Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Roman Soldiers and Camels at Nessana Continued

Been delving a bit deeper into the world of Roman soldiers and camels today.  Might be a little while yet before I actually get to the soldiers and their varied relationships.

As noted in the last related post, there are two papyri from Nessana that deal with camel requsitions.  Haven't looked at them, or the discussion about them, in detail just yet, but Kraemer was of the opinion that P.Ness. 35 had to do with camels used, at least in part, with combat, while P.Ness. 37 had to do with camels for transport.  Interestingly, the former includes both related terms, κά(μηλος) and δρο(μεδάριος), the latter just κ(άμηλος).  To the unitiated, namely me, the appearance of both kamelos and dromedarios was a bit surprising, since to me a camel was a camel was a camel, though some obviously have one humps and others two (Arabians mostly one).  This even though I had a trip to the local zoo a few months ago and they had both of the one- and two-humped variety.  Obviously, I had to get to the bottom of this, and dromedary seems to be the term used most often to refer to the one-humped variety, camel to the two-humped variety.  With that said, and just to complicate things even more, the Latin names of the two species are a little less than helpful:  the one-humped variety is the camelus dromedarus (!!), while the two-humped variety is the camelus bactrianus.  Ok, fair enough. 

The presence of the two terms in these Nessana papyri would seem to suggest that in these official circles (if we can call it that), there was an awareness or at least knowledge of the two varities.  On the other hand, what few known units of camel-riders we have are all (an earlier one called the ala I Ulpia dromedarium Palmyrenorum and a few units listed in the Notitia Dignitatum in Egypt and Palestine) called dromedarium (or some cognate).  One other sixth century source, my dear friend Procopius, does get into the military's use of camels: in his Secret History in the midst of one of his many diatribes he complains about Justinian's abolition of the camels set aside by the state for the transport of people and goods (SH 30.15-16).  The term he uses, however, is κάμηλος.  Although Procopius isn't, perhaps, the best item of comparison, and given my research, thus far, has been rather preliminary, is it possible that there wasn't a widespread awareness of the two different varieties, at least among the general populace?  Would not those with experience in the (Near East that is) most likely have been familiar with the one-humped variety.  I'm wondering two if the distinction should be between κάμηλος as simply camel, and δρομεδάριος as the camel-rider, though P.Ness. 35 doesn't really suggest this. 

All of this early work has to do with my attempts at determining, or at least revisiting, the nature of the soldiers based at Nessana, for I'm still not convinced that they should be considered a unit of dromedarii, simply because the evidence isn't good enough.  Indeed, following this thread I ended up taking a glance at the finds from Dura Europos, for most see the cohors XX Palmyrenorum as comprised partly of camel-riders (dromedarii).  This clincher for this argument (and not everyone refers to this, quite disappointingly) is one of the Dura papyri, particularly P. Dur. 82, which reads, early on, "...ṣ[esq(uiplicarius)] ị drom(adarii) xxxiiii in his sesq(uiplicarius)..." (find it in Campbell 1994, 180, Fink's RMR 47).  The papyrus is in Latin, and it's fragmentary, but it seems to refer to a umber of dromedarii under the command of someone at Dura - at least 34 of them, perhaps.  This has, in part, led to some speculation that this particular unit was equitate (cohortes equitatae).  Cohorts tended to be infantry, while alae tended to be cavalry.  Equitate cohorts were those composed primarily of infantry, with a few cavalry tacked on.  Indeed, in that same papyrus, what has been called a morning report (essentially a summary of what the troops at a locale were up to), we find several references to equites.  I wonder though if these dromedarii were necessarily attached to the unit, even if they were likely based at the site. 

Anyway, the point is I'm not entirely convinced that there were camel riders specifically attached to the Palmyrene cohort at Dura.  In turn, I'm still not convinced that the unit at Nessana was a camel-unit, per se, whatever that would have entailed.  Neither relevant papyri are very long, and I don't think we know if the names listed represent a suitable sample of the garrison at the base.  They might just include those soldiers who made use of camels to undertake the unit's various duties.  This could be simply the travelling from point A to point B, and they might not have made up a significant part of the total animals present.  Indeed, although I haven't gotten very far in my reading on camels at el-Lejjun, what I have found for that other desert near-eastern-locale is that there were all sorts of animals present, and this on the basis of the animal bones found on site.  Some were camels, but there were a whole lot of other animals.  There were sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, chickens, and so forth.  The majority were domestic, and used for a variety of things (working animals, and for consumption, for instance).  There might have been all sorts of other animals at Nessana, which for whatever reason haven't surfaced in our surviving evidence (in this instance consisting of papyri).  They might have made extensive use of horses for combat.  It could just be that the receipts or what have you detailing their requisition haven't survived.  It seems highly likely that all sorts of other animals were there too used by the military in some of the same ways that we find at el-Lejjun. 

Maybe the soldiers were somehow involved in the raising and selling of camels to units or government officials in Egypt - which is where some of the camels listed in P. Ness. 37 seem to be off to?  As noted, there were units of dromedarii in Egypt found in the Notitia Dignitatum, and maybe Nessana was a region known for its raising of camels.  It's also not 100% certain that P. Ness. 35 and 37 were official documents.  They certainly seem to have involved soldiers, but the soldiers might have been operating in an unofficial capacity.  There might not have been a whole lot going on at Nessana, and so they passed their time in other ways (dealing in property, raising families, selling camels). 

In the end, and so far (in this research), I'm leaning towards this unit not being particularly comprised of camel-riders, though that doesn't mean that camels weren't a significant part or at least involved in the unit's activities, particularly when it came to transport, and maybe even scouting.  Although only indirectly relevant, I also have my doubts about the cohort at Dura - not a camel unit (though they likely used).  Not quite sure if the distinction was made between camel types in the ancient world.  That will require some more reading.  Anyways, as always, more to come...

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