Two Ancient Roman Plates

The 1998 festschrift in honor of John L. Sorenson contains a lengthy chapter about the ancient practice of doubling, sealing, and witness­ing important documents. That article illustrated this legal practice in several ways, including photographs of a pair of Roman bronze plates from Mainz, Germany, dating to AD 103. In September 2006, Brigham Young University will receive a similar pair of plates from the Roman province of Dacia, to be displayed near the entrance to the Harold B. Lee Library. Bronze plates such as these, known as military diplomas, were used for granting Roman citizenship and military honors to soldiers retiring after twenty-six years of service. The following article describes this particular pair of plates and explains why Latter-day Saints should be interested in this acquisition of one of the finest examples of ancient writing on metal plates, which happen to be physically similar in certain ways to the plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. This article goes hand in hand with the exhibition of these Roman plates at BYU, supplying background information, research results, bibliographic references, and reflections on their significance.

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