Summary: A rare, almost 2,000-year-old, detailed paycheck of a Roman soldier, who took part in the siege at Masada, reveals he wasn’t in it for the money.
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. – Matthew 8:8-10 (ESV)
Detailed Deductions Down to Zero
Archeologists have discovered a Latin papyrus with a detailed paycheck of a Roman legionary soldier at the Masada fortress in Israel. The ancient scroll is dated to AD 72, two years after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, during the time of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (66-74 AD). The evidence shows that enlisting as a soldier in the Roman Legion wasn’t quite as profitable as one might imagine.
This find along with the story of Rome’s crushing of the Jewish rebellion gives us unique insight into the political realities in Israel during the 1st century of Jesus’ time. The overwhelming power of the Roman occupiers fed the feeling of hopelessness among the Jewish people and their desire for a savior who would bring justice.
The rare scroll is considered the best-preserved Latin papyrus from Masada and one of only three legionary paychecks discovered in the entire Roman Empire, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The invaluable scroll is part of a unique collection of at least 14 Latin documents unearthed in various states of preservation, 13 written on papyrus and one on parchment.
The papyrus paycheck contains important information about the management of the Roman army and the status of its soldiers, revealing that soldiers were not compensated well by Rome. Although the fragment is damaged, the details of a Roman soldier’s salary, including various deductions he was charged, can be deciphered. The summary covers two out of the three paychecks a soldier would receive each year.
The pay slip was made out to Gaius Messius and was found in an area where Romans set up camp during the Masada siege. It is dated to a time after the war, suggesting it was payment for participation.
“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 the light of the nature and risks of the job, the soldiers did not stay in the army only for the salary,” said Dr. Oren Ableman, senior curator-researcher at the IAA Dead Sea Scrolls Unit.
A soldier was provided with basic equipment from the Roman army, but any upgrades or additions to their gear came out of their own pocket. “This soldier’s paycheck included deductions for boots and a linen tunic, and even for barley fodder for his horse,” Ableman continued. The total deductions add up to 50 denarii, the soldier’s entire paycheck!
The translation of the document is available in the Database of Military Inscriptions and Papyri of Early Roman Palestine. It reads:
- The fourth consulate of Imperator Vespasianus Augustus.
- Accounts, salary.
- Gaius Messius, son of Gaius, of the tribe Fabia, from Beirut.
- I received my stipendium of 50 denarii,
- out of which I have paid
- barley money 16 denarii. […]rnius;
- food expenses 20(?) denarii;
- boots 5 denarii;
- leather strappings 2 denarii;
- linen tunic 7 denarii.
Sublimental Side Hustles
To supplement their meager income, “the soldiers may have been allowed to loot on military campaigns. Other possible suggestions arise from reviewing the different historical texts preserved in the IAA Dead Sea Scrolls Laboratory,” Ableman said.
“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,” he continued.
“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. This document reinforces the understanding that the Roman soldiers’ salaries may have been augmented by additional sources of income, making service in the Roman army far more lucrative.”
The Development of Paid Soldiers
During the early Roman Republic, being a soldier was not seen as a profession. It was the duty of every man between the ages of 17 – 46, who was wealthy enough to afford weapons and armor, to serve unpaid in 16 military campaigns. These men were often farmers who would go on a campaign and then come back and work their farm.
During the 4th century BC, things changed as Rome started waging war in more distant regions. Soldiers now had to be gone from home for years at a time and would not be able to maintain a farm. In AD 6 Augustus reformed the military and started paying his soldiers 112 denarii per year. Soldiers would also get donations and special allowances from the emperor.
A good example of the buying power of a denarius is the cost of an annual diet of a Roman Soldier, valued at 60 denarii, almost half of their salary, which was deducted from their paycheck. Their salary didn’t go far, considering that during the 1st century, 27,000 square feet of farmland would cost about 250 denarii.
Later, Gaius Julius Caesar (AD 37-41) doubled the pay of a soldier and it stayed at 225 denarii per year until the rule of Domitian (AD 81-96). A centurion was the leader of 80 soldiers and received 5 times the pay of an average soldier. The highest-ranking centurion of a legion, called a Primus Pilus, was paid 20 times more than an average soldier, which was at least 4,500 denarii.
