The Stele of G. Damianus
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Categories: Ancient

The Stele of G. Damianus

overview stele of the funerary stele of a Roman soldier. The stele is carved of coarse grey stone, probably limestone or similar. He stands in an arched niche wearing a cloak and tunic with a large belt. A spear with a bundle around the shaft is to his right, and he holds a scroll in his left hand.
The funerary stele of G. Damianus in the Roman museum, Bologna

In the before times, when I could travel and had something to travel to, I visited Bologna. In their museum of antiquity I saw this funerary stele. Judging by the clothing and style I would date it around 150-250 CE. The soldier wears boots not sandals, his tunic has long sleeves, and his belt is narrow and not covered with brass or silver plaques. At first I was amused by the soldier’s very Celtic moustache in one of the cities where the Romans did their best to eliminate the native Celtic population. A little research showed an unexpected story!

closeup of the same funerary inscription as above, with the base (and the inscription on the base) missing
The upper part of the funerary stele of G. Damianus

The inscription at the bottom of the stele says G. DAMIANO BF ET EREDES / PER PROCURATORES EIUS. In other words, “For G. (Gavidius?) Damianus, beneficiarius, and his heirs, from his procurators.” A beneficiarius was a minor officer in the Roman army who might be attached and under the authority of a procurator or procuratores. Those procuratores are probably imperial civil servants. The scroll (or very long narrow writing board?) in his hand suggests that he was a clerk, but the lance with the exaggerated head sometimes marks the exploratores who were scouts and messengers. (Someone totally needs to write a series of historical novels where the main character is an explorator, Harry Turtledove already wrote some short stories about an agens in rebus). Is he someone who writes important official things, or someone Grave markers in the Roman empire usually begin with the person being commemorated and follow with who paid for the marker. In the Roman Empire as in other places, people did not bury themselves.

My photo of the inscription was not very clear, but I could read enough to find it in the Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss/Slaby. Its inscription CIL 03, 06601 = CIL 11, *00109,7 = CBI 00734 = AE 2014, +01413 (and EDCS-28000890 in the Clauss/Slaby database because obviously the solution is more standard names). The datenbank says that it comes from Alexandria! This is not a grave marker from near Bologna, its a grave marker which Italian archaeologists found in Egypt and brought home in the period when Egypt was a dependency of the United Kingdom. Because many Alexandrians were Jews, Greeks, and otherwise neither Egyptian nor Libyan, they often went in for European funerary practices (and a number of their grave markers survive, whereas in the nearby Nile Delta they tend to sink or decay). Damianus is also a name most common in the second century CE and later, and the two-part name without a patronymic (son of) and tribe also suggests that Damianus lived in the later Roman empire. But I did not know that Roman soldiers in Egypt left inscriptions! If I recall the governor of Egypt did not have any legions (the province was just too rich to trust its commander with a good army) and if Damianus was buried there, it also suggests that he lived after Caracalla granted citizenship to all Roman subjects in 212 CE.

Clauss-Slaby guessed that G. stands for Gavidius rather than Gaius. I’m not sure why, and the hired students who transcribed their inscriptions and expanded the abbreviatations sometimes made mistakes. I am not a Roman historian just someone with a few courses in Roman epigraphy!

If you ever get a chance to visit Bologna, G. Davidius is waiting for you in one of the porticos of the museum.

I’m not getting twice Roman Army pay with a guaranteed pension after 20 years, so if you can, please support this site.

(scheduled 18 December)

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