Author Archives: geiravor

About geiravor

Geiravör was a Valkyrie in Norse mythology. Valkyries were the choosers of the slain in battle. They lead the most heroic to Odin's great hall in the afterlife, Valhalla. "Geir" means spear, and "Vör" was the Norse goddess of wisdom. Valkyries wielded spears in respect to Odin and his spear Gungnir. The spear was also a common weapon choice for the Greeks, Romans and other medieval peoples in Europe.

The Legionary Marching Pack

In 107 BC, General Gaius Marius instituted a group of military reforms, such as the formation of a standing army, the standardization of legionary training and equipment, and the reorganization of the legions. This final reform included reducing the baggage train by having each legionary carry their own supplies and a few days worth of rations (Wikipedia contributors, “Marian reforms”). Matyszak put the average weight of a marching pack at a bit less than 60 pounds (66).

Roman soldiers with marching packs. From the cast of Trajan's column in the Victoria and Albert museum, London. Picture by "Gaius Cornelius". Via

Instead of being directly carried like the modern backpack, the marching pack was strapped to a cross-shaped pole called a furca (Matyszak, 67). I created my furca out of wooden dowels based on measurements from the Legio XX Online Handbook: a 4 foot tall wooden pole with a 20 inch crossbar secured about 3 inches from the top of the pole (“Marching Pack”). It is unclear from the images on Trajan’s Column how the bars were secured, so the reenactment Handbook suggested bolting or nailing the crossbar to the pole, and wrapping the joint with a leather or rawhide thong. I was afraid of splitting the wood and did not have access to good quality leather or rawhide, so I secured the crossbar by wrapping it with a nylon rope that was strong enough to hold the joint.

When not being worn, the legionary’s cloak could be rolled and tied to the furca, or held in a bag attached to the crossbar. One type of cloak was the sagum, a rectangular blanket-sized cloth that would have doubled as the legionary’s bedroll (“Cloak”). Saga were used from the time of the Roman Republic to the Dominate (Bishop & Coulston, 68, 111, 184, 224). The cloaks would have been made of wool soaked in lanolin oils to keep it waterproofed (Matyszak, 67), and it would have likely been yellow brown in color because the undyed wool may have kept more of the natural oils from the wool (Sumner, “Did an Ordinary…”). I used dark red cotton corduroy to make the sagum because I found a large stretch for cheap, and because it was a heavy fabric that could approximate the weight of wool. Sagums would be pinned at the shoulder or throat with a fibula, a brooch or pin that was usually bronze, but occassionaly iron, silver, or gold (“Cloak”). For my fibula, I used a large safety pin, the design of which wasn’t far from some Roman fibulae. The dimensions I used were approximately 2.70 m (8 ft 10 in) long by 1.40 m (4 ft 7 in) wide, the measurements of an existing cloak from Israel (Sumner, “Sagum”).

The sagum was very long; the extra length could be flipped to the back to get out of the way or thrown over the head to protect against the elements.

On Trajan’s Column, a satchel is depicted with diagonal reinforcements. I used leftover corduroy from the sagum to create a non-reinforced satchel following the dimensions given by the Legio XX Handbook, about 18 inches wide by 12 inches tall (“Marching Pack”). The satchel would usually be leather, and might carry a variety of items.

The legionary’s mess kit would have consisted of his patera, a bowl about 7 inches in diameter that could be used as a bowl, cup, and cooking pot (Matyszak, 67). I used a small saucepan and covered the plastic handle with duct tape to imitate metal, though they would have been made of bronze, not silvery metals (Matyszak, 67). The Legio XX Online Handbook additionally mentioned a bronze cookpot or situla, which I represented by a duct-tape covered cookie tin (“Mess Gear”). I included a wooden stirring spoon as a stand-in for an eating spoon, which would be iron, bronze, wood, bone, or horn (“Mess Gear”).

