"Copy of an Audience"1

Unhappy_Veterans.png


The Document
337 FIRA 3.171 = Smallwood GN 297, papyrus, Egypt, 63 CE

(a) Copy of the register
Year 10 of Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, seventh of the month Augustus, in the great hall on the tribunal. there were present in the council Norbanus Ptolemy. judicial administrator and official of the Idios Logos. Aquillius Quadratus and Tennius Vetus [ _ ] Atticus, Papirius Pastor and Baebius Juncinus, [tribunes], Julius Lysimachus, Claudius Heracleides, officer in charge of finance, Claudius Euctemon and Claudius Secundus.
With reference to discharged soldiers, in respect of citizenship; (Tuscus]: I told you before that the situation of each of you is neither similar nor identical. For some of you are veterans from the legions, others from alae, others from cohorts. others from the fleet, with the result that your legal rights are not the same. I shall deal with this matter, and I have written to the strategoi in each nome to ensure that the rewards of [each] person are completely guaranteed, according to the legal rights of each person.

(Another hand)

(b) Copy of a hearing
The legionaries came forward on the camp road at the temple of Isis. Tuscus the prefect replied to us: Do not create an ungodly uproar. No one is causing you any problem. Write out on tablets where each one of you lives and I shall write to the strategoi to ensure that no one causes you any trouble.
On the fourth of the month of Augustus we gave him the tablets at his headquarters in the camp, and he said to us: Have you handed them over separately, (completely) separately? And the legionaries replied to him: We have handed them over separately.
On the fifth of the same month we greeted him near the Paliurus, and he greeted us in turn. And on the (seventh] of the same month we greeted him in the Hall as he sat on the tribunal. Tuscus said to us: I have spoken to you in the camp and now I say the same thing. Legionaries are treated in one way, members of cohorts in another way, and members of the fleet in another way. Each of you should return to his own affairs and not be idle.


Trans:
Campbell, Brian. The Roman Army: A Sourcebook (Routledge 1994).




The Meaning of the Document
Essentially, a group of veterans from various branches of the army were discontented with their veteran status. According to Roman Law, as veterans, they should have been exempted from paying poll taxes or participating in munera, which was required physical labour, such as guard duty or repairing a civic structure; veterans were supposed to be given immunitas. Apparently, however, these veterans' rights were not being upheld by local government officials. In the book, Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt, by Richard Alston, Alston cites several ancient documents, which report veteran soldiers being abused by higher officials. From these sources we recognize that this particular document is not an anomaly. The fight between veterans and the government is also revealed through a series of fiscal reforms Nero mandated a few years before the creation of this document. In these reforms, Nero reinforced the rights of veterans. If Nero was pressured enough to pass laws protecting veterans, it truly demonstrates that veterans throughout the Roman Empire were unhappy. Although veterans had rights by laws, there was much contention between veteran soldiers and public officials, such as the strategoi.

Due to this tension, the soldiers, in this document, are prompted to bring their grievances to the prefect of Egypt, Tuscus. For the first meeting, they meet on the camp road and Tuscus tells the soldiers to write their complaints separately on a tablet. And so the petitioners and Tuscus meet again a second time, at Paliurus, and a third time, in the Hall where the final verdict was made.

According to the document, Tuscus' final verdict was that the soldiers were to go about their business and drop the issue. Tuscus promised to write to the governors of their nomes, asking them to stop harassing the soldiers, but that is all the initiative the prefect would take. He claimed that because each veteran was from a different military unit and of different rank, he could not help them as a group for each one was entitled to benefits unique to their own unit.


Sources:

Alston, Richard. Solidier and Society in Roman Egypt: A Social History. London: Routledge, 2003. 1329. Kindle.
Alston, Richard. Solidier and Society in Roman Egypt: A Social History. London: Routledge, 2003. 4237. Kindle.

