American student decodes 1,800-year-old letter sent by Egyptian soldier to his family

 

A student has decoded a 1,800-year-old letter sent by an Egyptian soldier to his family which bears striking similarities to those serving on the front line today.

Graduate Grant Adamson, of Rice University in the United States, cracked the words on the document after being assigned the task in 2011 during a summer institute at Brigham Young University in Utah.

The letter, which was written mostly in Greek, was sent by Aurelius Polion, a military recruit serving in a Roman legion in Europe.

According to Adamson, the soldier addresses his brother, sister and family who have not been writing to him for some time.

“I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you (are),” the letter says, according.

“I sent six letters to you. The moment you have me in mind, I shall obtain leave from the consular [commander], and I shall come to you so that you may know that I am your brother. For I demanded nothing from you for the army, but I fault you because although I write to you, none of you (?) … has consideration. Look, your (?) neighbor … I am your brother.”

Adamson, who majors in religious studies, believes that Polion was stationed in the province of Pannonia Inferior at Aquincum, now Budapest, but may have travelled as far as Byzantium, now modern day Istanbul, as he was part of a legion known to be mobile.

The letter was originally discovered in 1899 by an expedition team of Grenfell and Hunt in the ancient Egyptian city of Tebtunis.

It had been catalogued briefly but no-one had been able to break its writings.

And even now, some of the letter’s contents remain uncertain and impossible to reconstruct.

In a statement, Grant Adamson said: "This letter was just one of many documents that Grenfell and Hunt unearthed. And because it was in such bad shape, no one had worked much on it for about 100 years."

"Polion was literate, and literacy was rarer then that it is now, but his handwriting, spelling and Greek grammar are erratic. He likely would have been multilingual, communicating in Egyptian or Greek at home in Egypt before he enlisted in the army and then communicating in Latin with the army in Pannonia."

To work out the date of the letter, Adamson relied on handwriting styles and other hints such as the soldier's name Aurelius.

Because of the letter’s close relation to familial concern, Adamson’s publication has featured in the latest bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...