Each soldier was supposed to carry three days worth of rations (6-8 lbs of food) and water (“Marching Pack”). Rations that would be carried on a march would include preserved food, such as bucellatum (a type of hardtack), bacon, salted meat, flour, dried lentils, etc. I sewed a small pouch for rations out of a light cotton fabric and created a drawstring using the suede lace that was too weak to hold anything else in my recreation. In this I stuffed some beef jerky and homemade bucellatum, using a recipe I found on the Legio XX reenactment site (“Mess Gear”). The way which the legionaries would carry water is much more controversial. Some iron or ceramic flasks have been found, but it is unclear if they were used as canteens (“Mess Gear”). Reenactors have tried many other solutions, from leather waterskins to animal bladders (which don’t work well because they become brittle when they dry out) (“Waterskins”). I used a modern bota bag to represent a leather waterskin.

Bucellatum and dried meat - yummy!

I included mostly the basics of what a legionary would carry. They would also carry personal items such as shaving gear, a small knife, extra clothes, and so on. Vindolanda Tablet 346 is a letter (perhaps accompanying a package) telling the recipient that he was sent two pairs of socks, four pairs of sandals, and two pairs of underpants (Tab. Vindol. II 346). Though Vindolanda was a garrison, if the legionary were to go anywhere, he would have to take those extra items in his pack. The soldiers might also carry souvenirs if they traveled, or booty distributed by the commander after a battle or capturing a city (Sage, 209).

"Nice hobo pack," my friend told me. I'd advise anyone who'd like to keep their life to refrain from saying that to a real legionary.

Works Cited

Bishop, M.C. and Coulston, J.C.N. Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd ed. Oxford: Osbow Books, 2006. Print.

“Cloak.” Legio XX Online Handbook. Legio XX: The Imperial Roman Twentieth Legion. 15 Oct. 2003. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

“Marching Pack.” Legio XX Online Handbook. Legio XX: The Imperial Roman Twentieth Legion. 2 Dec. 2006. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: A Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print.

“Mess Gear.” Legio XX Online Handbook. Legio XX: The Imperial Roman Twentieth Legion. 2 Jan. 2009. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Sage, Michael M. The Republican Roman Army: A Sourcebook. Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Sumner, Graham. “Did an Ordinary Roman Soldier Wear a Cape.” 12 Aug. 2006. Web. 4 Apr. 2012.

Sumner, Graham. “Sagum.” 24 Apr. 2006. Web. 4 Apr. 2012.

Tab. Vindol. II 346. Vindolanda Tablets Online.   Script, Image and the Culture of Writing in the Ancient World, Oxford University. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.

“Waterskins.” 22 Jan. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Marian reforms.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

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The Knight’s Charger

The quintessential knight is rarely a solo character; indeed, he is generally depicted riding his great steed.

“David defeats the Philistines.” Used with permission. Via

Horses in the Middle Ages were not like the genetic breeds we have today, instead they were characterized by their physical attributes or what they were used for (“Horses in the Middle Ages”). The main types of horses used by knights in war were the destrier, courser, and rouncy. Destriers, large and strong horses, and the lighter coursers, were favored for use in battle (Prestwich, Knight, 45). Poorer knights, squires, and men-at-arms would use the rouncey, an all-purpose horse used for riding, battle, or as pack horses (“Horses in the Middle Ages”).

The horse was likely the most expensive piece of equipment in the knight’s inventory (Prestwich, “Miles”, 212). Prices of horses ranged considerably; Prestwich suggests that the value of a horse may have been determined by more than quality, the social rank and wealth of the owner may have also contributed to the value (“Miles”, 211). Generally, destriers tended to be more expensive than other horses – one estimate is seven times that of a normal horse (“Horses in the Middle Ages”).

Knights were skilled at fighting on the ground as well as on their mounts, and their tactics varied depending on time and the situation. Sidnell suggests that knights would dismount to boost the morale of the infantrymen, as well as when the terrain made riding ineffective (321). When mounted, the horses would sometimes fight each other, and destriers might have been trained to bite and kick their enemies. This may be due to the fact that stallions were most commonly used as war horses in Europe (“Horses in the Middle Ages”).

The armor worn by horses was called barding, and it consisted of many pieces. Depending on the time and cost of material, the various pieces of barding would be made of plates, chainmail, or leather worn over a layer of padding. Often, the armor would be covered with stretches of cloth called caparisons (“Barding”), pattered with the insignia of the knight to distinguish them in battle (Prestwich, Knight, 46).