Paycheck Found at King Herod’s Masada Fortress
The soldier’s paycheck was discovered in the ancient fortress and palace built by King Herod the Great between 37-31 BC. Located on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea in the Southern District of Israel, it was the last stand of the first Jewish Revolt, which this soldier participated in.
The devastating result of this revolt, which began in AD 66, was the complete destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70. The war ended at the siege of Masada, where 960 Jews committed suicide rather than be taken as prisoners.
After Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome, the remaining rebels, a group of Jewish Zealots called Sicarii (dagger-men), relocated to Herod’s fortress in Masada. In AD 72, the 10th Legion (Legio X Fretensis), commanded by Lucius Flavius Silva, marched on Masada to break the Sicarii resistance. The legion consisted of over 8,000 men, according to the Romano-Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus.
The Romans encircled Masada, constructing a siege wall that ran for 6.8 miles around the high mountain plateau. After several attempts to breach Masada’s defenses, the Romans built a giant siege ramp scaling the western side of the fortress over 200 feet tall. Then a siege tower and battering ram were laboriously moved up the ramp, and on April 16th, AD 73, the Romans breached the walls of Masada after 2-3 months of siege.
Josephus wrote that the leader of the Sicarii named Eleazar made a final speech to the defenders where he said, “…it is by the will of God, and by necessity, that we are to die” (The Jewish War, Book 7, Chapter 8 – 358). Then the defenders drew lots and killed each other in turn, down to the last person. According to Josephus, “The Jews hoped that all of their nation beyond the Euphrates would join together with them to raise an insurrection,” but in the end there were only 960 Jewish Zealots who fought the Roman army at Masada.
Masada’s impressive ruins are one of the most visited tourist sites in Israel. The UN’s cultural body, UNESCO, registered Masada in 2001 in the list of world heritage sites, citing its “majestic beauty” and its importance as a “symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel, its violent destruction and the last stand of Jewish patriots in the face of the Roman army.”
Roman power had built Masada and after it was taken by Jewish rebels, the seemingly unstoppable Roman army brought Masada down. The arduous and dangerous task the soldiers of Rome had during the siege of Masada is further illuminated by the discovery of the soldier’s paycheck, which reveals the dirty work the soldier did for Rome wasn’t about earning money. He was basically a slave, following the emperor’s command to eradicate the Jewish rebels at any cost. It is interesting to note that the Roman Empire ultimately fell, but throughout history up until today the Jewish culture has been preserved.
TOP PHOTO: A very special find – a Roman soldier’s paycheck for participating in the campaign against the Jews.(credit: Shai Halevi, IAA)
The paycheck is one of 14 Latin scrolls found at Masada by archaeologists – 13 of which was written on papyrus, and one on parchment paper. 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.What did Roman soldiers get paid? ›
Soldiers' pay was made in three instalments of 75 denarii in January, May and September. Domitian changed the intervals to three monthly and thus increased pay to 300 denarii. Under Severus he raised pay once more to an estimated 450 denarii.What evidence is there that Roman soldiers were very fit? ›
The training that soldiers had to do was very tough and thorough and included marching 20 miles a day wearing full armour. This meant that the Roman armies were very fit and organised. Training included marching in formation and learning specific tactics and manoeuvres for battle.Did Roman soldiers have to pay for their own equipment? ›
The Cost of Roman Armor
When Rome was in its infancy, there was no state-controlled army as such, with each soldier having to pay for their own armor and equipment. As Rome grew in power and wealth, and consequently had a need for a standing army, soldiers were provided with the necessary items, including armor.
The Roman economy, which is how people make and spend money in a particular place, was based on agriculture, or growing food and farming. Roman agriculture relied on large farms run by slaves. Romans also made money from mines, and rich Romans could buy luxuries from all over the world.How much was a Roman soldiers pension? ›
A soldier earned a one-time praemium or discharge benefit upon completing his service (sixteen years for the Praetorian Guard, twenty for regular duty in the army). At the end of Augustus's reign, the pension for a Praetorian guard was 20,000 sesterces (HS), and that of a legionary 12,000.How much salt was a Roman soldier paid? ›
Roman soldiers were paid 900 sestertii (225 denarii) during the time of Augustus. They were also given salt, thus the word "saldare" (give salt), which is the origin of the word, salary. 200 sestertii (or 50 denarii) was a subsistence wage per year for adults.What were Roman soldiers rewarded with? ›
Legionaries signed up for at least 25 years' service. But if they survived their time, they were rewarded with a gift of land they could farm. Old soldiers often retired together in military towns, called 'colonia'.What benefits did Roman soldiers get? ›
The Roman legionaries were also guaranteed a land grant or a cash payment at the end of his service, making the Roman legionary less dependent on generals for rewards after campaigns. Augustus also changed the sacramentum so that soldiers swore allegiance only to the emperor, and not to the general.How heavy was a Roman soldier? ›
Interesting Facts about the Roman Army
The average legionary carried at least 90 pounds of weight and often had to march 20 miles a day. At its largest, the Roman army was made up of 30 legions, or over 150,000 soldiers.