Welles, C. B. "The Immunitas of the Roman Legionaries in Egypt." The Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 28. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1936. 46. Print.Source:




What Can We Learn From This?
The document itself is fairly straightforward: soldiers came to the prefect to complain about their treatment and the prefect, although he wrote a letter to the governors in order to diffuse the situation, essentially did nothing for the soldiers and asked them to drop the matter. However, the doucment reveals much about the Roman military system and Roman society:

  1. When reading Roman documents, the term "veteran" seemed to have been an all encompassing term; it defined any man who had served in any branch of the Roman military. These veterans would then receive "veteran rights". It would therefore seem, from the vague nature of the term "veteran", that all men would receive the same rights after they had served. However, this document clearly demonstrates that this is a false assumption; there seemed to have been substantial differences in veteran rights based on what branch of the army you served in. At this time, scholars have not unearthed the exact differences in rights.
  2. Therefore, based on assumption 1, the Roman military system is more complex then was previously anticipated.
  3. Not only is the Roman army complex, this document suggests that it was also constantly changing. If veteran rights were merely complicated, the prefect could have simply looked up the the various codes and told the group of men which veteran was entitled to what rights. The fact that the prefect cannot look this up suggests that there were no definite, or at least stable, code to base a verdict on.
  4. The document also demonstrates that Roman citizens were at the mercy of local officials. Tuscus makes it clear at the end of the document that the subject of rights was closed. Tuscus does not suggest the soldiers brining their case to a higher power, he tells them to be quiet and go home. If Tuscus has enough has enough power to dismiss the soldiers without another thought, it is not surprising that officials of the time were abusing veterans' rights.
  5. Two questions that come to mind when reading this document are why does the prefect ask the veterans to separately write out their grievances and why does he meet them at the side of the road? To answer this, I draw upon the works of Welles, for he offers an interesting hypothesis as a response to these questions. At the time, it was not normal for a group of soldiers to bring a unified complaint to the government. In fact, according to Welles, Tuscus' language suggests that it is almost mutinous for the soldiers to complain together. During the hearing, Tuscus exclaims that the soldiers are making an impious uproar. Using such vehement language seems uncalled for, since it appears that the soldiers as peacefully coming to the prefect. However, since this document is only a summary of the original court hearing, we will never know how rowdy or peaceful the soldiers were. Nevertheless, Tuscus' harsh language and accusation that the soldiers are being impious (meaning that they are betraying the holy emperor) suggests that it was considered munitions for soldiers to make a group complaint. Knowing this, it would make sense that Tuscus would meet them by the road side; he does not want a mutiny to be documented in a formal court hearing but he does not want to ignore the veterans, so he meets them half-way. In addition, by requiring them to write on separate tablets, he is further diffusing the "mutiny", for if each soldier write on a different slate, no one can prove that they came forward as a group. The text implies that Tuscus took these actions in order to prevent a small complaint from becoming a serious situation.
I agree with Welles hypothesis: that the prefect asked the soldiers to meet at an unusual location and to write their complaints on separate tablets in order to quell a rebellion. From reading other cases where veterans were granted rights, it is apparent that the Romans had a very structured and organized military system. To break this order would mean chaos. Therefore, the prefect must have been compelled by an important factor to cast aside such an important hierarchy and justice system. Potential rebellion by the soldiers seems a plausible cause. In addition, separating the soldiers' complaints onto different tablets also fits with the theory of rebellion. If the soldiers were to write on one tablet, their complaint would appear very serious because a large group came forward with the same complaint. By writing on different tablets, Tuscus essentially makes the problem disappear. The Roman government probably received many complaint tablets, and a handful of tablets by soldiers would get lost in the bureaucratic "paperwork." All of the aspects of the document suggest that Tuscus beleived a group complaint would lead to a rebellion.

Want More Information?
  • Examples of Soldiers Who Were Able to Gain Their Rights
    • Not all soldiers were disappointed at the end of their service; many gained their legal rights. To understand the entire issue of veterans rights, we need to see both the disappointed and rewarded soldiers.

  • More on Nero's Attempt to Prevent Corrupt Taxation
    • I mentioned that Nero attempted to revise the poll tax in order to prevent corruption, especially when it came to governors abusing veterans' rights. This link delves deeper into Nero's tax reforms and explains it more fully.
  • More on Veterans' Rights
    • What happened after these "Unhappy Veterans" complained? Were veterans treated better? This link explains that even 50 or so years after the "Unhappy Veterans'" complaints, veterans were still granted rights, and, from the link, it seems like many soldiers were pleased by the rights they received.

