Author Archives: mediocrelegionnaire

Final Project: Mediocre Legionary

“…they all march without noise, and in a decent manner, and every one keeps his own rank, as if they were going to war. The footmen are armed with breastplates and head-pieces, and have swords on each side; but the sword which is upon their left side is much longer than the other, for that on the right side is not longer than a span…”

-Flavius Josephus

Side Note:

I originally intended to create more than one model soldier, and I wanted to represent different time periods and locations we have discussed (a Greek hoplite, an English longbowman, and a Persian soldier were in the works). However, I underestimated the amount of time it takes to create one with this level of detail and consideration to historical accuracy. Ultimately, I decided to go for quality over quantity, so my project will focus only on the Roman legionary.


Holding true to my blog username, I created a mediocre legionary. The body was made with a wood clothespin (the old kind that doesn’t have a spring) and a popsicle stick cut in half for arms. The finished model stands roughly 4 inches tall (5.5 with the pilum) and has weapons and armor that match as closely as I could to those carried by a typical legionnaire around the first century CE. I heavily based my model after what I observed in pictures of the Ermine Street Guard, because of their quantity of useful pictures and very high reputation for historical accuracy (“The Ermine Street Guard”). The main components of his outfit are the tunic, helmet, body armor, belt and boots, shield, sword and dagger, and javelin.



The typical legionary’s tunic would be made out of wool, and while it is uncertain which colors were used, red and white seem to be the most widely accepted. Interestingly, the only groups of people who exposed their knees in ancient Rome were soldiers and slaves (“Roman Arms and Armour”).

First, I had to create the soldier’s tunic. I used red cotton fabric that I had cut into rectangle. Folding it in half to maintain symmetry, I cut a hole for the head and arms and then sewed the seams along the sides to basically make a T-shirt.


Roman helmets were typically made out of iron, but other materials such as copper, brass, and bronze have been found to have also been used (“Roman Arms and Armour”). The Gallic design and craftsmanship were highly favored among soldiers; generally being preferred over the Italian models by the Roman army (Matyszak, 59). The average legionary would only have a plume on top of his helmet during special parading events, which I why I left it off (Matyszak, 59). Helmets, along with some other gear, have been found baring inscriptions with the name of its owner; a very interesting historical point as it shows the ownership of the helmet being passed from soldier to soldier within a unit. This also indicates personal, not military, ownership of some armor and equipment (Nicolay, 168).

The helmet was the most frustrating part to create, which is why I do not have any pictures of the process. I put a base piece of tin foil around the head and then glued the cheek pieces (which were paper rectangles wrapped in paper) to the sides of the face. I then made a tin foil ball to put on top of the head to give the helmet a round shape, and then covered that with another piece of tin foil to give it a smoother texture. Next, I  placed a semi-circle of paper wrapped tin foil on the back of the head to serve as the neck guard. I finished by adding the cross brace to the front and coloring the bottom with a yellow sharpie to simulate the embellishments of a real helmet.

Body Armor

Lorica segmentata was highly effective body armor used by the Roman army during the first century CE. It was flexible and lightweight, but also very difficult to maintain since the iron tended to corrode when exposed to water, sweat, or blood- things a soldier would frequently encounter (Matyszak, 56).

To start, I wrapped strips of paper with tin foil, as tin foil alone crumpled too easily, looked messy, and was not sturdy enough to support the weight of the armor. After measuring out the strips and wrapping them around the body, I glued them together trying to follow the look of the real armor as closely as possible. Once the structure was stabilized, I cut the armor down the middle (the short pieces were too difficult to manipulate) and secured them with glue. The lorica segmentata was finished with gold pieces of paper and embroidery floss resembling the various straps and fasteners that were used to attach the armor to the soldier.

Belt and Boots

The Roman legionary’s belt was generally made of leather and copper alloy plating that was embossed or adorned with tin wash or silver plating. It served both as protection from hits below the belt and as a convenient place to hold the sword and/ or dagger. Sometimes separate belts were worn so the sword was attached to one with the dagger on the other to more evenly distribute weight (“Roman Arms and Armour”).

Their boots/ sandals, also called caliga, were cut from a single piece of leather and closely resemble modern athletic shoes with how they optimize the weight distribution around the foot (“Roman Arms and Armour”). The bottoms the caliga featured sharp hobnails, which were useful for traction and combat (Matyszak, 53-54).


