Beneficiarii in Roman Britain
The Roman legion
was not just a fighting machine, but contained within its ranks
a variety of staff, specialist and secretarial posts. A few of these
had their origins in the Republican legionary structure, but the
majority were introduced during the Empire as the legion became
a more complex organisation to cope with the demands placed upon
it. In addition the auxiliary units of the imperial army had scaled
down versions of this structure.
One such staff
post was that of beneficiarius whose duties do not have an exact
modem equivalent and hence the title defies adequate translation.
In the late Republican era a beneficiarius was a soldier attached
to a particular commander who, through his beneficium, was granted
special privileges such as freedom from fatigues (Caesar, Civil
War, 1.75.2; III.88.5). In the principate the term came to be used
for a specific grade of officer within the military staff (officium)
attached to each equestrian officer of an auxiliary unit; each camp
prefect; each legionary tribune and legionary legate; each provincial
procurator and other equestrian officials within a province and
each provincial governor.
of equestrian and senatorial officers have left some records in
Britain. The earliest in date, a tombstone from Wroxeter, has given
rise to debate over the exact appointment of the deceased, C.Mannius
Secundus of legio XX. He died after 31 years service as ‘ben(eficiarius)
leg. pr.’ (RIB 293). It has generally been assumed that he
was a beneficiarius of the governor and so died in the pre-Flavian
period. But it has recently been argued that he was a beneficiarius
of the legionary legate and that he would have died when his legion
was at Wroxeter c.A.D. 67-86 (Britannia 23 (1992) 141-5).
Two other beneficiarii
of legates of the Twentieth are known. One, Titinius Felix, died
at Chester after 22 years service (RIB 505). The other, Mommius
Cattianus, died at Rome on secondment having risen from ordinary
soldier to optio in the first cohort after having been beneficiarius
legati and cornicularius legati (Annee Epigraphique 1951, 194).
This progression gives a clear idea of the hierarchy of posts as
well as showing that this post was not a dead-end for capable men.
The only other beneficiarius legati known in Britain is attested
at Caerleon (Brit. 19 (1988) 490 n4).
the legionary hierarchy there are a few beneficiarii tribuni known
from Britain, with Chester being the chief source of information.
Two tombstones of men in that post have been found there. G. Julius
Marullinus died aged 45 (RIB 532), the other died with 23 years
service (RIB 545). G. Pomponius Valens was a beneficiarius tribuni
of an unknown legion who was buried in London. He is notable for
having been born not far from London at Victricensis (Colchester)
(JRS 52 (1952) 190 nl).
auxiliary units, there is only one beneficiarius known from a named
unit. Hurmius, a German, died at Housesteads on Hadrian’s
Wall as beneficiarius praefecti in Cohors I Tungrorum (RIB 1619).
The only two other auxiliary beneficiarii known may also have served
in that cohort when it was based at Vindolanda. An account on a
writing tablet reveals that on 26 September of an unknown year Lu(
...) beneficiarius received 6 modii of wheat (Tab.Vindol. 1,180.17-19).
On the back of this account is a draft petition probably addressed
to the provincial governor where the civilian applicant explains
that he could not complain to the auxiliary prefect because he was
ill and “I sought the beneficiarius” also in vain”
(questus sum beneficiario ... )
The most important
beneficiarii were those attached to the officium (headquarters staff)
of the provincial governor. If there was no legionary garrison in
the province then the troops would be auxiliaries and were known
as beneficiarii procuratoris as in the provinces of Noricum and
with legions the men were legionaries and were called beneficiarii
consularis whether the governor was a consular in charge of two
or more legions or a praetorian in charge of one.
As with most
institutions of the Roman Empire the officium developed from small
beginnings into a complex organisation. In the early empire the
numbers and roles of these men were not fixed because the means
by which the empire was run were still being developed. At this
early date there are just a few known beneficiarii of governors
and they normally name the man they served. It is possible that
a beneficiarius of Julius Agricola, the father-in-law of the historian
Tacitus and governor of Britain between AD77 and AD84, is mentioned
on a writing tablet found at Carlisle. The document is fragmentary
but is of the correct date and records a beneficiarius who is a
legionary (Britannia 23 (1992) 152 and note 57).
An idea how
gubernatorial beneficiarii were utilised in the early empire can
be found in the correspondence of Pliny with the Emperor Trajan
while the former was govemor of Bithynia, c.ADI 11-113. In one instance
he refers to 10 beneficiarii whom he had assigned to Virdius Gemellinus,
the procurator (Pliny Ep.X,27). In another he says he assigned 10
beneficiarii to Gavius Bassus, prefect of the Pontic Shore, from
the cohorts within his command (Pliny Ep.X,21). In both instances
it is clear the men were assigned to the official in question while
they were required, rather than as part of a career pattern as emerged
at a later date.