While a full suit of field armor might weigh 50 to 60 pounds, it still allowed the wearer to be quite nimble.How much did the average Roman soldier weigh? ›
Weight of an average Roman soldier: Historians estimate that the average weight of a Roman soldier during the Imperial era (27 BCE - 476 CE) was around 70-75 kg (154-165 lbs).How often did Roman soldiers bathe? ›
Yes, soldiers, like ALL Romans tried to bathe daily when permitted.How much did a Roman soldier have to carry? ›
Soldiers have long carried heavy burdens into war, but today's soldiers carry an unprecedented amount of weight. For the last 3,000 years, dismounted soldiers carried 55 to 60 pounds on average. This has almost doubled in the last 200 years. Roman legionnaires carried almost 60 pounds.Did Roman soldiers pay for their own equipment and food? ›
It is worth noting that the early Roman army required every soldier to purchase his own gear; state-supplied arms and armor would not be a thing until the Marian Reforms. In these early days, soldiers were divided into five social classes, based on personal wealth.Were Roman soldiers paid with goods? ›
Being so valuable, soldiers in the Roman army were sometimes paid with salt instead of money. Their monthly allowance was called "salarium" ("sal" being the Latin word for salt).How much was a loaf of bread in Rome? ›
More than 2,000 years before the low-carb revolution, bread was the staple of the Roman diet, and you could expect to pay 2 asses for a one-pound loaf. A half-liter of top-shelf ancient wine cost up to 30 asses, while a new tunic cost about 15 sestertii.How much is a Roman sesterces worth? ›
This would suggest a modern equivalence of about 1 sesterce = $0.50, that is 1 denarius = $2.00. Other such calculations could set the value of 1 sestertius as the equivalent of as much as $1.50.How much silver were Roman soldiers paid? ›
During the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), the wage of a Roman soldier or common laborer was one denarius per day. (e.g., the parable of the vineyard workers) The coins were minted with 4.5 grams of silver. Roman soldiers were paid 225 denarii per year.What is the average pension of a soldier? ›
Average Military Retirement Pay
“That equates to around $30,000 to $35,000 per year for a typical enlisted person and around $60,000 to $70,000 for the typical officer.” These estimates refer to those who have served full-time active duty for their entire career.
For example, a Soldier who retires with 24 years of service (YOS) will receive retired pay equivalent to 60 percent of final basic pay (50% +10% (2.5% x 4 years)). Final Pay Plan also includes a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) - usually annually.How many meals did Roman soldiers eat? ›
The Romans generally ate one main meal (the cena) a day, around sunset. Originally this was eaten around midday, preceded by a light meal, often just a piece of bread, early in the morning.What did the average Roman soldier eat? ›
Essential elements of a soldier's diet were wheat and bread, meat, cheese, vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil (or lard), beer and wine. Soldiers used basic culinary equipment, including cooking pots, and cooked for themselves in their barrack rooms, where, at Vindolanda, there is evidence for hearths.