I created the belt with brown construction paper and used a silver marker to show the metal plates. The soles of the caliga were also made with the same paper and marker (this time used to represent hobnails), and the tops were made with embroidery floss.


The scutum was the most widely used shield by the Roman army during this time. It was a large, curved rectangle shape that was made from gluing three layers of wood together and covering them with leather and canvas and metal edging. It was normally generally red with yellow decorations of thunderbolts and eagle wings.  It was approximately 3.5 feet tall, 16 inches wide, and 5-6 millimeters thick. This was a highly effective shield as it was light enough to be carried by one arm, and large enough to cover the entire soldier, but was eventually replaced as their enemies’ weapons became strong enough to cut through it (“Scutum”). The curved shape of the shield enabled the Roman soldiers to create a testudo, or tortoise formation, which completely protected the soldiers and allowed them to use their spears through the gaps. The shield would also have a strap that allowed it be carried over the back while marching.

I created my shield by drawing and coloring the design on a piece of paper, gluing that to a thin piece of cardboard, gluing a piece of wood patterned paper on the other side, and curling it while still wet around a can. Then I added the tin foil embellishments to the front (the ball is a pom-pom covered in tin foil), the foil along the sides (colored with a yellow marker), and finished by gluing the wood sticks to the inside.

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Sword and Dagger

The sword carried by the Roman legionary, called a gladius, was a short blade (usually no more than 2 feet long) and was very popular during the time. The more general term for a sword, spatha, could also be used here, but it generally associated with a longer sword that became more popular in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was a highly effective weapon that was used by the Roman military for nearly 6 centuries (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”). As described by Flavius Josephus, Roman soldiers carried their longer sword on their left side (Josephus). This was a later trend, as legionnaires originally carried their gladius on their right, and only centurions and cavalrymen carried swords on their left; something the infantry eventually did as well (“Roman Arms and Armour”). The sword was often carried on the belt, but many of the reenactment photos I researched were shown with a cross-body strap supporting the heavier sword. The gladius was generally employed in a stabbing technique, and the shape of the sword required a twisting motion to be withdrawn (Matyszak, 62-63).

The soldier’s dagger, a pugio, was a leaf shaped blade, usually 7-12 inches long, and was most likely used as a sidearm (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”). Personal preference resulted in a variety of pugio, with some being more functional while others were elaborately sheathed with decorations and precious metals (“Roman Arms and Armour”).


My model’s gladius is shown in a sheath and was made from foam I’d colored brown with a marker and part of a toothpick used for a hilt. I wrapped a piece of tin foil around the middle to show what would actually be an embellished metal plate on the outside of the sheath. The pugio was made with the same method, but unsheathed and much shorter than the gladius.


The final weapon carried by the legionary was his pilum, or javelin. This was a very long and heavy weapon, spanning some 6 feet in length and weighing 4.5-9 pounds, sometimes with the addition of a lead ball for added weight (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”; Matyszak, 65). The shank was made of iron and the shaft was usually made with ash, or similar wood (Matyszak, 65). If thrown correctly, it could penetrate both the shield and armor of its target; but if it got stuck in the shield only, it would be very difficult to remove since the shank would bend and break off from the shaft on impact (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”). Unlike a traditional spear, the pilum was designed for only one use in battle (enemies could not reuse it against them) and was not able to function as some of the other tools, such as a walking stick or stretcher, that a typical spear could because of its points on both ends and fragile nature. Its heavy weight also made it cumbersome to carry on march (Matyszak, 64-66).

The pilum held by my model is a little on the short side, and does not have a pointed tip on the bottom because I may have glued it together the wrong way… My shaft is made of a kebab skewer, the shank is a toothpick wrapped in tin foil, and the base of the shank is tan paper.

Finished Product




Works Cited

“A Beginner’s Guide to Roman Arms and Armour.” Armamentarivem. Museum of Antiquities, 24 May 1997, Accessed 5 December 2018.

Dowson, Thomas. “Archaeology from Roman Corbridge Comes Alive at Chesters Roman Fort.” Archaeology Travel, Accessed 13 December 2018.

Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. III.5-6, trans. William Whiston. “Internet Medieval Sourcebook”, Halsall, Paul, Fordham University, 4 November 2011, Accessed 13 December 2018.

MatthiasKabel. “File:Helmet typ Weissenau 01.jpg.” Wikipedia Commons, 23 June 2007. Accessed 14 December 2018.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2009, pp. 52-66, 81-88, 137-146.

