Author Archives: tiresias91

Proffessional driver on a closed course. Do not use in actual war against Dacians.

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.

Used with permission, Copyright Peter Rockwell


Amt, Matthew R. “Tunic.” LEGIO XX ONLINE HANDBOOK., 18 mar 2011. Web. 12 Apr 2012. <;.

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. <;.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roman military personal equipment.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 08 Apr 2012 . Web. 12 Apr 2012. <

((Primary source is image from Trajan’s column))

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A Real Knight’s Tale

Many of us have seen the movie A Knight’s Tale, the story of William Thatcher’s adventures revolving around his impersonation of a knight named Ulrich Von Lichtenstein. But what few know is that ‘Ulrich’ wasn’t just a nom-de-guerre created for the Columbia Pictures Organization, but a real person.

Ulrich Von Lichtenstein was a “Prominent member of the nobility in Styria who was especially active in politics and poetry in the middle third of the thirteenth century.” (Heinen) He “was born in 1200 in… Present-day Austria,” but the rest of his life is not so easily ascertained by historians. His most famous work is the “supposedly autobiographical poetry collection Frauendienst” (Wikipedia contributors) which “Describe[s] a journey he made dressed as the goddess Venus, during which he took part in innumerable jousts and tournaments, all for the unrequited love of his lady.” (Prestwich)

Few can forget the image of William Thatcher bravely tilting against nobles and royals and winning the hand of the fair Jocelyn, but I’m sure the real Ulrich Von Lichtenstein (or at least his literary alter-ego) cut an even more memorable figure with a crowned Venus, “wield[ing] a red arrow and a flaming, red torch… ‘rid[ing]’ on [his] helmet as he rides on his horse, triumphing over him” even as he bested other knights. His choice of clothing represents not only his love for his chosen lady, but the metaphorical triumph of Venus over Mars, of love over warfare. That the power of Venus often bested even “Hercules, Paris, Achilles, Troilus, Aeneas, Samson, Tristan, and Lancelot.” A knight had his duties to his superiors and his code, but all were “overcome by a triumphant Venus at one point or another.” (Baldwin).

Ulrich von Lichtenstein, from the Codex Manesse, 1305

Baldwin, Robert. “” German, Poet-Knight [Ulrich von Lichtenstein] Rides into Battle Under the Crest of Venus, from the Codex Manesse, ca. 1300 . Robert Baldwin, 02 Mar 2012. Web. 2 Apr 2012. <;.

Scholar: Heinen, Hubert. “Ulrich von Lichtenstein: “Homo (il)litteratus” or Poet/Performer?.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 83.2 (1984): 159-172. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. <;.

Prestwich, Michael. Knight the Medieval Warrior’s Unofficial Manual. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2010. 83. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Ulrich von Liechtenstein.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 04 Mar 2012. Web. 5 Apr 2012.

((Primary source is my image.))

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Civilians in Trajan’s column

Trajan’s column stands “34 meters high to the top of the statue base and… tell[s] the story of Trajan’s victories in the Dacian wars of AD 101 to 106” (Lancaster). The outside of the column is carved with a winding frieze, whose “scenes depict mostly the Roman army in military activities.” However, battles aren’t the only part of the wars depicted on the column; many of the segments portray glorious send-offs and returns of armies to towns and forts, and several scenes of civilians, from prisoners to nobles, “showing about 2,500 figures in all.” (Wikipedia Contributors)

What struck me about the scenes in the column depicting civilians was the number of children. In most stories of military victories, one wouldn’t expect to find women or children, but many of the scenes on Trajan’s column that depict towns or the aftermath of battles portray women, children, and even what seem to be elderly people.

John Hungerford Pollen explains one such scene in detail, describing “a stronghold, in which the old, the women, and children of the enemy have taken refuge” while “an old man tries to escape with a child.” Women in the scene “carry their infants with them in the effort to escape,” though “The emperor… is giving assurance of protection to the women and children.”

It’s unclear whether this is attention to detail, some kind of propaganda, or merely an artistic preference of the sculptors, but children – not just Roman children, but Dacian and ‘Barbarian’ children as well – show up in nearly every civilian segment. Often they look slightly disproportionate, or are held up at impossible or dangerous angles, but they seem to add a sense of realism and a richness of detail to the piece.


Scene 39 Subjugated Dacians. Used with permission, Copyright Peter Rockwell

Lancaster, Lynne. “Building Trajan’s Column.” American Journal of Archaeology. 103.3 (1999): 419-439. Print.

Pollen, John Hungerford. A Description of the Trajan Column . London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1874. Web. <*.html&gt;.

Wikipedia contributors. “Trajan’s Column.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 02 Mar 2012. Web. 6 Mar 2012. <’s_Column&gt;.

