Skip to comments.How did the Romans Prove Their Identity?
Posted on 01/04/2023 7:09:27 AM PST by SunkenCiv
How did the Romans Prove Their Identity? | toldinstone | 330K subscribers | 169,854 views | November 25, 2022
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Transcript 0:00 By the time he died on June 9, 68 AD, Nero had been the most famous person on the planet for 0:08 nearly 14 years. His name prefaced inscriptions from Spain to Syria, his statues stood in every 0:16 province, and tens of millions of coins bearing his likeness were circulating throughout the 0:23 empire and beyond. News of his death rippled across the Roman world as swiftly as speeding 0:29 ships and galloping riders could carry it. Yet despite Nero’s notoriety, or because of it, 0:36 no fewer than three pretenders emerged. The first false Nero appeared in Greece, 0:42 where the emperor had recently spent more than a year touring cities and competing at festivals. 0:48 He looked like Nero, could sing and play the lyre, and managed to persuade several units 0:53 of Roman soldiers that he was the genuine article before being captured and executed. 0:59 The second false Nero, from the province of Asia, resembled the former emperor closely 1:04 enough to gain a small army of adherents and the support of a Parthian usurper. A generation later, 1:10 the third false Nero also enjoyed Parthian aid. Nero’s case is of course exceptional, 1:17 and political factors clearly influenced the acceptance of the various pretenders. 1:22 But the fact that the most recognizable man on Earth could be imitated so successfully 1:27 indicates the difficulties of proving identity in the sparsely documented 1:31 and tenuously connected classical world. Some of the most dramatic examples involve slaves, 1:39 who were – for obvious reasons – exceptionally motivated to assume false identities. 1:45 Pliny the Younger, a provincial governor, wrote a letter informing Trajan that two slaves, 1:50 masquerading as Roman citizens, had been discovered in a crowd of legionary recruits. 1:56 On another occasion, Pliny notified Trajan that a man working in a bakery, revealed to be an 2:02 escaped slave, claimed to have been stolen from a distinguished Roman years before by 2:06 barbarian raiders. In a more personal vein, Cicero complained about the disappearance of a slave who 2:13 had disguised himself as a free man and vanished. The reverse also occurred: freeborn travelers on 2:20 lonely roads ran a risk of being captured and chained in windowless workhouses. 2:26 Even those who were already enslaved had reason to fear such a fate; 2:30 the household steward of a Roman consul, for example, was tattooed and imprisoned after 2:36 being separated from his master by a shipwreck. Even when identity theft was less distressingly 2:42 literal, the stakes of demonstrating status were high: pretending to be a Roman citizen, 2:48 for example, was a capital offence. Being able to prove one’s freedom, citizenship, legal status, 2:55 and even – in some periods – religious convictions might mean the difference between life and death. 3:03 We’ll discuss some of the ways Romans could prove their identity after a 3:07 brief word about this video’s sponsor. 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To help support the 4:17 channel, go to kamikoto.com/TOLDINSTONE, and get your knife set today. 4:24 Returning to our topic... At least in theory, Roman citizens could prove their identity and 4:30 status with official documents. From the reign of Augustus onward, legitimate children were 4:37 registered as citizens soon after birth. Parents could request formal documentation in the form of 4:43 a declaration issued by a local magistrate and validated by seven witnesses – the equivalent 4:48 of a birth certificate. Those who gained citizenship later in life were also enrolled 4:54 on the official lists, which were kept both in their hometowns and at the state archives in Rome. 5:01 Throughout the republican period, the citizen lists were revised on a semi-regular basis by 5:07 the census, a national register that determined – among other things – tax obligations. 5:13 In Italy, the census fell into abeyance during the early imperial era, not least 5:18 because residents of Italy were exempt from direct taxation. Censuses continued to be held, 5:25 however, in the provinces, whose inhabitants were still liable to the land and poll taxes. 5:31 Although census returns were not typically used as means of establishing identity, 5:36 they were available for reference in provincial capitals. 5:40 The best-documented ordinary Romans were those serving in the imperial army. Upon enlistment, 5:46 a recruit’s name and physical characteristics were entered in his unit’s records: 5:51 an Egyptian papyrus, for example, reports that one new soldier had a scar on his left eyebrow, 5:57 while another had a mark on his left hand. Once he had sworn the military oath, each soldier 6:02 was given the ancient equivalent of a dog tag: a lead tablet, inscribed with his personal details, 6:08 that was kept in a leather pouch around his neck. Upon discharge, auxiliaries – men, in other words, 6:15 who had enlisted as non-citizens – received Roman citizenship. Veterans 6:21 seem to have often commemorated the occasion by commissioning “diplomas” – small bronze tablets 6:27 recording their citizen status, certified by the names and seals of seven witnesses. 