A ROMAN BRONZE FLEET DIPLOMA FOR L. PETRONIO
REIGN OF ANTONINUS PIUS, 143 A.D.
An exceedingly well preserved Roman imperial proclamation, honouring the prestigious career of a sailor serving in the fleet of the emperor Antoninus Pius.
158 x 127 mm. Issued by Antoninus Pius, during the consulship of Aug. M. Cornelio Fronto and L. Laberio Prisco, in recognition of 26 years of service for the veteran sailor L. Petronio Eptaezeni in the Praetorian Fleet of Misenum under the command of Valerius Paetus, the outside face of the reverse tablet listing the names of seven witnesses, the whole comprising two rectangular tablets each pierced twice for binding (now missing) and once in corner. Burgundy red fitted box.
(1) Said to have been found in Bulgaria in the 20th Century.
(2) Bernard Quaritch, London, September 1994.
(3) Schøyen Collection, MS 1921.
The diploma grants L. Petronio Eptaezeni f. Eptaetrali an honourable discharge from the navy of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Roman citizenship for himself and his descendants, and the right of legal marriage. Interestingly, this diploma is the earliest known example known to date, to contain the addition of Romanam after civitatem in an imperial fleet diploma; a privilege not given at this time to the existing children listed on the diplomas of army auxiliary diplomas.
Lucius Petronius has the same Thracian cognomen as his father. There is also one instance of Eptatralis occurring in Pannonia and two in Moesia inferior (now the Balkans), and one example of Eptezenus in Moesia inferior, so it seems likely that despite having a Roman prenomen and nomen he was of foreign birth. By repute the diploma was found in Bulgaria which would tie in with his home town Nicopoli ex Bessia. This would almost certainly be Nicopolis ad Nestum, a town within the territory of the Bessi, in the Roman province of Thrace, modern day southern Bulgaria. In all likelihood, like many army and navy veterans, he would have returned home on discharge.
26 years was the usual term of service seen on the majority of fleet diplomas from about the beginning of the reign of Hadrian until the early 3rd Century A.D. when the term changed to 28 years. The text is copied and checked from the bronze tablet which is fixed in Rome on the wall behind the Temple of Augustus, near the statue of Minerva.
The text on the inner sides of the two tablets, hastily written and abbreviated, reflects the outer text of the first tablet, which is a formal and fine example of Roman capitals. The tablets would have been bound and sealed together, and in the event of the outer copy being called into question, reference could be made to the inner text by breaking the seals, without the necessity of referring to the official copy in Rome. Suetonius describes this practice for important documents in his ‘Life of Nero’ from De vita Caesarum.
W. Eck, M.M. Roxan, Römische Inschriften - Neufunde, Neulesungen und Neuinterpretationen. Festschrift für Hans Lieb zum 65. Gerburstag dargebracht von seinen Freunden und Kollegen, Basel, 1995, pp.79-99.
M. Roxan and P. Holder, Roman Military Diplomas IV, London, 2003, no 264, pp.505-506.