THE LETTER OF A ROMAN SOLDIER TO HIS FAMILY
519 years have passed since the finding of a papyrus letter in Tebtunis, Egypt. Discovered by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. Written in Greek and translated around 2012 by Adam Grant show us how in reality ancient soldiers were not so different from our ones in recent times. They indeed had the need of writing back home to the loved ones.
Although not complete and ruined in some parts, this letter has a huge historical value. The young legionary was serving thousands of kilometers away from home in the Legio II Auditrix (Pannonia) and was requesting a leave allowing him to go and visit his family (with which he had some problems)..
It goes like this:
Aurelius Polion, soldier of the Legio II Auditrix, to his brother Heron, to his sister Ploutou, to his mother Seinouphis the baker and Mrs (..), many greetings. I pray day and night that you enjoy (are in) good health, and I always pay homage from your part to all the gods. I will not stop writing to you, but you never think of me. But I’ll do my part by writing always to you and never stop being close to you with the mind and the heart. But yet you never wright to tell me how your health is and how are things going. I’m worried about you beacuese, although you often receive letters from me, you never answered, so I can not know how you … wile I was in Pannonia I sent you (letters), but you treated me like a stranger … and you are happy that (..) army. I did not … you … for the army, but I … went away form you. I sent you six letters … I’ll try to get a permission from the commander and I’ll come to you so you can understand that I am your brother… I asked (..) nothing to you for the army, but I deluded you because although I wrote, none of you (..) consideration. Listen, yours (..) near … I’m your brother. You also, answer me back… write me something. Any of you …, send his … to me. Say hello to my father Aphrodisios and to (..) uncle (..) Atesios … his daughter … his husband and Orsinouphis and the children of the sister of his mother, Xenphon and Ouenophis known also as Protas … the Aurelii … the letter …
The original letter of Aurelius. Image from the University of California / Berkley’s Bancroft Library.
to the sons and to Seinouphis the baker … from (..) Aurelius (?) Polion, of the II Adiutrix Legion … from (?) Pannonia inferior (?) … delivered to Acutius(?) Leon(?), veteren of the legion … from Aurelius Polion, soldier of the Legion II Adiutrix, so that he can send it home.
The letter was written in Greek and for Dott. Adams, Aurelius greek was rather poor and Latin influence is evident both in punctuation and in syntax. It is likely that Aurelius was accustomed to writing and receiving orders in Latin.
Nearly nobody today can understand how it could be difficult serving in an army stationed thousands of kilometers away from your family. Without being able to know what is going on because you didn’t have at your disposal internet, airplanes and all the technology that make us communicate with the people that we most care about.
While nobody today can understand the problems of serving in an army thousands of miles from family — without internet or airplanes or even telegraph — soldiers of Traveller’s far future, posted hundreds of light years from home and waiting for months for a starship to arrive with news, can relate with the legionnaire.