By the middle
of the second century each officium comprised a large number of
trained and experienced soldiers fulfilling a wide range of duties.
Based on third century evidence from Numidia and Pannonia it is
possible to gain an idea of how many men a legion would second to
the headquarters staff. From this evidence it is possible to estimate
the size of the staff of Ulpius Marcellus who was governor of three
legions in Britain in the reign of Commodus.
3 cornicularii - executives who ran the staff, each of whom had
3 commentarienses - judicial recorders, each of whom had assistants
30 speculatores - messengers andexecutioners
180 beneficiarii - chosen men
?60 frumentarii - couriers and secret police
30 quaestionarii - torturers
interpretes - interpreters
haruspices - seers
librarii - archivists
notarii - secretaries
exacti - recorders
exceptores - short-hand writers
of beneficiarii consularis in a province like Britain reveals why
it is difficult to pinpoint their role. With so many men a wide
range of tasks could be carried out.
One major part
of their work was apparently introduced by Trajan and is evidenced
by inscriptions, mainly altars, set up in various parts of the empire.
These represent the remains of the static network, a series of posts
established at key places along the road network to oversee the
imperial post (cursus publicus). One such static was at Sirmium
in Pannonia Inferior where 84 altars were discovered in 1988. Analysis
of these has shown that usually one beneficiarius was in post at
a time and that he was there for one to two years. These findings
are also supported by significant epigraphic finds at the stationes
at Osterburken in Upper Germany and Celeia in Noricum; though at
the former 6 months seems to have been the more normal tour of duty.
Finds of inscriptions
from Britain reveal part of a statio network along the road from
the legionary base at York to Corbridge. Altars set up by beneficiarii
consularis have been found at Catterick Bridge (Rib 725); Binchester
(RIB 1030 and Lanchester (RIB 1085). At Catterick Bridge, Q. Varius
Vitalis rededicated an altar in AD 191 to the god who invented roads
and paths which emphasises the connection with road supervision.
major roads naturally connect to stationes where that route reached
the frontier of the empire. Beneficiarii attested along frontiers
would therefore not just supervise traffic but would also liaise
with frontier troops and their commanders on behalf of the governor.
They could also produce intelligence reports for the governor which
would be separate from any the latter received from commanders of
auxiliary units on the frontier. Thus beneficiarii consularis are
attested at Housesteads (RIB 1599) and Risingham (RIB 1225). The
latter, Gavius Secundinus, says of himself “Habitanci prima
statione” (on his first tour of duty at Habitancum). This
implies it was possible to be sent on further tours at the same
place which is proven by examples from elsewhere of iterata statione
(second tour of duty) and even tertia statione (third tour).
Also on the
northern frontier, at Vindolanda, was stationed Aurelius Modestus
who was a beneficiaries consularis provinciae superioris (RIB 1696).
This shows that after the division of Britain by Septimius Severus,
the governor of Upper Britain could still gather his own intelligence
from Hadrian’s Wall in the lower province. This is not an
isolated instance as there is a second man from Upper Britain attested
at Greta Bridge (RIB 745). One other beneficiaries consularis is
known from the military zone in Britain and he is attested at Lancaster
It is not just
in the military zone that these men are recorded, because there
were other duties that they could carry out for the provincial governor.
In Egypt it is known that there was one beneficiarius in each nome
who was expected to supervise the collection of materials such as
the corn supply. He would also receive complaints from the local
inhabitants to pass on to the Prefect of Egypt. Other roles were
to help supervise the imperial estates and imperial mines. This
would explain the presence of a beneficiaries consularis at Winchester
(RIB 88) and at Dorchester-on-Thames (RIB 235). They could also
serve as clerks. This is known from tombstone evidence elsewhere
in the Empire but it would not be a surprise for beneficiarii consularis
to be recorded at London or in the third century at York, the capital
of Britannia Inferior. Thus while there seem to be a large number
of beneficiarii consularis it is obvious from the available evidence
that they were spread very thinly and would not have been able to
keep down unrest. The picture which is built up from the evidence
is that the post of beneficiarius consularis was not a specialist
one. Rather that any or all of a wide range of duties might have
to be fulfilled while on secondment. While men who served in this
capacity were experienced, it was possible to be promoted to further
posts where the experience gained would prove useful.
they carried out away from the provincial capital they did so as
the representative of the governor. This explains the number of
miniature “beneficiarius lance” badges found on military
sites in Northern Europe. These would have been attached to leather
belts or strap ends and showed that the person was an official of
the governor and operating on his behalf independently of any other