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The Roman Army : Personnel

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Military Units


Soldiers and Civilians



List of Persons

From Alan Bowman and David Thomas, The Vindolanda Writing Tablets (Tabulae Vindolandenses II), London: British Museum Press, 1994. pp. 24-29

The list of persons attested, which is appended at the end of this chapter, summarises the evidence for people at Vindolanda (A) and elsewhere (B).

At Vindolanda

The column designated (A) includes people who appear in accounts and documents which we assume were generated at Vindolanda, and addressees of letters which are not either drafts written at Vindolanda or letters apparently received elsewhere by people who may have been at Vindolanda at the time when they disposed of them (Vol. II, Ch. 3). It should be noted (1) that we have not attempted to arrange the material chronologically and (2) that we have only included as military personnel (no.9) those for whose status there is explicit or substantial implicit evidence.17 Many cases remain doubtful and, in view of the evidence for movement of personnel and fragmentation of units, we are reluctant to conclude that a soldier attested, for example, in a text attributed to Period 2 must belong to the First Cohort of Tungrians because that unit is known to have been at Vindolanda in that period. There are certainly a large number of people in the "unknown" category who will in fact have been officers or soldiers.

The prefects of auxiliary units may not have been at Vindolanda for more than a few years. We may begin by observing that only two named individuals are clearly attested as praefecti of specific units: Iulius Verecundus, prefect of the First Cohort of Tungrians, and Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians. It is probable that the first unit was at Vindolanda during the earlier part of the 90s and the second during the later years of that decade and for a short time after AD 100 (Vol. II, Ch. 2). Iulius Verecundus' names alone are far too common to tell us anything about him or his origin. The statement of Tacitus that Batavian units in the Roman army were commanded by their own nobiles fits very well the evidence for Flavius Cerialis' command of the Ninth Cohort. His gentilicium shows enfranchisement in the Flavian period and the cognomen Cerialis clearly suggests a connection with Petillius Cerialis, the general who suppressed the Batavian revolt of AD 69-70. It is possible that Cerialis' father was rewarded with citizenship for loyalty to Rome in this revolt, but also possible that it was Cerialis himself who was thus rewarded at a young age and commanded the Batavian unit at Vindolanda in his 40s.18 It may be that the Tungrian units, which unusually for milliary cohorts were commanded by prefects rather than tribunes until the third century, shared this tradition of local commanders, but there is no direct evidence.19 Finally, it is unclear whether we should expect such local nobiles to have been assimilated into the pattern of relatively short tenure of posts in the equestrian militiae or to have held their commands for longer periods of time.20

Of the other prefects whom we can identify with some degree of confidence only one can probably be connected with a specific unit: Priscinus may have commanded the First Cohort of Tungrians, perhaps after rather than before AD 100 since the letters addressed to him are archaeologically attributed to Period 4. Hostilius Flavianus is perhaps the recipient of an application for leave like those directed to Flavius Cerialis, but perhaps slightly earlier. On the face of it, this might suggest that he was Cerialis' predecessor as prefect of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians, but there are obviously other possible explanations and it is perhaps unwise to insist on the presence of only one unit commander at a time.21 Flavius Genialis was probably also a praefectus and the balance of the evidence points to his presence at Vindolanda in Period 2; he too might have been a predecessor of Cerialis, or prefect of another unit.22 Vettius Severus, the recipient of a letter attributed to Period 2 (305), might also be a prefect but the reading of the title is very uncertain. For Veranius we have only the bare title of praef(ectus) coh(ortis), in a text attributed to Period 3 (319). There are others whose Roman gentilicia might suggest equestrian officer status, but in no case is there any positive evidence: for example, Licinius Asper (224), M.Cocceius Velox (352), ..scinius Ni...(?) (325).

There are several other named individuals who can be shown or presumed to have been officers at Vindolanda. The evidence for a beneficiarius, surely praefecti rather than consularis, is a very welcome addition to the meagre epigraphic record for Britain.23 The individual centurions, the optiones and the decurion require no particular comment, but it should perhaps be borne in mind that the units to which they belonged may have been at Vindolanda for a number of years or on more than one occasion and we have therefore not attempted to list them by the periods to which the relevant texts are attributed. Once again, the list of persons of unknown status will certainly contain some centurions and "senior non-commissioned officers". The group of texts attributed to the building of Period 4 may concern some centurions and/or optiones and one account certainly includes the names Firmus and Spectatus as people who were in a position to give instructions about dispensing supplies of wheat (180.5, 23). One individual who is very likely to have been of similar status is Cassius Saecularis, addressed in warm and intimate terms by a legionary aquilifer, and concerned with supplies of timber and food (213-5).