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Legionary Life : Medicine

My induction into the role of medicus for cohort VII Scutum Decoris seemed to me to be a bit slapdash. After all, before joining the Legion I had no formal medical training. However, it was possible for a recruit  “who had demonstrated their capabilities for wound dressing and a primitive surgery, but who were not trained physicians” to fill the role of medicus. These green recruits “Probably…learned their medicine from the ‘senior’ medici present in the legion.” (Scarborough) As “Trained physicians were rare,” lack of formal instruction was hardly a deal-breaker. “Success and experience were the main, and in most cases the only, qualifications” for a legionary medicus. (Nutton)

A trained doctor coming into the legions could expect a few perks, but he was still under the rule of his commanders. “By taking the military oath he became a soldier, a miles-and until he reached the rank of centurion he was still technically a miles -his service was counted in stipendia, and he was bound by military law.” However, since he was certainly more useful alive than dead, “his duties [didn’t] necessarily include fighting.” He’d be counted as a ‘non-combattant’ in the legion and after his service could retire “into the select group of civilian doctors who possess immunity from certain taxes and civic duties” (Nutton)

Medici used tools like these to perform surgery on wounded soldiers

Many think of ancient Roman medicine as the kind of clueless bumbling used in the Dark Ages in Europe, when really they were leaps and bounds ahead of the haphazard theories of the four humors and the use of leeches and bloodletting.

Varro’s warning against building homes near swamps, which he stated bred “minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases” demonstrates that Romans had an understanding of germs centuries before blundering medieval doctors attempted to cure the Black Death by “applying a warm poultice of butter, onion and garlic.” (Alchin) Long before the doctors of the middle ages were making Plague Victim Scampi, Roman medici had a working knowledge of “painkillers such as opium and scopolamine,” and knew how to disinfect wounds with “acetum – the acid in vinegar.” (Wikipedia contributors)

Their methods may seem antiquated and a bit superstitious, but Roman medici knew more than we give them credit for. Herbal medicine can sound like hokum, but right alongside the religious plant sage, Romans used fennel for its calming properties. Modern doctors are now exploring the use of fennel as a potential treatment for hypertension. And that new fad of taking garlic supplements for heart health? Not so new; Romans used it for the exact same thing. (Wikipedia contributors)

No one can say how much a good Roman medicus could have done during outbreaks of the Black Death, or the Spanish Flu epidemic, or even against the common cold. We will never be able to measure exactly how, but the loss of Roman medical knowledge irrevocably changed the shape of our history far beyond the field of medicine.



Alchin, L.K.. “Medicine in the Middle Ages.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012.


Nutton, Vivian. “Medicine and the Roman army: a further reconsideration.” Medical History. 13.3 (1969): 260-270. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


Scarborough, John. “Roman medicine and the legions: a reconsideration.” Medical History. 12.3 (1968): 254–261. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


Varro, Marcus Terentius. De Re Rustica. 1. Loeb Classical Library, 1934. 211. Web.*.html


Wikipedia contributors. “Medicine in ancient Rome.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 feb 2012. Web. 26 Feb 2012.

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The Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama was fought in October of 202 BC between “a Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus” and “a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal.” (Battle of Zama)

Scipio set himself apart from other historical leaders by using scouts and spies from both his own, and the Carthaginian army to benefit his cause. When Hannibal came to Zama, “he sent spies to ascertain the place, nature, and strength of the Roman general’s encampment.” The Roman soldiers caught them, and brought them before Scipio to decide their fate, but rather than punishing them, he “appointed a tribune to show them everything in the camp thoroughly and without reserve,” and then “gave them provisions and an escort, and dispatched them with injunctions to be careful to tell Hannibal everything they had seen.” This reaction was so far from the norm that it seemed to charm Hannibal into “a lively desire for a personal interview with” Scipio, at which meeting he proposed a treaty which, although not successful, seemed to hint at some intimidation by Scipio’s tactics. (Polybius)

Hannibal’s terms for a new treaty (Now that they had broken the previous one) were unnacceptable to Scipio, and eventually told Hannibal the Carthaginians “must submit [them]selves and [their] country to us (The Romans) unconditionally, or conquer us in the field.” Hannibal chose to attempt the latter.

Scipio had also been studying Hannibal’s techniques for years. “Having been at Cannae,” He knew most of Hannibal’s tricks, and was able to “trump [him] with a few minor adjustments.” Having seen the use of war elephants before, he knew how to counter them in a battle. After they were taken care of, he used Hannibal’s own “battle strategy from Trebbia and Cannae” (Billau) to defeat him. One might say that he had been gathering intelligence for fourteen years, and it served him well.

