Discovered in 1899 in the ancient temple complex of Tebtunis, the Aurelius Polion papyrus was one of a large number of documents, many quite fragmentary, found by the Egyptologist Bernard Pyne Grenfell and the papyrist Arthur Surridge Hunt during one of their many expeditions. A treasure trove of early texts, some of extreme importance, it is documents like this letter that put a human face on the discovery.
Aurelius Polion was an Egyptian soldier who served with the Roman Legion legio II Adiutrix in Pannonia Inferor (modern Hungary), amongst other places. His letter is one that will resonate with modern day soldiers stationed thousands of miles from home and worrying about family. Portions of the letter are incomplete, but translators have done an excellent job in rebuilding the contents after more than a century in storage. It reads;
“Aurelius Polion, soldier of legio II Adiutrix, to Heron his brother and Ploutou his sister and his mother Seinouphis the bread seller and lady(?), very many greetings.
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 … while away in Pannonia I sent (letters) to you, but you treat me so as a stranger … I departed … and you are glad that(?) … the army. I did not … you a … for the army, but I … departed from you.
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. You also, write back to me … write to me. Whoever of you …, send his … to me.
Greet my(?) father(?) Aphrodisios and Atesios my(?) uncle(?) … his daughter … and her husband and Orsinouphis and the sons of the sister of his mother, Xenophon and Ouenophis also known as Protas(?) … the Aurelii …
(left margin) … the letter … (back) … to the sons and Seinouphis the bread seller … from(?) Aurelius(?) Polion, soldier of legio II Adiutrix … from(?) Pannonia Inferior(?) … Deliver to Acutius(?) Leon(?), veteran of legio …, from Aurelius Polion, soldier of legio II Adiutrix, so that he may send it home …”
Written in erratic Greek, likely not his first language, the letter has been tentatively dated to a little after 214, when the Roman province of Pannonia Inferior came under consular governance. It now resides in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkley.
The coin is a half-ounce fine silver rectangle with what initially looks like a colour application on it – one reproducing the original papyrus. It is in fact a laser etched wooden inlay. This will give a level of texture that colour couldn’t hope to achieve and is one of the few examples of wood on a modern commemorative coin – others being Art Mints Stradivarius issue and the Mint of Polands Trojan Horse. The rest of the coin is antique-finished and the whole thing looks to have huge appeal to the many people fascinated by this period in history.
Issued for Niue with the suitably standard effigy-laden obverse, this is an interesting subject for a coin and it looks well implemented to suit. Just 500 will be struck. No mention on packaging, but we’d think one of the latex floating frames would be an ideal way to display the coin as part of a larger collection of antiquities. An appealing coin for the straight up coin collector as well, given how numismatics has always been so tightly interwoven with history at its most basic level.