The names and positions of some other functionaries are of some interest. The medicus (a medical orderly or a doctor) and ueterinarius are well-attested as members of the army's medical service (156, 181).24 A uexillarius is mentioned in a context which suggests that he might have been a member of the group of cavalry from the cohors I Fida Vardullorum (181, Vol. II, Ch. 2).25 The cornicen (182.i.1) is also to be expected in the auxiliary context.26 Less easy to explain are the unnamed curatores who appear in routine reports (127, 128), a term which in infantry units seems normally to indicate a special responsibility rather than a regular career post; they were perhaps therefore in charge of small groups of soldiers performing particular tasks.27 The scutarii are likely to have been involved in the manufacture or repair of weapons and might well be classed as immunes (160.A.4, 184.ii.21).28 It is more difficult to know what to make of a balniator, a ceruesarius and a uector (181.8, 182.ii.14, 183). The first is presumably a bath-attendant; the term does not appear to occur in the military context and elsewhere frequently refers to slaves.29 The second is a brewer (and retailer?) of beer, and the role of the transporter is obvious. What is not so obvious is whether they were actually military personnel or civilians. We envisage some civilian presence in the region of Vindolanda at this time (Vol. II, Ch. 2) and it is perhaps relevant to note the possible evidence in the tablets for a ueteranus (187.i.11), perhaps given added weight by the fragmentary military diploma found at Vindolanda.30

About the lower ranks little can be said. It should be noted that we include in our lists as milites or equites only those specifically attested as such or occurring in texts, such as requests for leave, which guarantees that they were military personnel. It should be emphasised that our approach differs from that of A.R.Birley31 in two important respects: (1) since we are convinced of a significant civilian presence, we do not assume that people are necessarily "members of the garrison" unless there is some direct or substantial indirect evidence; (2) we do not divide the material according to period of attribution and we suggest that it is likely that soldiers serving for up to 25 years in units which may have been at Vindolanda more than once or for a considerable number of years might turn up in texts from different periods. There are sure to be a large number of soldiers in the list of those of unknown status and there is a significant degree of doubt over whether some of the individuals attested were at Vindolanda or elsewhere - to put it bluntly, the context is frequently ambiguous.


The column designated (B) includes people who can be shown or assumed to be somewhere other than Vindolanda. Only one provincial governor is named, (L. Neratius) Marcellus (225.14-5), but there are other references to an unnamed consularis (248.ii.9-10, 295.i.5), one to the legatus, which must also refer to the governor, the legatus Augusti pro praetore (154.5), and a petition or appeal to a person of whom the term maiestas is used; this is very likely to be intended for the governor (344). Other officers of high rank may include Ferox who may have been a legatus legionis (154.6), and the Crispinus addressed respectfully by Flavius Cerialis may well be an officer of senatorial status, perhaps a tribune (225.1). Finally, there is the important evidence for the presence of a centurio regionarius at Luguvalium in this period (250.i.8-9).

There are several people who can certainly be identified as equestrian officers, but evidence for units and stations is practically non-existent. Oppius Niger is probably in command of a unit at Bremetennacum (295) and Vocusius Africanus may be in command of either the First or Second Cohort of Tungrians (315). Aelius Brocchus and Caecilius September, both correspondents of Flavius Cerialis, and the latter probably also of Priscinus, are known from inscriptional evidence; September (252-3, 234, 298) was in Syria at an earlier date, Brocchus (233, 243-8, 234) in Pannonia later. Hostilius Flavianus may be attested at Vindolanda and in a posting elsewhere (172, 261), and we note the difficult evidence for Flavius Genialis, who might well have been an equestrian prefect, perhaps also occurring at Vindolanda and elsewhere (217-224, 256). Others may be identified as likely praefecti by the use of the terms collega and frater in correspondence with a known praefectus (259, 260, 345), or by association with an equestrian officer in the address of a letter (248).32 Amongst those of unknown status, there are undoubtedly some equestrian commanders, perhaps most readily to be sought amongst those with the common gentilicia, Iulius, Claudius, Flavius;33 but the strong possibility of having (e.g.) legionary officers and centurions holding these gentilicia means that individual cases cannot be pressed or used as a basis for further hypotheses.

The known centurions and decurions are again a small group. It is noteworthy that Clodius Super, one of Cerialis' correspondents who is probably a centurion, addresses the prefect in familiar tones and we think that this can be explained by the supposition that he was of similar social status, i.e. a centurion ex equite Romano and probably a legionary centurion (255). We suspect that among those at places other than Vindolanda whose position is unknown, there may be many centurions and decurions, since letters coming to Vindolanda might be expected to emanate from people with some administrative military responsibility; but the general nature of activities of presumed officers such as Curtius Super and Severinus (213, 215.ii.3) can, once again, be regarded only as a basis for hypothesis.

Of the other military personnel, the most interesting are Vittius Adiutor, the legionary aquilifer very probably of the legio II Augusta based at Caerleon (214), and Veldedeius, the equisio consularis, who may have had some position of responsibility for animals attached to the governor's retinue (310). Given the movement of groups and individuals attested in the tablets, it is possible that Adiutor was not at Caerleon when he wrote to Saecularis.34 As for Veldedeius, the letter addressed to him (310) seems to have been sent to London, but there is no reason to doubt that he may at some time have been at Vindolanda, where the letter was deposited. Virilis the ueterinarius mentioned in the letter was presumably also in or near London.35 The duplicarius named Cessaucius Nigrinus (?) received a letter at a place which was probably very close to Vindolanda and may have been based there and out-stationed (312).36

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