In the Service of Rome

R.W. Davies describes the life of the other ranks in the Roman armed services, as recorded in surviving letters.

The Roman army was one of the greatest in the history of the world. Famous generals, such as Julius Caesar, wrote Memoirs on their campaigns. Officers could afford to set up inscriptions commemorating their distinguished careers. But what was the view of the other ranks on life in the Roman armed forces? The answer is provided by letters preserved on papyrus discovered in Egypt.

It is thus possible to trace the opinions of ordinary soldiers from their enlistment, through a career lasting a quarter of a century, to their discharge. They dictated their private letters to professional letter-writers; in their correspondence to their families and friends they reveal what it was like to be a soldier or sailor in the service of Rome. Many of the letters come from Karanis, the modern Kom Ushim, in the Fayum.

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