I thought making a replica of legionary outerwear and armor would be a fun project. I just had no idea how fun.
The standard tunic was the easiest part, and probably the most accurate portion of my replica. A real Roman tunic would be made of wool, but in this case, muslin was much more easily available and cost-effective, not to mention an appropriate color to represent un-dyed wool. The neck was made by cutting a slit, and ‘sleeves’ were simply gaps in the stitching. “Many tunics were made with much longer neckslits” in a real legionary’s tunic, “so that for heavy work the right arm could be slipped out.” (Amt) However, I couldn’t foresee any ‘heavy work’ being done during the presentation, and I wanted the tunic to stay on securely, so the neck of my tunic was more fitted.
I was able to make the armor fairly accurate as well, and it was by far the most enjoyable part of the project. Strips of poster-board lined on both sides with duct-tape simulated 1st century “lorica segmentata:” plate armor clearly depicted on Trajan’s column. Ancient armor would have been steel bands “fastened to internal leather straps” which “surrounded the torso in two halves, being fastened at the front and back by means of brass hooks, which were joined by leather laces.” (Wikipedia contributors) But for ease of transportation and presentation, I chose to make my armor in one piece, rather than have to construct and deconstruct it and waste class time.
I was concerned that the armor might not fit perfectly, but I realized that not many soldiers could have afforded custom-made armor. “Some pieces of armor” that have been found and salvaged bore inscriptions of “The names of two, three, or even four men, generally successive owners.” A new recruit may have bought armor from a veteran, inherited it from his father or grandfather, or had it issued to him by the “custos armorum,” (MacMullen) so it makes sense that it wouldn’t be a perfect fit.
The sandals and helmet were the least accurate parts of my presentation, and the only parts I bought rather than constructing myself. Images from Trajan’s column don’t shed much light on Roman military footwear, only showing the occasional ankle strap or visible sole of a shoe. Fashion wasn’t really the column’s focus, and it didn’t help that many Romans seemed to go barefoot at times. Sources varied on whether legionaries wore sandals, or more boot-like leather shoes. All agreed that often “hobnails were hammered into the sole for added strength. Similar to the modern cleat.” (Wikipedia contributors)
Soldiers from the time of the Dacian wars depicted on Trajan’s column generally wore ‘Montefortino’ helmets, “named after the region of Montefortino in Italy,” where one such helmet was uncovered. Rather than the plumed crest of the costume piece I purchased, the average soldier’s helmet would have had “a raised central knob, and a protruding neck guard” Instead of the thin half-guard of the costume helmet. A Montefortino helmet also had “cheek plates to protect the sides of the head,” Not the stylized face-guard of the helmet I presented. (Wikipedia contributors)
All in all, each piece gave me a good jumping-off point to describe a Roman soldier’s typical outerwear, regardless of its relative authenticity. And while duct-tape armor may not hold up against a sword – or even a particularly heavy rain – I learned quite a bit, and had a lot of fun making it.
Amt, Matthew R. “Tunic.” LEGIO XX ONLINE HANDBOOK. larp.com, 18 mar 2011. Web. 12 Apr 2012. <http://www.larp.com/legioxx/tunic.html>.
MacMullen, Ramsay. “Inscriptions on Armor and the Supply of Arms in the Roman Empire.” American Journal of Archaeology. 64.1 (1960): 23-40. Web. 17 Apr. 2012.
Wikipedia contributors. “Montefortino Helmet.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 01 Feb 2012. Web. 12 Apr 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montefortino_helmet>.
Wikipedia contributors. “Roman military personal equipment.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 08 Apr 2012 . Web. 12 Apr 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_military_personal_equipment
((Primary source is image from Trajan’s column))