Turns out the Roman armies didn’t really want to drive the Jews out of Israel or destroy the Temple in 70 AD. They were motivated by the filthy lucre of mammon.
A papyrus with a detailed paycheck of a Roman legionary soldier, dated to the year 72 CE – during the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (66-74 CE) – was discovered at Masada and sheds light on the pros and cons of enlisting as a soldier in the Roman Legion.
The rare ancient scroll is one of a collection of at least 14 Latin documents – 13 written on papyrus and one on parchment – retrieved in various states of preservation. This document is considered to be the best-preserved Latin papyrus from Masada, and one of only three legionary paychecks that have been discovered in the entire Roman Empire.
Although the papyrus was damaged over time and therefore very fragmentary, it contains valuable information about the management of the Roman army and the status of the soldiers. The document provides a detailed summary of a Roman soldier’s salary over two pay periods (out of three he would receive annually), including the various deductions that he was charged. The army supplied the soldiers with basic equipment, but, as today, some soldiers chose to add to and upgrade their equipment. “This soldier’s paycheck included deductions for boots and a linen tunic, and even for barley fodder for his horse,” says Dr. Oren Ableman, senior curator-researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Unit.
Surprisingly, the details indicate that the deductions almost exceeded the soldier’s salary. Whilst this document provides only a glimpse into a single soldier’s expenses in a specific year, it is clear that in light of the nature and risks of the job, the soldiers did not stay in the army only for the salary. What were their other incentives?
According to Dr. Ableman, “The soldiers may have been allowed to loot on military campaigns. Other possible suggestions arise from reviewing the different historical texts preserved in the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Laboratory. For example, a document discovered in the Cave of Letters in Nahal Hever from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE) sheds some light on some side hustles Roman soldiers used to earn extra cash.
“This document is a loan deed signed between a Roman soldier and a Jewish resident, the soldier charging the resident with interest higher than was legal. The document reinforces the understanding that the Roman soldiers’ salaries were augmented by additional sources of income, making service in the Roman army far more lucrative.”
With reporting by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Israel Today Membership
Save 18% Per Month.
Six Months Membership
Save 9% Per Month.