Overall I really like your document presentation. Your summary seems to really make the document clear, and your analysis is very insightful between veterans and the political system focused on around Roman military. Even though your fifth point had a lot of great ideas, I would like to see more of your analysis rather than someone else's. If you did draw upon your ideas in your fifth point, then I would recommend distinguishing them from Welles's by making it a different color. - Daniel Espinel

I agree with Daniel that I'd like more of your opinion as well. I really enjoyed seeing the original text that you got an image of. I think it would also be interesting to see how to relate it back to how the Roman world viewed the army and the role/rights of an individual soldier. - Taylor Goodspeed

Hi, great job with your presentation - it's thorough and leaves me with a solid understanding of the document. To me, the words "Unhappy Veterans" are synonymous with "Emperor who's screwed". We've been seeing in class that for most of the Empire, succession depended on who commanded the loyalty of the greatest portion of the army. Consider discussing what Nero's relationship to the army is at this point - were these types of complaints widespread even in the aftermath of his reforms? If not, did the widespread unhappiness of veterans around this time play a role in the transition of power to the next emperor? Note that the Year of the Four Emperors came after the death of Nero. Great work, keep it up. - Ben P.

Good work. I find your interpretation of the document at hand to be pretty persuasive on the whole. But is it at all possible that Tuscus simply makes up or exaggerates the claim that soldiers from different units are treated differently to get rid of the veterans? I suppose you would have to follow through your lingering question about whether different units were, in fact, treated differently elsewhere to reach a final decision on this. I also agree with Ben that you might think more about how this particular episode fits into the big picture of the Roman military (and Roman politics) in this period. Well done though. - James Kierstead

Good work. I find your interpretation of the document at hand to be pretty persuasive on the whole. One on point I have some doubts:
Source:
Alston, Richard. Solidier and Society in Roman Egypt: A Social History. London: Routledge, 2003. 4236. Kindle.
Welles, C. B. "The Immunitas of the Roman Legionaries in Egypt." The Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 28. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1936. 45. Print.Source:



Original Questions
1. Who is the author of the document? The author seems to change half-way through the paper, for the rhetorical style of the document shifts from third person to first person.
2. What were the rights presented to retired officers? How did these rights differ from higher ranking officers to lower?
3. This document was found in Egypt. Did other soldiers in different counties have similar problems like the ones presented above? Or was it just retired Egyptian soldiers that had this problem?
4. What is Idios Logos?
5. Are any of these hearers well known? Who are they?
6. What do military terms, such as strategoi and alae, mean?

All good questions; I'd suggest looking at books on Roman law, the military, and Egypt. I agree that looking for similar unhappy soldiers might be interesting - why are they so upset?

7. Why was it important to hand in the tiles seperatley?
8. In our readings thus far, it seems that generals such as Pompeii and Marius treated their army and their veterans well. Did Emperor Nero change any of the army's laws? Is that why these soldiers are unhappy?


Lingering Questions
  1. What were the differences between the rights of veterans from different units?

Works Cited


Alston, Richard. Solidier and Society in Roman Egypt: A Social History. London: Routledge, 2003. Kindle.
Brand, Clarence E. Roman Military Law. Austin: University of Texas, 1968. Print. pages 69-70, 112-113, 125-130
Campbell, Brian. The Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 337. London: Routledge, 1994. Calameo Online Book.
Harker, Andrew. "Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt." Cambridge University Press. Google Books. Web. 14 May 2011. <http://www.cambridge.org/aus/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780511402227>. Pages 107-108
Lewis, Naphtali. On Government and Law in Roman Egypt: Collected Papers of Naphtali Lewis. Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1995. 58-64. Print.
Welles, C. B. "The Immunitas of the Roman Legionaries in Egypt." The Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 28. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1936. Print.
Westermann, William L. "Tuscus the Prefect and the Veterns in Egypt." Classical Philology. 1st ed. Vol. 36. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1941. Print.