The Mystery of the Legion: Roman Soldiers Left Traces of Their Presence in Georgia

Polish archaeologists working at the excavations of the Roman fort of Apsar in Georgia have discovered unusual traces of the combat route of the famous legion. It turned out that the soldiers of the X Protecting Strait Legion (Legio X Fretensis Antoniniana Pia Fidelis) were literally scattering coins of Jewish origin on a distant barbarian fringe. This discovery allowed scholars to study in more detail the history of this legion and its fighting ways.

It is known that Apsar was an important military site for the Romans; it was on the border of the Roman province of Cappadocia and guarded the main road from there to Colchis (Western Georgia, Abkhazia, Adjara). In the II century AD five cohorts, i.e. about five thousand people, were quartered in Apsar. However, the sources do not mention which legions stood in Colchis.

Polish-Georgian archaeological team has been excavating Apsar and the area around the fort for several years. Last year, scientists reported the discovery of a winery located near the fortress wall. The fort itself had a hippodrome and theater. This suggests that Apsar was quite a large town, part of its population was military and the rest was those who served the needs of the legionaries.

Archaeologist and numismatist Peter Yavorsky has studied hundreds of bronze coins found during the excavations of Apsar. Most of the coins came to the border of Cappadocia from Antioch (there was a large mint there) and Judea. Among the latter was a unique specimen – not of Roman coinage, but issued by the Jewish mint in the fourth year of the First Jewish War.

On a considerable part of coins there are additional (not provided for minting) stamps. They were used to “extend the life” of the coins when the original postmarks became almost invisible after several decades of active circulation. Most of the additional postmarks belonged to the X Guardian of the Straits legion.

The fact is that the X Legion’s combat record is fairly well known to us from written sources. It was formed by Octavian in 41-40 BC to guard the Strait of Messina from the army of Sextus Pompey, an ally of Mark Antony. This is how it got its name, according to historians. However, the sources do not mention that the X Legion was involved in combat operations on the territory of Judea.

The findings of archaeologists and numismatists suggest that the X Legion was involved in Judea and dealt with Judean coins. Perhaps it was money received as payment for services rendered to the legionaries in Apsarah. That is how these coins ended up on the border of Cappadocia.

This discovery was an important step in the study of the history of the Roman legions and their fighting ways. It gives scholars a more detailed picture of how the legions moved through the Roman Empire and what contacts they made with the local population.

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