In battle, horses needed to be obedient and maneuverable, so training was very important (“History of Dressage”). Tournaments were used for training the horses to get used to the noise and frenzy of battle (“Horses in the Middle Ages”).


Works Cited

“David defeats the Philistines.” Maciejowski Bible. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Medieval Tymes. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

“History of Dressage.” United States Dressage Federation. n.p, n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

Prestwich, Michael. Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010. Print

Prestwich, Michael. “Miles in Armis Strenuus: The Knight at War.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5 (1995): 201-220. Print.

Sidnell, Philip. Warhorse: Cavalry in Ancient Warfare. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Barding.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Horses in the Middle Ages.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

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Cohort VII – Final Project Discussion

Greetings fellow members of Cohort VII Scutum Decoris! Our current suggestion for a final project we can do as a group is to have a Legionary vs. Knight Battle. This would consist of the following parts:

1. An actor/fighter to dress up and fight as a Knight/Legionary. They would research the battle techniques as well as meet with the other fighter for practice.

2. A costume designer. They would research and make a replica costume for their Legionary/Knight.

3. A weapon designer. They would research and create replica weapons for their Legionary/Knight.

Also, depending on the amount of work needed for these three positions, perhaps there might be overlap. For example, the weapon designer might also create the accessories if the costume designer had too much other work.

Do you have any other suggestions? Any other ways to split up the work?  Anything important I missed?


Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris, Final Projects - Cohort VII

The Roman Signum

Roman Legions carried many different standards. One of the most recognizable is the signum, the decorated spear-like pole. As depicted on Trajan’s column, the standards of Legio I Minervia consisted of a wreathed open-hand symbol (manus) on top of the pole, a crossbar underneath with a strip of leather hanging from either end, and a series of discs below the crossbar. Archaeologists have found signa of other types, topped with spear heads instead of the manus, and with wreaths between the discs (Kraeling). These wreaths, as well as the one on the manus, are believed to be a symbol of an award or honor given to the standard’s unit (“Signum”).

Scene 48. Standards of Legio I Minervia. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Another set of standards on Trajan’s Column have a very different design. In between the discs are ambiguous rectangles that protrude from the column almost as if they are supposed to be representations of short cylinders. The discs themselves, instead of being plain-surfaced, have images on them. The top image is of an eagle, but the ones below almost look like a portrait. Legions in the Roman Empire would each have an image of the Emperor, but this would have been one standard only in the first cohort of the legion (“The Roman Standards”). No sources clarify whether these portraits (if that is what they are) are of the Emperor Trajan, or are other important figures or deities.

Scene 53. Roman military standards. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Roman signa were very important to the legionaries. They represented the honor of their unit and legion, and were used in religious festivals and other ceremonies. When pitching camp, the standards were staked into the ground before anything else (“The Roman Standards”). Most importantly, they were used in battle as rallying points and signals for different tactical maneuvers (Kraeling).


Works Cited

“Signum (Military Standard).” Legion XXIV Media Atlantia. Feb. 2010. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

“The Roman Standards.” Illustrated History of the Roman Empire. 19 July 2008. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

Kraeling, Carl H. “The Episode of the Roman Standards at Jerusalem.” The Harvard Theological Review 35.4 (1970): 263-289. Print.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman military standards on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Standards of Legio I Minervia on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

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Standard-Bearers of the Roman Legions

In the Roman Legions, standards were very important. Every century, cohort, and legion had a standard. These symbols represented their units, acted as a symbol of unity and pride, and served as a rallying point during battle (McManus). During the Roman Empire, there were many different kinds of signifers: aquilifers that bore the legion’s eagle, imaginifers that carried an image of the emperor, vexillifers who bore a banner with the legion’s name and symbol, and signifers that carried a signum, a tall pole with an open hand, the symbol of the legionaries’ oath of loyalty (Wikipedia contributors). All signifers wore animal-skin headpieces in order to be distinguished from the normal soldiers (McManus).

