One thousand nine hundred years ago on this day, a copy of a letter written by Hadrian and addressed to Quintus Rammius Martialis, the prefect of Egypt (AD 117-19), was published in Alexandria. In his letter, Hadrian granted illegitimate children of soldiers conceived during their fathers’ military service the right to inherit.
Translation: (in Keenan, Law and Legal Practice (2014), 4.6.2b (S. 117f.), follows Joseph Mélèze-Modrzejewski’s edition)
Copy of a letter of the emperor, translated… which was publicly displayed in the third year of Trajan Hadrian Augustus, in the consulship of Publius Aelius for the third time and of Rusticus… in the winter camp of the III Cyrenaica legion and the XXII Deiotariana on the 4th of August which is the 11th of Mesore, at headquarters.
I know, my dear Rammius, that those whom their parents in their period of military service acknowledged as their children have been debarred from succeeding to their fathers’ property, and this measure did not seem harsh since their action was contrary to military discipline. But I find it most pleasant to put forward precedents through which I may interpret more liberally the rather harsh rule established by the emperors before me. For although those acknowledged in the period of military service are not legitimate heirs of their fathers, nevertheless I decide that they also can claim possession of property from that clause of the edict which gives this right to cognate relatives. I will be your duty to make this grant of mine well known both to my soldiers and to the veterans, not to enable me to be exalted in their eyes, but so that they may profit by this, if they are unaware of it.
Hadrian’s edict was a move towards the recognition of military marriages, and the tone of the letter further suggests that the new rules applied to all soldiers, citizen and non-citizen alike and that it was not confined to Egypt.
The letter was posted in the headquarters of the Egyptian legions III Cyrenaica and XXII Deiotariana which shared the same base near Alexandria on the shore of the Mediterranean. These two legions were used by Augustus to suppress violence among the ethnic groups living in Alexandria (Greeks, Egyptians, and Jews). How long III Cyrenaica may have served with XXII Deiotariana as the garrison of Egypt is unclear, but the third legion was relocated from Egypt to Bostra in Arabia after AD 125 where it had been previously transferred by Trajan during his war against the Parthians. The last record of XXII Deiotariana dates from this letter.
Sources & references:
- Birley, Anthony R. “Hadrian. The restless emperor.” London, New York (1997): 105-106
- Phang, Sara Elise. “The Marriage of Roman Soldiers (13 B.C.-A.D. 235). Law and Family in the Imperial Army”. Columbia Studies in Classical Traditions (2001): 38-41
- Campbell, Brian. “The Marriage of Soldiers under the Empire.” The Journal of Roman Studies 68 (1978): 153-66.