Echoing modern political debate in Britain, studies of the population of Roman Britain have often been preoccupied with the quantity and ethnic identity of immigrants coming into the province. People have debated what the balance of ‘Roman’ and ‘native’ might have been in both rural and urban areas (though those terms are very difficult ones, hence the inverted commas), through studies of classical literature, comparative studies with other provinces, tombstones and, as scientific analyses have become available, studies of the bodies of the people themselves.
Far less work has been done, however, on those people from Britain that took advantage of being part of the Roman Empire, or were taken by it against their will, and left their homeland for pastures new. Part of the reason for this lack of study, of course, is that much of the literature documenting relevant discoveries isn’t in English, though that always feels like something of a weak excuse.
The Roman army was a common catalyst for people travelling across the empire, though we should acknowledge that the greater quantity of inscriptions (tombstones, altars, building dedications etc) left by the military than by other elements of society has skewed our dataset. Nevertheless, Britons certainly became a part of the Roman war machine following the invasion of AD43. There were, for example, 13 auxiliary units in the Roman army bearing British names. That is to say that they were originally founded from British troops, though recruitment after that point would have been more culturally diverse. Auxiliary units were made up of non-citizen soldiers, membership of the ‘Roman club’ being the reward for completing their service. Some Britons, however, were already Roman citizens, and therefore eligible to enlist in the legions. Two such men are attested as having come from Lincoln – Marcus Minicius Marcellinus and Marcus Junius Capito.
As residents of a colonia, the people of Lincoln would have held Roman citizenship. For the most part this would have meant legionaries retiring to the town, their families, and various traders and merchants, some of whom may have been citizens already. The means by which locals living in the area might have been able to gain citizenship purely through living in the town is not fully understood, though we can assume that full citizenship would not have been readily handed out.
Marcus Minicius Marcellinus
Marcellinus is known to us because of a temple dedication, rather than his own tombstone. The dedication, discovered at Moguntiacum (modern Mainz) in Germany, was established to honour the goddess Fortuna and dates to the late 1st Century AD.
The text of the dedication reads:
‘FORTVNAM SVPERAM HONORI AQVILAE LEG(IONIS) XXII PR(IMIGENIAE) P(IAE) F(IDELIS) M(ARCVS) MINICIVS M(ARCI) FIL(IVS) QVIR(INA) LINDO MAR[CEL]LI[NVS P(RIMVS)] P(ILVS) LEG(IONIS) EI[VS DEM]’
This translates as:
‘[this structure] is dedicated to the honour of the goddess Fortuna by Marcus Minicius Marcellinus of Lincoln, son of Marcus, of the Quirina voting tribe, First Spear Centurion of the XXII Legion Primigenia.’
That a dedication such as this was set up in Mainz should not surprise us. The XXII Primigenia were based at Mainz for much of their existence, from their foundation under Caligula in AD39 until the later 3rd Century. The goddess Fortuna was their patron deity.
What is particularly of note is that Marcellinus was primus pilus – the senior centurion of the legion, in charge of the 1st Cohort but also involved with the command of the legion and its highest ranking professional soldier, offering his experience to the younger and more aristocratic higher command (Webster 1981). To have attained such a position would have been the pinnacle of a full and decorated military career, and would have seen Marcellinus able to join Rome’s equestrian class upon retirement. For Marcellinus to have spent enough time in the army to have risen to be primus pilus, he must have joined the army very soon after the Roman invasion, most likely when the IX Legion were stationed at Lincoln. Perhaps he was the son of a legionary and a British woman, and subsequently claimed his citizenship of Lincoln when the colonia was founded in the late AD80s or 90s?
Serving in the XXII Primigenia in the later 1st Century may have meant that he took part in the civil wars of AD69 (the ‘year of the 4 emperors’), when the XXII supported Vitellius. A vicious Batavian revolt soon after saw the XXII have to defend Moguntiacum as other legions stationed nearby took heavy losses. In AD89, the governor of Germania Superior, Lucius Antonius Saturninus, rebelled against Domitian and the XXII were one of the legions sent to defeat him. Domitian richly rewarded the legion, and as Lincoln was founded as a colonia by Domitian, Marcellinus may have felt a loyalty to the emperor on multiple levels. The future emperor Hadrian served with the legion in AD97-98 and it possible that Marcellinus served alongside him as one of the legion’s senior officers.
Without his tombstone, filling in the details of his personal life is difficult, but there is fascinating evidence of an individual who is likely to have been his son. A diploma dated AD123 records a man of the exact same name who was prefect (commanding officer) of the auxiliary unit the Ala I Brittonum – the ‘first British cavalry’ (Tacoma et al 2016). It makes perfect sense for the son of a successful soldier to have attained such a position, and their continued links with Britain, and probably even Lincoln, clearly remained.
Marcus Junius Capito
Our second Lincoln-born soldier served with the X Gemina and is known from his tombstone, discovered at Albulae in the North African province of Mauretania Caesariensis (Tacoma et al 2016), about as far away from his birthplace as he might ever imaged he could be. He lived in the later 2nd Century.
The X Gemina were based on the Danube frontier and based at Vindobona (Vienna), but Capito was part of a vexillatio (detachment) sent to North Africa, a reminder that the legions did not always remain as homogeneous groups and could be split between far reaching provinces. He had served for ten years when he died, but nothing else is known about him, such as whether he had previously served in a different legion, or whether he served at Vindobona before being sent to Africa, or had traveled directly to join his legion there. Whatever his path, he certainly died in a very different part of the world to the place he called home – testament indeed to the opportunities afforded by the Roman army for those with a thirst for adventure, or those will little other hope of gaining advancement.
The snippets of knowledge we have of these two men demonstrate how the lives of people from Britain, and Lincolnshire, could expand beyond their homeland and across the empire. There are surely many more examples of such lives that we do not yet know of, and indeed may never know of.
Tacoma, L.E., Ivleva, T., Breeze, D. J. 2016. Lost Along the Way: A Centurion Domo Britannia in Bostra. Britannia, Volume 47
Webster, Graham. 1981. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries AD. Adam and Charles Black: London.