The Italian Almanac

first ever image of an ancient solder in Roman navy

Italian News - September 21

The first-ever image of a soldier in the Ancient Roman navy has surfaced at a major imperial naval base at Ravenna. The armour-clad, weapon-bearing soldier was carved on a funeral stone, or stele, in a waterlogged necropolis at Classe (ancient Classis), the now silted-up Ravenna port area where Rome's Adriatic fleet was stationed. Previous finds at the site have only shown people in civilian garb.

An inscription on the soldier's funeral slab says he was an officer on a small, fast oar-powered ship ('liburna') used to catch pirates. Although the stele is small - about one metre (yard) long - the detail of the carving is intricate. The soldier has the bowl haircut and delicate, child-like features typical of carvings from the 1st-century AD Julio-Claudian era.

He wears anatomically shaped body armour with shoulder strips and a leather-fringed military skirt, above the light but tough military sandals called 'caligae' (from which the notorious emperor Caligula got his name). He is carrying a heavy javelin ('pilum') and has a short stabbing sword called 'gladius' on his decorated belt. Over his armour there is a band which experts think could be a military decoration.

Part of the inscription is missing. The soldier's name is thought to be Monus Capito. His ship was called 'Aurata' or 'Golden' and the man who put up the stele, probably a fellow soldier, was named Cocneus.