A standard Roman military diploma consists of
two bronze plaques bound together on both
sides and sealed with wax by seven witnesses.
The front cover contained a copy of the complete
text also repeated on the two interior leafs. The
back cover contained the names of seven
witnesses who sealed the diploma. These
diplomas are actually copies of original bronze
documents that were kept in an archive in Rome.
The copies were distributed to a serviceman
upon his retirement as proof of his honorable
service and newly acquired citizenship (at the
end of a minimum twenty-five year military
service, citizenship was awarded to the soldier
and wife and children). The text was repeated
twice, on the outside and on the inside, to
prevent fraud since the sealed interior text could
not be tampered with. If a former soldier
enjoying retirement on the Dalmatian coast was
suspected of forging the cover of his diploma,
local government officials could break the seals
and verify that the interior text corresponded to
the front cover without having to wait for
confirmation from the archives in distant Rome.
Today, Roman military diplomas are beloved by
scholars because they contain of wealth of
information that can be precisely dated.
Through such records, it is possible to track the
deployment of troops throughout the empire and
to chart the rise in rank of specific individuals.
Likewise, in the life of a specific soldier, we can
determine where he was born, raised, what wars
he fought in, and where he retired to.
This bronze plaque is the second half of a
military diploma, featuring finely incised Latin
inscription on both sides. The front of this
plaque corresponds to the second half of the
detailed interior text while the back lists the
name of the seven witnesses. The text names
the recipient of this diploma as Cersus, a
cavalryman who served in the First British
Cavalry Unit for over twenty five years. This
regiment was an auxiliary unit of the 15th Legion
Apollinaris; therefore, it is likely that Cersus
fought in the Jewish War and witnessed the
destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D.
From the dating of the consuls in the surviving
portion of the text, it is possible to surmise from
other contemporary diplomas what the text on
the missing plaque likely would have said:
“Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus, Chief
Priest, holder of the power of the tribune for the
fourth time, hailed as general for the eighth (7)
time, father of his country, consul for the third
time, designated as consul for the fourth time.
For the cavalry men and foot soldiers, who have
served in cavalry units and foot units, who have
served for twenty-five or more years, whose
names are written below, to them and their
children...”. The inscription on the front of this
plaque completes the text as such, “...are
granted citizenship and legitimate marriage with
the women they have at the time of the grant of
citizenship or if they are not married, with whom
they later marry, provided only one woman per
man. Three days before the calends of August,
the consuls being L. Flavius Fimbria and C.
Atilius Barbarus. First British Cavalry Unit,
commanded by M. (son of M.) Coelius Sergia
Honoratus, to the cavalry trooper Cersus, son of
Denturasadus, a Thracian. Copied and checked
against the bronze tablet which is put up in
Rome on the Capitolium at the Julian family altar
in front of the balcony." The names of the seven
witnesses listed on the reverse are: "L. Lucci
Atratini; L. Aviiani Saturnini; C. Aponi Firmi; Sex.
luli Proculi; C. Titi Recepti; Cn. Cetroni
Verecundi; M. Faltoni Fortunati, Centurion of the
15th Legion Apollinaris."
This bronze military
diploma, issued to the valiant Cersus, today
stands as a memorial to the life of this otherwise
forgotten soldier. Furthermore, it is a testament
to the military might of Rome and the
sophisticated bureaucracy that made it possible
to administer such a large army over such a large
Surely this item is of great interest and must be
referred to an expert.
Vespasian is present at the invasion of Britain in
43 and was emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD.
He was consul for the third time in 71 AD and for the
fourth time in 72 AD. This inscription dates to 71-72
Was this auxilliary alae raised at this time? This is
exceptionally early for the raising of a British
unit, cavalry, infantry, any British auxiliary unit.
No scholar has postulated British auxiliary units
at such an early date.
a. "First British Cavalry Unit" is a an epithet given
to another unit because they served in Britain.
This happened often for military units and
people, with epithets such as "Britanicus",
"Germanicus", "Hispana" not referring to the
home of the person or people honoured;
b. This really is the "First British Cavalry Unit". If
so, this is a cracking find.
A British auxilliary alae raised in 46? Or
Vespasian's colleagues honoured on his
ascension to emperor?