RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Eastern Auxiliaries - Linguistic question
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Avete Omnes,

I've read before that Latin was always the Roman army's language of command and administration. But I wonder about the Auxiliaries raised in the Eastern provinces. Could they have been allowed to inscribe the names of their units on their shields in Greek ? Since most Roman officers were bilingual I thought perhaps they would not object to non-Romans using their own language. And it would seem consistent with the practice of allowing Auxiliaries to use their native weapons and wear their native clothing.

~Theo
Quote:the names of their units on their shields in Greek
Personal names, weapons, clothing is one thing. But what's the use of translating for instance 'cohors III equitata' into Greek?
Quote:
Theodosius the Great:2tywl6y5 Wrote:the names of their units on their shields in Greek
Personal names, weapons, clothing is one thing. But what's the use of translating for instance 'cohors III equitata' into Greek?

The names of Roman units are frequently found translated into greek (from the top of my head, there's L. Antonius M. Antonii Polemonis filius Cor[nel]ia Zeno, who is a military tribune in ???[??]/??? ?? ???????????? (Legio XII Fulminata) - inscription is AE 1987, 929 = SEG 37.855 (Apollonia Salbake, Asia)). And there are 'official' documents, such as Roman military papyri from Egypt, that are in greek - with unit names translated, sometimes ingeniously, as in the example above.

As for whether or not they'd put the name in greek on a shield, who knows? I would suspect not though, at least not in the principate.

blue skies

Tom
If I recall there was a discussion about a shield boss I think it was the Dubitatus one, and Peroni put forward another one that was an Auxiliary type that had a name legend in Greek.
Quote:But what's the use of translating for instance 'cohors III equitata' into Greek?
I thought it may have been a more practical use given that Greek was the lingua franca of the Eastern provinces. Most of the local recruits would only learn a smattering of Latin to understand the commands being barked at them by their centurions, IIRC. For an Auxiliary to recognize his comrads on the battlefield would it not perhaps be easier to read their insignia if written in Greek ?

Besides native clothing and weapons, another item gave me the idea that Greek might have been used instead of (or even with) Latin : the 'FELIX' belt from the Lyon burial. Greek versions of the belt are known. Belts were very personal items, I understand, but were also highly symbolic of their wearer's status as a soldier. Anyway, thats why I thought there was an outside chance for Greek.

Quote:The names of Roman units are frequently found translated into greek (from the top of my head, there's L. Antonius M. Antonii Polemonis filius Cor[nel]ia Zeno, who is a military tribune in ???[??]/??? ?? ???????????? (Legio XII Fulminata) - inscription is AE 1987, 929 = SEG 37.855 (Apollonia Salbake, Asia)). And there are 'official' documents, such as Roman military papyri from Egypt, that are in greek - with unit names translated, sometimes ingeniously, as in the example above.

This evidence reinforces my train of thought which led me to ask my question. Greek eventually replaced Latin as the army's official language in the early 7th century which suggested to me that the latter never struck deep roots in the East, even within the army (or, at least, the Auxiliaries).

Quote:If I recall there was a discussion about a shield boss I think it was the Dubitatus one, and Peroni put forward another one that was an Auxiliary type that had a name legend in Greek.
If I recall there was a discussion about a shield boss I think it was the Dubitatus one, and Peroni put forward another one that was an Auxiliary type that had a name legend in Greek.

Would this be the same boss found in Bishop and Coulton, plate 7b ? If so, it's dated to the Dacian wars and bears "an inscripttion to a member of the equites singulares...". Unless I'm mistaken it does look Greek. I wonder what it says. Can't be simply a name since the inscription runs for ten lines.
[Image: 112005-equites2.jpg]

~Theo
Yes, that's the one I posted Theo.

Translated into Latin the inscription reads..

Marcvs Vlpivs Eqves
Singvlari Avgvsti

Donvm Dedis Dedit
Flavivs Volusivs
Thank you, Peroni !

So, some the emperor's Auxiliary cavalrymen wrote Greek inscriptions of their unit on their bosses. Taken at face value this evidence would seem to strengthen the possibility that other Auxiliaries also wrote their unit names on their shields in Greek. But the inscription on the boss is too small to serve for identification on the battlefield. It seems more appropriate for simply identifying the owner in case his shield was misplaced.


~Theo
A tenuous link, but in the early to mid first Century, the majority of the Horse guards were Ubian and Batavian (When they were still called the Corporis Custodes).

The Vindolanda tablets mantion quite e few soldiers' names that are Greek in origin. The Batavi IIRC believed in a decendency from Hercules. (Magussanos).

A great reference source for the ESA is Speidel, M.P., Die Denkmäler der Kaiserreiter. Equites singulares Augusti, Beihefte der Bonner Jahrbücher Band 50, Colonia-Bonn 1994. It features one or two grave stele that are in Greek.
(Denkm 00757)
I do not think that the insciption on this boss would have anything to do with a battle field situation, for as I mentioned in other discussion I consider that this particular item may well have been used in the Hippica Gymnasia and was a parade or games armour piece. This would have been a very private piece of equipment held very securely by the cavalry owner.
The other kind of insciptions on many armour pieces may well have been for recognition when the soldier drew his equipment from the Armorium in the fort, I use my own long military experience to say this for I'm sue that in peacefull situations soldiers do not go around in camp or fort carrying all their gear.
When on guard duty yes but then it would have been handed out to them at the end of day when the fort would go into a lock down situation, in normal every day activity I would think that the majority of soldiers would go around simply wearing their tunic belt and Pugio.
In more hostile situations yes they would have had all their kit to hand, but with more established frontier systems and the intelligence network they had they would have known exactly what was going on 100 miles away. This is what I would consider the reason for inscriptions on armour pieces was for.
I also do not think there would have been to much of a linguistic problem at all in the Roman Army for the different nationalities of the auxiliary would well have been commanded up to a point by their own countrymen. The officers in charge may well have been Roman in the earlier periods of the Empire and documentation would have no dought been in Latin, however the every day running would have been on multilingual basis.
Belts, shield bosses, and helmets with Greek inscriptions are known. Greek was the most widely understood language in the entire empire. It doesn't seem like a huge leap to assume that it was also used for unit identification on the battlefield, perhaps along side a Latin inscription. Nonetheless, the archaeological evidence is too weak to inspire much confidence in the theory.

Thank you, everyone, for your insights !

Big Grin

~Theo