Aspects of Identity-Construction and Cultural Mimicry among Dalmatian Sailors in the Roman Navy*

By Dzino, Danijel | Antichthon, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Aspects of Identity-Construction and Cultural Mimicry among Dalmatian Sailors in the Roman Navy*


Dzino, Danijel, Antichthon


C. Ravonius Celer was a sailor of the Misene fleet from Dalmatia.

C. Ravonius Celer qui et Bato Scenobarbi (f.) from Naples (CIL 10.3618 = Dessau 2901):

D(IS) M(ANIBUS) / C(AIUS) RAVONIUS CELER QUI ET BATO SCE / NOBARBI NATION(E) DAL[M(ATA)] / MANIP(U)L(ARIS) EX (TRIREME) ISID[E MIL(ITAVIT) ANN(IS)] XI VIXIT [ANN(IS) ...] / P(UBLIUS) AELIUS V[...] I VENER[(E) ...]

This inscription from his tombstone provides important evidence about the process of construction of individual identities in the period of the early principate, for it reveals the parallel existence of Roman and indigenous identity in a funerary context, commemorating C. Ravonius Celer, who is also at the same time Bato, a son of Scenobarbus of the Dalmatian 'nation'. This inscription records the two identities of C. Ravonius Celer/Bato, which were incorporated into his personality as an essential part of who he was, revealing both his private and public self.

Three more sailors of the Misene fleet from Dalmatia expressed their identity in the same manner in approximately the same period. Thus we have the inscriptions commemorating:

L. Iallus Valens qui et Licca Bardi f. from Misenum (CIL 10.3468 = 2715)

D(IS) M(ANIBUS) / L(UCI) IALLI VALENTIS QUI / ET LICCAE BARDI F(ILIUS) / OPTIONIS EX (TRIREME) VENER(E) / VIXIT ANN(IS) XXXV MILIT(AVIT) / ANNIS XIII

M. Baebius Celer qui et Bato Dazantis f. from Rome (or the bay of Naples)1 M(ARCO) BAEBIO CE / LERI QUI ET BATO / DAZANTIS F(ILIUS) DELMA(TA) / MIL(ES) EX CL(ASSE) PR(AETORIA) MIS(ENATIUM) (CENTURIA) VI / BI MAXIMI VIXIT ANN(IS) / XL MILIT(AVIT) ANN(IS) XVIIII / FULVIA BASILIA CONIU / GI B(ENE) M(ERENTI) F(ECIT) ET LIBERTIS / LIBERTABUS POSTERI / QUE EORUM OMNIB(US)

L. Virridius Celer qui et Temans ... f. from Puteoli (CIL 10.3666 = 466).

D(IS) M(ANIBUS) / L(UCIO) VIRRIDIO CELERI / QUI ET TEMANS [...] / [...] FILIO DELMAT(AE) / VIX(IT) ANN(IS) XXXXIX / MILIT(AVIT) ANN(IS) XXIII / T(ITUS) COSCONIUS FIRMUS / (TRIREME) SOLIS HERES BE / NE MERENTI FECIT

These inscriptions from Puteoli, Misenum and Naples came from an area which had a high concentration of sailor tombstones, for obvious reasons: the fleet was based there, and Rome was the place where the Misene fleet had its permanent barracks, the castra Misenatium.2 These are all simple tombstones with no decorations or images, erected either by the widow (for Baebius Celer), friends or fellow-countrymen (for Ravonius Celer and Virridius Celer), or by an unstated person (for Iallus Valens). Social status, or in this case military rank, is also prominent in the inscriptions and is almost always stated: optio (Iallus Valens), manipularius (Ravonius Celer) and miles (Baebius Celer). It is missing only in the epitaph of Virridius Celer. All sailors state their origins as natione Delmata , except Iallus Valens, whose indigenous name Liccaius strongly identifies him with either northern Dalmatia or southern Pannonia.3

Saddington has recently argued for the full integration of peregrine sailors into Roman society:

They used Latin and were adept in the application of Roman legal procedures in their financial dealings. They tended to cling to their peregrine names, sometimes quoting them after their new Latin names (using the "qui et" formula). But their tombstones were Roman . . . The veteran classiarius was fully integrated into Roman society.4

The evidence of these tombstone inscriptions, however, is not consistent with the notion of the full integration of these sailors into Roman society. It is true that the sailors used a number of different strategies generally to fit into Roman society, such as the quintessentially Roman method of funerary practice and commemoration, Latin language and names, and the sense of belonging to the Roman navy and Roman world. However, as I will argue, these social strategies of fitting in, in fact, show the way in which they were balanced between two worlds, Roman and indigenous, incorporating them both into the construction of their personal identities.

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