Typically, one denarius (or one drachma) was considered a fair wage for a day of manual labor (as reflected in Matthew 20:2). So a worker might expect to earn a little over 300 denarii in a year. To appreciate the value of a denarius, then, imagine that it was worth the amount you earn in a day.What would happen if a Roman soldier fell asleep on duty? ›
If the Roman soldier is found guilty (of falling asleep on duty), he is punished by fustuarium. This is carried out as follows. The tribune takes a cudgel and lightly touches the condemned man with it, whereupon all the soldiers fall upon him with clubs and stones, and usually kill him...What was the highest military award in Rome? ›
Grass crown – (Latin: corona obsidionalis or corona graminea), was the highest and rarest of all military decorations. It was presented only to a general, commander, or officer whose actions saved the legion or the entire army.How far did Roman soldiers march in a day? ›
20 miles. A Roman soldier was a well-trained fighting machine. Soldiers were often expected to march 20 miles a day, wearing all armour and carrying equipment.How did Roman soldiers sleep? ›
Soldiers regularly went on route marches, during which they built practice camps and slept in tents such as the one seen here. The tent weighed over forty kilograms and was carried by mule. Eight men slept in each tent. It must have been crowded, as space had to be made for all their equipment!How strong was a Roman soldier? ›
The Roman Army of ancient Rome was so powerful because of its Training and Equipment which was advanced for its day. In order to be considered fit enough to be a legionnaire (the name given to a Roman soldier), one had to be able to march 20 miles in 5 hours with the full armour and kit weighing 45lbs.Did Roman soldiers have wives? ›
During the first two centuries A.D., Roman soldiers were prohibited from contract- ing legal marriage; the masculine nature of Roman military discipline was the likely motivation for the ban. Nevertheless, many Roman soldiers formed de facto unions with women and fathered children.
Height: 1.75M (5'8”) tall. have excellent vision and hearing. be able to read and write.What was the average size of a Roman man? ›
Remember the average life for a man in the Ancient Rome's times was about 40… Even the average height was shorter than today's Romans: around 5'5”! What was the real reason why Romans organized gladiators' fights?Why did Roman soldiers wear skirts? ›
Among Roman soldiers, short skirts in particular were considered to be proof of virility as well as allowing for swiftness while in combat.How fit were medieval knights? ›
His core stability proved better than some professional swimmers and his alignment and balance were “comparable with leading acrobats”. “These results are very impressive,” said applied sport scientist Jonathan Robinson, who led the tests.What did knights wear under their armor? ›
A knight wore a coat of mail called a hauberk made of metal rings linked tightly together to protect his body. Underneath this he wore a padded shirt called an aketon. This gave more protection and made wearing the coat of mail less uncomfortable.How were knights paid? ›
What did a knight get paid? Charlemagne's knights were given grants of conquered land which quickly put them on the road to wealth. They might also receive gifts of money or other precious things. However, some knights weren't paid at all.What did Roman soldiers eat for breakfast? ›
The Romans ate a breakfast of bread or a wheat pancake eaten with dates and honey. At midday they ate a light meal of fish, cold meat, bread and vegetables. Often the meal consisted of the leftovers of the previous day's cena. What was eaten for dinner varied among classes.Who was the biggest Roman soldier? ›
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus was perhaps the greatest of Rome's generals. He was a man who never lost a battle, and who defeated the most dangerous enemy Rome had ever faced.What was the life expectancy of the Romans? ›
Mortality. When the high infant mortality rate is factored in (life expectancy at birth) inhabitants of the Roman Empire had a life expectancy at birth of about 22–33 years.Were Roman baths unisex? ›
Republican bathhouses often had separate bathing facilities for women and men, but by the 1st century AD mixed bathing was common and is a practice frequently referred to in Martial and Juvenal, as well as in Pliny and Quintilian.
The Romans cleaned their behinds with sea sponges attached to a stick, and the gutter supplied clean flowing water to dip the sponges in. This soft, gentle tool was called a tersorium, which literally meant “a wiping thing.” The Romans liked to move their bowels in comfort.Did the Romans have good hygiene? ›
Roman citizens came to expect high standards of hygiene, and the army was also well provided with latrines and bath houses, or thermae. Aqueducts were used everywhere in the empire not just to supply drinking water for private houses but to supply other needs such as irrigation, public fountains, and thermae.How much was a centurion paid? ›
A centurion was paid a salary equivalent to 38.58 ounces of gold. Compared to modern US Army salaries, a private is making 20% more than the legionary, and a captain is making 30% less than the centurion.What did Roman soldiers wear under their armor? ›
Tunic: a basic garment worn under the armour by all soldiers in the republic and early empire. Normally made of wool.How old did you have to be to be a Roman soldier? ›
A legionary had to be over 17 years old and a Roman citizen. Legionaries signed up for at least 25 years service, and at the end of the 25 years, they were generally awarded land they could farm and/or a large sum of money. Old soldiers often retired together in military towns, called 'colonia'.What did Roman soldiers drink? ›
Posca was an Ancient Roman drink made by mixing wine vinegar and water. Bracing but less nutritious and palatable than wine, it was typically a drink for soldiers, the lower classes, and slaves.What ethnicity were Roman soldiers? ›
Until the second quarter of the second century when British recruits became more common, legionaries came initially mainly from Italy (81%), but by the end of the first century were mainly from North Africa and the western provinces of Hispana, Gallia, Germania, Raetia (an Alpine province) and Noricum (roughly modern ...What kind of bread did Roman soldiers eat? ›
Millet, emmer and spelt were the varieties of wheat in regions surrounding the city of Rome. To the north--Gaul, as one example--grains that were hardier in cold weather like rye and barley were more available and doubtless consumed as Rome army food.Did Roman gladiators get paid? ›
Fighting for your life, embracing death
So it was not something to be taken lightly. But on the upside: gladiators earned money each time they fought and, if they survived their 3-5 years, they were set free – criminals and slaves included.
