Aleteia

The touching 1,800-year-old letter from a Roman legionary to his family

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A PhD candidate at Rice University translated the letter in its entirety, as part of his work in papyrology.

In 2012, when Grant Adamson was still a student at Rice University in Houston, he finished deciphering the contents of the letter that an Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion (a volunteer in the Roman legions) sent his family 1,800 years ago.

If it is surprising that Aurelius was able to read and write (the letter is written in koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean colonies of the Roman Empire), the content of the letter is all the more touching. The Egyptian soldier, stationed in Pannonia (nowadays, Hungary and Austria), sent the letter to his mother, a baker in his natal Tebtunnis (in Egypt). Sad to have not heard from her in a long time, he explains he will ask his superior officer for permission to visit his home and his family.

Here’s an excerpt of Aurelius Polion’s text:

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. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. 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.

The letter was discovered more than a century ago in an archaeological expedition directed by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, Realm Of History explains. The back of the letter also includes instructions for the postman to deliver the letter to a war veteran, a friend of his family, who would in turn hand the letter to the Polion family. Judging by the place where the letter was found, it is likely that it did indeed reach its destination.