A scrap of 1,900-year-old papyrus has revealed the salary of Gaius Messius, a Roman soldier in what is now Israel…and the bleak deductions that were made from it for essential kit and food. The papyrus was discovered in the camps near Masada, an ancient fortification situated on top of an isolated rock plateau in the southern district of Israel.
The translation was carried out by the Database of Military Inscriptions and Papyri of Early Roman Palestine, and reads:
The fourth consulate of Imperator Vespasianus Augustus. Accounts, salary. Gaius Messius, son of Gaius, of the tribe Fabia, from Beirut. – I received my stipend of 50 denarii, out of which I have paid barley money 16 denarii; …food expenses 20 denarii; boots 5 denarii; leather strappings 2 denarii; linen tunic 7 denarii.
The message is driven home in a comment left by the translator which states: “Gaius Messius’ pay receipt, found in the camps outside of Masada. Gaius Messius was an auxiliary soldier, though his unit is unknown. It is interesting to observe how much of his pay went to mandatory expenses: clothing, food, etc. He seems effectively penniless after payday.”
It seems that unfair wages go back even further than we’d like to imagine.
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