Scene 113. Roman standard-bearers. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Signifers had rather dangerous jobs in battle, but had relatively good jobs in day-to-day life. On the front lines in battle, a signifer could only carry a buckler (small shield) and did not have a weapon to protect himself. Polybius, when describing who is selected for the position of signifer, described them as “the bravest and most vigorous among the soldiers” (Polybius, History, Book 6). Although they would have to also be literate and good with numbers in order to act as bankers for the many members of the legion. Outside of battle, signifers were in charge of the legionaries’ pensions, meaning they had clerk-type work that would be done indoors. Matyszak suggests that putting the pension in the hands of the standard-bearer was beneficial because the legionaries would fight all the harder to protect him during battle (80).  Signifers were counted as officers, so they received twice the pay of a normal legionary (Breeze), which is not surprising, given the importance of all their duties.



Works Cited


Breeze, David J. “Pay Grades and Ranks below the Centurionate.” The Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971):130-135. Print.


Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print.


McManus, Barbara F. “The Roman Army in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” VRoma. The VRoma Project, June 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Polybius. History: Book 6. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher. Constitution Society, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman standard-bearers on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Wikipedia contributors. “Signifer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


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The Battle of Zama: Aftermath

Carthage was reduced to a fraction of its empire at the end of the Second Punic War. (Picture in public domain.)

The Battle of Zama took place at Zama, near Carthage, in October of 202 BC. Publius Cornelius Scipio led the Roman army and extra Numidian cavalry against Hannibal and his Carthaginian troops. The Romans soundly defeated the Carthaginians, which brought an end to the Second Punic War (Wikipedia contributors).

According to Polybius, Scipio set the terms for a treaty and told the Carthaginian ambassadors. The ambassadors returned to Carthage to tell their senate, and Hannibal persuaded them to accept the “lenient terms” (Polybius). The terms of the treaty included parts beneficial to both sides, though naturally favoring the Romans. Carthage was to be a client state of Rome, but would be able to retain all territory owned prior to the war, as well as all property. Carthage would still rule itself, and no Roman garrison would be set in the city. In return, Carthage needed to return all prisoners of war and deserters to Rome, pay a tribute of 10,000 talents (200 a year for 50 years), and provide corn and pay the Roman army while they waited until Rome replied to the treaty. Also, Carthage had to give up 100 hostages (males between the age of 14 and 30), and give up their war elephants and all warships except 10 triremes. If crippling any potential land or sea force wasn’t enough, Rome forbade Carthage from making war on any nation outside of Africa, and required permission to war within Africa. F.E. Adcock suggested the Romans crippled the Carthaginian navy because they had a policy of making their states keep weak ones, so Rome wouldn’t have to build up a strong navy (118).

Masinissa, of the Numidians that had helped the Romans, was crowned as the King of greater Numidia. Scipio was given the name “Africanus”, and was proclaimed a war hero (“Results of the Second Punic War”).


Works Cited

“Results of the Second Punic War.” United Nations of Roma Victrix., 2003-2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Adcock, F.E. “‘Delenda Est Carthago.’” Cambridge Historical Journal 8.3 (1946): 117-128. Print. 6 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Histories: IV. Trans. W.R. Paton. Ed. Jeffrey Henderson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. Print.

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Logistics of Alexander the Great: Fleet as Troop-Transport

The coastline of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf from the Indus River (far right) to Susa (top left). The markers indicate known or possible areas noted by Nearchus. Image copied from “Nearchus” page at

When Alexander the Great’s troops refused to continue on the Indian campaign, Alexander ordered a fleet built on the Indus river and appointed Nearchus as its admiral. The voyage of the fleet began in September 326 BC (Lendering) and ended at Susa in early 324 (Wikipedia contributors). Along the way, they fought various “barbarian” tribes living along the coast (Arrian, Indica).

The fleet consisted of 800 ships, consisting of “ships of war, merchantmen and horse transports, besides others carrying provisions as well as troops” (Arrian, Indica, 363). Nearchus’ fleet ferried about 1/6th of Alexander’s soldiers: 17,000 – 20,000 men total (Lendering).

They had to sail very close to the coast in order to find fresh water and food, sometimes stolen from the barbarians they fought, sometimes left for them by Alexander and his troops marching inland (Arrian, Campaigns, 256). Before Nearchus set out, Alexander took some ships down both arms of the Indus river to see which would be easier to sail down. He set down garrisons of grain and supplies and dug wells along the Eastern fork, though according to J. R. Hamilton, Nearchus most likely ended up going down the Western branch (perhaps forced by the barbarian attacks) (503).

