10. Empire and the search of identity
The languages of the Roman army in the East and beyond
Parallel zu unserer Ringvorlesung "Altertumswissenschaftliche Forschung in der Ukraine", die am 20. Oktober 2022 startet, präsentieren wir in unserem neuesten Blog einen interessanten Beitrag aus der Feder eines ukrainischen Kollegen. Um seine Argumentation nicht zu verunklären, haben wir uns entschieden, ihn in der englischen Originalversion zu belassen.
Viktor Humennyi, PhD, Lviv, Ukraine, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv
The language is often considered one of the key indicators referring to the questions of Identity and its self-representation among the multiethnic and multilingual population of the Roman world. The ones who served in Roman army are no exception. The interesting case is represented by the soldiers of the auxiliary units. Among the other types of available sources, the inscriptions that were left by them can be chosen to analyze different aspects of their ethnic, religious and several other identities and how they were represented. As a case study we will take a look at the Palmyrean units stationed both in the Near East and in several other Roman provinces during the first centuries CE.
Despite the problems with the corpora that include inscriptions of Palmyrean origin (hopefully, some of them will be solved by the project of K. Klein, N. Samhouri and their colleagues, who work on the Corpus Inscriptionum Palmyrenarum (CIPalm). A Database of the Inscriptions from Palmyra) special attention can be given to the inscriptions that were left by the Palmyrean detachments stationed in various Roman provinces. The service in the Roman army is often considered to be a factor of Romanization and cultural interaction not only for the local provincial populations but between the units of different origins and the native populations of the regions where the units served. Parts of numeri Palmyrenorum and other Palmyrean auxiliary units can be traced in Dacia, Numidia, Egypt and Syria. The Palmyrene garrisons in Dacia can be detected by inscriptions from Dacia, at least two inscriptions from Palmyra itself and one Greek inscription from Thessalonica (IG X, 2, 1, 146). Somewhere after 159-160 CE numerus Palmyrenorum Tibiscensium and numerus Palmyrenorum Porolissensium can be attested in the inscriptions where they used Latin and sometimes Aramaic. The last one, perhaps, was the common writing language. This is considered by the find of an ostracon with a fragment of a Palmyrene inscription from Porolissum. The altars dedicated to the Palmyrene gods, are ornamented with Latin inscriptions and epitaphs are either in Latin or bilingual (Latin-Aramaic CIL ІІІ, 7999). In Egypt, sagittarii Hadriani Palmyreni Antoniniani, are attested in several Greek texts from Deir el-Bahari with the unit probably serving at Koptos. In Arabia and Syria we have mentions of Ala I Vlp(ia) Droma(dariorum) P(almyrenorum). Palmyrean soldiers are interestingly represented not only by inscriptions but by the Dura papyri of the cohors XX Palmyrenorum, where Latin and Greek are clearly dominating. In Dura, Greek is the dominant language.
The question that remains is how representative is the material that we have and how it generally corresponds with the linguistic maps of the regions. Among Greco-Aramaic (AE 1933, 206), Greek (AE 1933, 20) we have several other examples of Latin-Palmyrene bilingual inscriptions (AE 1947, 172) and Greco-Palmyrene bilingual inscriptions (AE 1947, 171). With some earlier examples, from the late 3rd century and during the 4th century CE, Latin is being used almost exclusively for the inscriptions of official character and the ones mentioning the military affairs (for example CIL III, 133). Part of Latin inscriptions connected with Roman military or political presence in the city clearly indicates non-local origins of their authors (AE 2012, 1748). Some middle and late 1st century CE inscriptions in Palmyra use three languages (See: AE 1998, 1433; AE 2002, 1509). The funerary inscriptions are mainly in Latin (AE 2002, 1518). We see inscriptions from the soldiers of the IV Legion which are in Greek (AE 1933, 217; AE 1940, 173) and which most likely represent a religious context. The early and the middle 3rd century CE Latin texts are connected with coh(ortis)] / I Fl(aviae) Chalc(idenorum) (AE 2002, 1513; AE 1991, 1574). Some inscriptions of that type are bilingual as well (Latin-Greek, with Latin always being the “first” language in the inscription, despite the fact, that the length of Greek and Aramaic parts of the text sometimes are bigger and more informative than the Latin one).
In the examples from Roman Syria itself we see that the auxiliary units mainly used Latin (AE 1987, 951 and AE 1949, 261). The bilingual inscriptions more often are found from the warriors of ordinary legions (a very typical example: CIL III, 186 (p. 972). Rarely do we see Greek inscriptions. Most of them come from Dura Europos and most likely they are private inscriptions (AE 1931, 115; AE 1929, 180). Among them Latin texts from Dura seem to quite rare (AE 1954, 264).
The language of inscriptions mainly represented not “Romanization” or imagined or real identities, but the regional, collective or individual context in which the inscription was created and had to fulfill its functions. It seems that the Roman auxilia from the East in the end didn’t become fully “Romanized” in a way we usually think about this issue. From the surviving contexts we can see that the surrounding context, the authorship and the personal or official character of the inscription was the main factor of the language that was chosen. Both in Palmyra and the Danubian provinces the choices sometimes were spontaneous. In Dacia, being in the “sea” of Roman army, and considering the fact that among the inhabitants of the East other people served in the auxiliary units, Latin became the lingua franca serving the general purposes of the inscriptions that were created. In any case, there still is need to explain, why the native Aramaic language appears so rarely and how the text was connected with the iconography represented in the inscription frames. Another question is how “typical” was the Palmyrene case in comparison with other auxiliary units from the East and the units from other regions of the Roman Empire.
The epigraphic prominence of the military in the provinces shows that the signs often considered to be the markers of “identity” (self)representation, move beyond traditional “Romanized”/“local” dichotomies. Different epigraphic evidence in connection with papyrological and archaeological expressions of military life of the auxiliary soldiers can help us to take a more complex look on the questions of “Otherness” in Roman Army as well as on the problem of the Socio-Linguistic landscape of the Roman provinces.
The text represents part of the results of the OeAD-funded project “Cultural identities, Roman Army and the province of Syria in the first-third centuries CE” which was conducted by the author in the autumn of 2021 at the Department of Ancient History, Papyrology and Epigraphy of the University of Vienna.
List of abbreviations:
IG - Inscriptiones Graecae
AE - L'Année épigraphique
CIL - Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum