1,800 year old letter home from soldier in Roman legion


by GucciGucciGucci

A newly deciphered letter home dating back around 1,800 years reveals the pleas of a young Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion who was serving, probably as a volunteer, in a Roman legion in Europe.

In the letter, written mainly in Greek, Polion tells his family that he is desperate to hear from them and that he is going to request leave to make the long journey home to see them.


Addressed to his mother (a bread seller), sister and brother, part of it reads: "I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind," it reads.

"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 ..." (Part of the letter hasn't survived)

Polion says he has written six letters to his family without response, suggesting some sort of family tensions.

"While away in Pannonia I sent (letters) to you, but you treat me so as a stranger," he writes. "I shall obtain leave from the consular (commander), and I shall come to you so that you may know that I am your brother …"

The letter was found outside a temple in the Egyptian town of Tebtunis more than a century ago. They found numerous papyri in the town and did not have time to translate all of them.

Recently Grant Adamson, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, took up the task of translating the papyrus, using infrared images of it, a technology that makes part of the text more legible. 

Adamson isn't sure if the soldier's family responded to his pleas, or if Polion got leave to see them (it's unlikely), but it appears this letter did arrive home.

"I tend to think so. The letter was addressed to and mentions Egyptians, and it was found outside the temple of the Roman-period town of Tebtunis in the Fayyum not far from the Nile River," wrote Adamson

Polion, who lived at a time when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, was part of the legio II Adiutrix legion stationed in Pannonia Inferior (around modern-day Hungary)

He may have volunteered for the pay and food legions got. However, that doesn't mean Polion knew that he was going to be posted so far away from home.

"He may have volunteered and left Egypt without knowing where he would be assigned," writes Adamson. According to the translation, Polion sent the letter to a military veteran who could forward it to his family.

Although soldiers today have an easier time communicating and traveling back home (Polion would have had to travel for a month or more to reach Tebtunis from his posting in Europe), there are some themes that connect both ancient and modern soldiers, Adamson said.

"I think that some aspects of military service belong to a common experience across ancient and modern civilizations — part of our human experience in general really. Things like worry and homesickness."


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Recent Comments »

KneeToFaceKO site profile image  

3/8/14 11:14 AM by KneeToFaceKO


Jack Carter site profile image  

3/8/14 10:57 AM by Jack Carter

Amazing. If he only knew that 1,800 years later, we would be reading his letter on something called "The Internet".

john76 site profile image  

3/8/14 9:23 AM by john76

maybe he was an asshole, and that's why they disowned himan ancient asshole

slo ko site profile image  

3/8/14 9:19 AM by slo ko

"...toughest and most battle hardened troops thath the Empire had."It's not necessary to type with a lisp, effingoof

slo ko site profile image  

3/8/14 9:16 AM by slo ko

"Dear brothers, this will be my last stone tablet to you..."

lordbreakdown site profile image  

3/8/14 8:50 AM by lordbreakdown

Did they find it in an ancient shoe box?

n2bateyou site profile image  

3/8/14 8:24 AM by n2bateyou

Great thread.

Lux Fixxins site profile image  

3/8/14 8:14 AM by Lux Fixxins

Damnit.Now I spent time reading the wiki on how mail worked in ancient times

Roberto Silva site profile image  

3/8/14 1:48 AM by Roberto Silva

Cool I wanna know more.Author was a pussy for making the cliche comparison to modern warfare though

Dos Huevos Gigante site profile image  

3/8/14 1:34 AM by Dos Huevos Gigante

In all fairness, in the time it took for him to write six letters, the first probably hadn't even arrived yet.Patience, Soldier.