Some of the fleet was lost to the summer monsoons, a few more ships lost to squalls as they were travelling, and sometimes men were lost in the fights with the coastal barbarians. Though there were a few losses, most of the fleet arrived safely in Susa, where they met with Alexander and the surviving troops and the navy had a great celebration (Arrian, Indica, 429).


Works Cited


Arrian. Arrian II: Anabasis of Alexander, Books V-VII. Indica. Trans. P.A. Brunt. Ed. G.P. Goold. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Print.

Arrian. The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. Trans. Pamela Mensch. Ed. James Romm. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. Print.

Hamilton, J.R. “The Start of Nearchus’ Voyage.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 43.4 (1994): 501-504.

Lendering, Jona. “Nearchus.” Livius. Livius.Org, 2009. Rev. 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. <;

Wikipedia contributors. “Nearchus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

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Military Tech of the Battle of Salamis: the Trireme

The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle that took place in September 480 BC, in the straits of Salamis, between the island of Salamis and the mainland of Greece. As part of the second Persian invasion of Greece, the Persian fleet of 1,207 ships sought a decisive battle against the allied Greek fleet of 380 ships (“The Battle of Salamis”).


The trireme (Greek for “three-oarer”) was a type of warship used in the Mediterranean, consisting of three stacked rows of oars on each side of the ship. Evolving from the bireme (two rows of oars), the first triremes were likely from Phoenicia, though some earlier historians suggested it was introduced to Greece from Corinth. The trireme became the warship-of-choice in the Mediterranean area by the early 5th century (“Trireme”).


The trireme was a fast, agile ship. With 170 men rowing in synchronization, they could reach speeds of 9-10 nautical miles per hour (in a short burst of speed), or 5-8 at a normal or somewhat hurried pace. Unfortunately, these thin ships were not equipped for the harsh open waters, and were only useful in coastal seas (Strauss, xviii).


Depiction of a Greek trireme


Trireme design varied from area to area. The most historical documentation is on the Athenian trireme. These ships would have been approximately 130 feet long and 18 feet wide (39 feet wide when the oars were extended), and would have sat 8½ feet above the waterline. Weapons themselves, the ships featured a prow that would have been tipped with a large, bronze-encased ram that extended about 7 feet off the stem at the waterline. The Phoenician triremes (which made up approximately ¼ of the Persian fleet) were wider than the Athenian triremes, to hold more troops on the decks. The Phoenician ram would have been longer and more tapered than the Athenian counterpart (Strauss, xvii-xviii).


Triremes were ships of considerable size, and required a considerable amount of wood to build. Greece was mostly deforested by the sixth century, so they had to import their lumber for building ships. Other countries, like Egypt, also had this problem (Johnson, 199). As expected, those countries that contributed the most to the Persian fleet were those that had more available lumber, except Egypt, which was wealthy enough to import it (Johnson, 203).


The Persian fleet was made up of 1,207 ships of Persian-controlled nations. Herodotus lists that the Phoenicians provided 300 ships, the Egyptians provided 200, the Cyprians 150, the Cilicians 100, the Ionians 100, as well as six other countries providing various two-digit numbers of ships (Herodotus). Because the Persians were a land power, they felt uncomfortable in a sea-battle of merely ships. Instead of relying only on the abilities of the ships and their crews, they packed the ships with infantry and archers in order to try boarding enemy ships instead of sinking them. This was an additional 70 infantrymen and archers (30 Persian/Mede, the rest miscellaneous other troops) on each of the ships in the Persian fleet (Strauss, 132). Unfortunately, this was a futile strategy, because many ships in the Persian fleet were sunk before they could board the enemy ships. And more unfortunately, most of the Persian troops couldn’t swim.



Works Cited

Herodotus. The Histories of Herodotus: Book VII. Trans. George Rawlinson, 1942. Ed. Bruce J. Butterfield. Web. 1 Feb. 2012. <;


Johnson, Allan Chester. “Ancient Forests and Navies.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 58 (1927): 199-209. Print.


Mitchell, F. Greek Trireme. 1984. <;


Strauss, Barry S. The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece – and Western Civilization. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.


Wikipedia Contributors. “Trireme.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.


Wikipedia Contributors. “Battle of Salamis.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

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