“His emotions are really no different than those of soldiers today who are longing to go home.”
AN AMERICAN GRADUATE student has translated fragments of a letter written by a 3rd Century Roman soldier, according to Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Grant Adamson, a student in the school’s religious studies program, believes that an ancient infantryman scrawled the message to his family on a sheet of papyrus sometime around the year 212. The author signed the letter “Aurelius Polion” and likely penned the 1,800-year-old note while stationed in the Roman province of Pannonia Inferior in modern-day Hungary.
According to Adamson, Polion tells his family that he thinks of them often, but questions why no one has replied to the half dozen other messages he’d already sent.
“I pray that you are in good health night and day. I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf,” wrote Polion, using a form of ancient Greek. “I do not cease writing to you… but you never wrote to me concerning your health. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you… <sic>.”
The soldier promises that if his family will respond, he’d ask his commander for a furlough and come straight home.
“The moment you have me in mind, I shall obtain leave from the consular and I shall come to you so that you may know that I am your brother,” wrote Polion.
Adamson points out the letter is indeed a curiosity – most 3rd Century Roman soldiers likely couldn’t read or write.
“Polion was literate, and literacy was rarer then than it is now,” said Adamson. “But his handwriting, spelling and Greek grammar are erratic. He likely would have been multilingual, communicating in Egyptian or Greek at home in Egypt before he enlisted in the army and then communicating in Latin with the army in Pannonia.”
Adamson’s faculty advisor says she is struck by how the sentiments expressed by the lonely infantryman resonate across the ages.
“His emotions are really no different than those of soldiers today who are longing to go home,” said April DeConick, chair of Rice’s religious studies department.
First unearthed by archeologists in 1899, the document was later added to the collection of the University of California, Berkeley. Adamson began deciphering the correspondence in 2011 while it was on loan to Brigham Young University. Amazingly, he is reportedly the first to attempt a translation.