The price of an enslaved person in ancient Rome varied considerably depending on the sex, age, and skills of the individual. Based on literary and documentary sources, the average price for an unskilled or moderately skilled enslaved person in the first three centuries AD was about 2,000 sesterces.
Construction was funded by the opulent spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 AD led to the Siege of Jerusalem. According to a reconstructed inscription found on the site, "the emperor Vespasian ordered this new amphitheatre to be erected from his general's share of the booty."Did wealthy Romans paid for the Colosseum activities? ›
Let the Games Begin
The Romans continued the practice, holding games roughly 10 to 12 times in an average year. Paid for by the emperor, the games were used to keep the poor and unemployed entertained and occupied. The emperor hoped to distract the poor from their poverty in the hopes that they would not revolt.
A gladiator was worth the equivalent of 250 to 3,750 days of labor in the vineyard. The money was paid to the owner of the gladiator school. Winning gladiators received a purse, often counted out coin by coin to the jubilant delight of the crowd, equal up to a quarter of their market value.What was the biggest prize a gladiator could receive? ›
The stakes were high – prize money for successful gladiators was extremely generous, and in one instance the emperor Tiberius tried to tempt his favourite retired gladiators back into the arena with a massive cash bonus of 100,000 sesterces each.Were the gladiators paid a lot or not a lot at all? ›
Gladiators were paid well each time they fought, and they were allowed to keep any rewards.How did Romans treat female slaves? ›
When it comes to the personal lives of female slaves, they were not allowed to marry fellow slaves, or to keep their children. Even though formal marriage, conubium, was forbidden, illegal unions like marriages were common.What nationality were Roman slaves? ›
The majority of Roman slaves were from Greece because of the numerous wars between the two countries and Roman victories. The first great influx of Greek slaves into Rome occurred after the defeat of the Macedonians at the battle of Pydna in 168 B.C.What did Roman slaves eat? ›
The core staples for slaves were low-quality bread and cheap wine, but was also supplemented by average fruits and vegetables, as well as soups, stews, and other hot meals.Who paid to clean the Colosseum? ›
The first phase of a 25-million-Euro, or 30-million-dollar, donation by an Italian fashion company, Tod's. The government approved and oversaw the work.How much money did it cost Romans to go to the Colosseum? ›
Admission to the Colosseum shows was free. All expenses were usually paid by the emperors. The Colosseum has four levels and it had a seating capacity of 50,000. The spectators were seated according to their social status.
The fire and earthquake damage in the first through the sixth centuries A.D. were repaired by the emperors, but when the building was no longer used for gladiatorial events (last ones in A.D. 404) or staged animal hunts (last ones in A.D. 523), there was no reason to repair the damage.Who were the wealthiest Romans in history? ›
Marcus Licinius Crassus (/ˈkræsəs/; 115 – 53 BC) was a Roman general and statesman who played a key role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. He is often called "the richest man in Rome."Who were the wealthiest citizens of ancient Rome where? ›
Patricians and plebeians. Traditionally, patrician refers to members of the upper class, while plebeian refers to lower class. Economic differentiation saw a small number of families accumulate most of the wealth in Rome, thus giving way to the creation of the patrician and plebeian classes.Did rich Romans pay taxes? ›
Rome had a regressive tax system, which is a tax system in which the tax rate decreases as wealth of the taxpayer increases. In Rome, the upper classes paid the lowest rate of taxes while the lower classes paid the highest rate.