due to its being made of metal, rather than biodegradable material such as papyrus or wood. A particular advantage of constitutions and their copies (ie diplomas) for historians is that they are dated. The date of the constitution was defined by the Tribunica Potestas of the Emperor; while the date of issue of the notarised copy (diploma) was defined through the date of day and the consules (making diplomas a major source for suffect consules). As these documents also list the province governor they are thus a major source for the career path of the senatorial class. In addition they record usually the names of multiple auxiliary units serving in the same province at the same time, having been issued in batches: thus a single diploma may yield the names of as many as 25 units also included in that constitution. This makes these documents one of the major source to understand troop movements across the empire. Constitutions on the other hand are also known just for individual units, even individual veterans. As regards to the recipient of the diploma, the following details are recorded: regiment, regiment commander's name, military rank, name of beneficiary and name of his father and origin (nation, tribe or city); name of beneficiary's wife and name of her father and origin; and children also granted citizenship.


  1. ^ Military Diplomas Online: Introduction
  2. ^ Burton (1988) 427
  3. ^ Military Diplomas for Italian Units
  4. ^ Military Diplomas Online: Introduction



Primary sources

various publications ie in "Zeitschrift fuer Papyrologie and Epigraphik", Chiron, etc

Secondary sources

  • Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) Band XVI and Supplement
  • Roman Military Diplomas (RMD, Margaret Roxan, Paul Holder) Vol I-V
  • Werner Eck, Hartmut Wolff (Hrsg.): Heer und Integrationspolitik. Die römischen Militärdiplome als historische Quelle. Böhlau, Köln [u.a.] 1986. (Passauer historische Forschungen, 2) ISBN 3-412-06686-9
  • "Die Rolle des Militärs für den sozialen Aufstieg in der römischen Kaiserzeit" (Barbara Pferdehirt)Mainz, RGZM (2002) 2) ISBN 3-88467-069-7
  • "Römische Militärdiplome und Entlassungsurkunden in der Sammlung des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums" (Barbara Pferdehirt) Mainz, RGZM (2004) 2) ISBN 3-88467-086-7

External links


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