6:33 Roman citizens, in short, were at least potentially able to prove their identity with 6:38 government records. Such documentation, however, was often inaccessible, outdated, or lost. 6:45 This seldom mattered in a person’s native place, since ancient cities and towns were intertwined 6:51 and underpinned by bonds of kinship, business, and social dependance. At need, virtually anyone 6:58 would have been to call upon acquaintances who could verify their identity and status. 7:04 Away from home, the most effective way to demonstrate identity was to exhibit the 7:09 appropriate social cues. When St. Paul, for example, told the centurion about to 7:14 scourge him that he was a Roman citizen, he was believed because he acted the part. 7:20 Someone who claimed to be a Roman citizen but couldn’t speak Latin, on the other hand, 7:24 was likely to encounter skepticism. At last resort, identity could be proved in court. 7:32 A collection of wax tablets from Herculaneum documents a legal case centered on Petronia Iusta, 7:38 who sought to prove that she had been born after her mother – a former slave – had been freed. 7:44 The defense countered that her mother had still been a slave when Petronia was born, 7:48 and that she was thus a freedwoman, rather than freeborn. Since there was no written 7:54 documentation of Petronia’s birth, both sides were forced to rely on the testimony of witnesses. 8:01 The relative insignificance of written documentation in such cases is apparent 8:06 in Cicero’s defense of Archias, a poet accused of not being a Roman citizen. 8:11 After bringing forward witnesses from the poet’s town of residence to attest that he was a 8:16 citizen there, and thus a citizen of Rome, Cicero dismissed as irrelevant the fact that Archias had 8:22 never been registered by the censors. And in any case, if Archias were not already a Roman citizen, 8:28 Cicero suggested, he deserved to be made one, since he was a gifted and patriotic author. 8:35 Even in the Roman military, proving identity was a matter of personal connections. 8:40 When Titus Flavius Longus, an Egyptian soldier in Legio III Cyrenaica, 8:46 was accused of not being a Roman citizen, he defended himself by having several of his fellow 8:51 soldiers – including a discharged veteran – swear to his citizen status by Jupiter and the emperor. 8:58 “It can difficult,” one Roman jurist noted, “even to distinguish a free man from a slave.” 9:05 Yet the Romans never ceased to conceptualize status as an attribute that could be performed 9:11 and recognized, and never ceased to believe that, 9:14 even among the barbarians, even in the most distant places, safety and 9:19 assistance would come rushing in response to that simple phrase: “I am a Roman citizen.” 9:26 For more on the complexities of establishing truth in the ancient world, check out my video 9:31 about how the Romans counterfeited coins on the Toldinstone Footnotes channel. 9:36 Please consider supporting toldinstone on Patreon. You might also enjoy my book, 9:41 Naked Statues, Fat Gladiators, and War Elephants. Thanks for watching.
He's got a paid promo about 35 percent of the way through, but it's easy to skip.
thanks for the post
By saying, ‘I, Claudius?’ ;)
During WWII, GIs would ask a stranger “Who won the World Series last year?”
I guess the Roman equivalent would be “Who won the chariot races last season?”............
After he retired from emperoring, he opened up a detective agency, “Private Eye, Claudius”. Okay, so, that one sucked.
Not mentioned in the video: Roman citizens (males) were given the right to wear an iron ring of citizenship. Different classes (equestrian, senatorial, etc) might have a specific design on them but it was still pretty basic. Two issues were that the ring was not required to be worn so not everyone did, and of course one could be stolen or counterfeited so you couldn’t take it as reliable proof of anything.
But it’s at least somewhat related to the topic.
I remember reading a mystery by Isaac Asimov where the brilliant detective determined the identify if a spy by quizzing him on the national anthem. The fact the he knew there was a second verse to it and knew the words proved he was a spy because no actual American knows this.
“... quizzing him on the national anthem. The fact the he knew there was a second verse to it and knew the words proved he was a spy because no actual American knows this.”
When I was in highschool a college friend obtained for me a fake ID, which I had to memorize so I could go drinking with them around campus. By the time we got to the fourth bar, my cognitive abilities were fully lubricated (not in a good way) and the bouncer asked me what my middle name was. I quickly blurted “S”
He said he was going to have to keep the ID and that was not admitted. D’oh!
:^) Bruce starred in two of my favorite sci-fi films, that one (which was clearly a spoof) and “12 Monkeys”.
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