Nicolay, Johan. “Military Equipment and the Life Cycle of a Roman Soldier.” Armed Batavians: Use and Significance of Weaponry and Horse Gear from Non-Military Contexts in the Rhine Delta (50 BC to AD 450), Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2007, pp. 157–206. JSTOR, Accessed 13 December 2018.

The Ermine Street Guard. The Ermine Street Guard, Accessed 14 December 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roman military personal equipment.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Dec. 2018, Accessed 14 December 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Scutum (shield).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Nov. 2018, Accessed 14 December 2018.



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Bayeux Tapestry Panel #23

The Tapestry as a Source:

An account of William of Normandy’s English conquests is famously depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Spanning some 70 meters in length, it is “[made] of fine bleached linen worked largely in wool” (Stafford, 1578). There are many mysteries surrounding the origins of the tapestry; for instance, it is unknown who designed, created, and commissioned it, as well as when and why it was made. It is suspected that Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (and William’s half-brother), was likely its patron. The first known reference to the tapestry was made in 1478, and there is some debate about earlier, but more unreliable, accounts, the earliest of those being that the tapestry was at one point in the possession of William’s daughter. For a long and complicated list of reasons, one source claimed the Bayeux Tapestry “…should be dated ca. 1067-68” (Stafford, 1578). Whether that dating is precisely accurate or not, it would put the creation of the tapestry in recent enough memory that its credibility as a source would be strongly reinforced.

Due to my difficulty in finding another primary source about my specific panel, I branched out a bit and found another account made around the same time about William’s conquest. The Gesta Guillelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum was written in 1071 by William of Poitiers, who was a big supporter of William (Smailes). It provides a classically structured narrative of William’s reign from 1035-1067, and gives a very possible justification for William’s conquest, being that he was divinely appointed and his destiny was to rule (Bouet). However, this text is hard to come by since both of the original manuscripts have been lost, and what we know today comes from a version published in 1619 (Smailes).

There is a give and take with both of these sources, but I believe that both sources are credible- if taken with a grain of salt. Something I feel many people tend to overlook when studying these ancient (or just really old) sources is the distinct bias that went into creating them. Since both were commissioned, written, and/ or created by what we can fairly safely assume was the winning side, there will be a selective way the information is presented.

The Battle of Dinan:

Yes, this is the highly coveted barbeque scene! Panel 23 of the tapestry depicts a scene from the Breton-Norman War in 1065, rather than part of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

As an extremely brief background to this war, William (Duke of Normandy) supported a revolt against Conan (Duke of Brittany), and shortly after sent a letter announcing he was going to invade England, so don’t attack his land while he was away. Well, Conan informed William he would be taking this opportunity to invade Normandy, so William had to go fight off the Bretons. After chasing Conan south from Dol-de-Bretagne to Rennes, the Normans besieged the Bretons in the Château de Dinan, in what is known as the Battle of Dinan (Wikipedia Contributors).

Panel 23 shows the Bretons defending the castle with spears while the Normans burn down their fortifications during the Battle of Dinan (Wikipedia Contributors). The text on the panel reads “(HIC MILIT)ES WILLELMI DUCIS PUGNANT CONTRA DINANTES ET CUNAN CLAVES PORREXIT”, which means “Here Duke William’s soldiers fight against the men of Dinan, and Conan surrendered the keys. (Rud, 172). Conan surrendering the keys is shown in the next panel, where he physically gives William the keys to the castle on the tip of a javelin, effectively surrendering and granting the Normans another victory (Wikipedia Contributors).


Going beyond the content of the panel, there aren’t very many details to be discussed regarding its physical construction; however, there is one point worth mentioning. The diagonal lines found in the border of the panel are what Rud described as “…perhaps the only sign in the Tapestry of a development of the artist’s confidence”, by suggesting that these lines create a more tense and dynamic scene (Rud, 181).


Stafford, Pauline, et al. “Europe: Ancient and Medieval.” The American Historical Review, vol. 110, no. 5, 2005, pp. 1577–1579. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Rud, Mogens. The Bayeux Tapestry and The Battle of Hastings 1066. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers Publishers, 2002. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Breton–Norman War.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Oct. 2018. Web. 16 Nov. 2018.

Bouet, Pierre. “William of Poitiers (c. 1073/74).” Literary Sources of Norman History, Accessed 26 November 2018.

Smailes, Gary. “Primary Sources for the Battle of Hastings 1066 – William of Poitiers.” William the Bastard at War. Accessed 26 November 2018.


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