Charlotte Mary Yonge, 1880, Hannibal and Scipio meet to discuss terms.




“Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 09 Dec  2011. Web. 16 Feb 2012. <;.

Billau, Daneta, and Donald Graczyk. “Hannibal: The Father of Strategy Reconsidered.” Comparative Strategy. 22.4 (2003): 335. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. Translator. Histories. London: Bloomington, 1962. Web. <;.

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by | February 16, 2012 · 11:27 pm

Feeding the 5,000 (A Dozen Times Over)

How Alexander Perfected his Supply Chain

Plutarch credits Alexander The Great with “greatness of soul, keen intelligence, self-restraint, and manly courage.” All excellent traits, but are they enough to keep an army fed and watered as he “shower[ed] the blessings of Greek justice and peace over every nation” he could reach for over a decade?

Alexander, son of Philip II,  led what some have called “the most formidable military expedition ever to leave Greece,” heading an army of approximately “43,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry,” plus camp followers and animals on an “eleven year” campaign from Macedonia all the way to “the Indus Valley.” (Hemingway)

Engels estimated that the “65,000 personnel” alone of Alexander’s convoy would have consumed 195,000 pounds of food and 32,500 gallons of water each day. Each man could only carry about ten days’ worth of rations (3lbs a day) and water ( ½ gallon, 5lbs a day) at a given time.  Pack animals could ease the burden a little and carry some extra supplies, but each animal needs its own ration (20lbs grain and 20lbs forage a day) and water (80lbs a day) in addition to that of the men, the baggage animals, and the cavalry horses. So how did Alexander manage to supply an army that needed 511,000 pounds of food and 158,900 gallons of water every day?

First, he planned his route carefully. As the map shows, he didn’t try to blaze straight across deserts; he followed water when he could, keeping to lush, green riverbanks with ample fresh water and easy naval access. Equal care was given to the timing of each stage of the campaign. “In addition to synchronizing his troops’ actions with harvest cycles …He timed his departure so the 30-day supply of rations, carried by sea transport, would last until 10 days after harvest at the first destination city. This provided a seamless supply of food and water for his men.” (Van Mieghem) Each conquered city was used wisely as a base or for its farm land. Of course, some cities didn’t need to be conquered; some surrendered, and willingly offered alliances and supplies, to avoid being crushed by Alexander’s army.

He also “maximized swiftness of action and flexibility of the army by eliminating the usual [camp followers]…” and by “order[ing] forced, or double-time, marches to conserve supplies in difficult circumstances.”

Alexander’s knowledge of logistics proved to be one of his most effective tools in extending his reach across so much of the known world, and carving his name into the history of our culture.



Following water and skirting around deserts to ease the way



Works Cited


Engels, D. W. (1978). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Berkely: University of California Press

Hemingway, Colette, and Seán Hemingway. “The Rise of Macedonia and the Conquests of Alexander the Great”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Plutarch. (1936). De Fortuna Alexandri. IV, Loeb Classical Library edition. Retrieved February 08, 2012, from*/1.html

Van Mieghem, Timothy. “Logistics Lessons From.” Quality Progress. Jan 1998: n. page. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.


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Psychological Warfare and the Battle of Thermopylae

The Battle of Thermopylae occurred in “August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae” during the second Persian attempt to conquer Greece. It was “fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.” (“Battle of Thermopylae”)

Xerxes used one of the most ancient and widely utilized psychological combative strategies in the world: intimidation. From the animal kingdom to Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet of 1907-1909, combatants a display of size and power to cow their opponents into submission. Just as a lion’s mane can deter challenges, and Roosevelt’s fleet acted as his ‘big stick’ to enforce and protect US interests throughout the world, (Pike) the size of Xerxes’ army frightened many Greek towns into surrendering their ‘earth and water’ to Xerxes. (Frye)

Herodotus calculated the Persian army to be “2,641,610” fighters strong. (Histories, vol.7) Including an equal number of Camp Followers as soldiers, He estimated “5,283,220 as the whole number of men brought by Xerxes.” As far as the number of women, hounds, and pack animals following, “no one can give any sure account of it by reason of their multitude.”

Many modern historians believe Herodotus overestimated Xerxes’ numbers, and that the army only consisted of “between about 100,000 and 300,000” Soldiers (“Battle of Thermopylae”) But even so, the force was large enough to drain rivers dry, “block out the sun” with arrows from its archers, and create a pontoon bridge of triremes over the Hellespont, twice. Not to mention arrogant enough to lash the sea itself when the first bridge failed. (Chrastina) Met with such a large, intimidating force, it’s no wonder “The Greek forces at Thermopylae… were seized with fear.” (Herodotus, vol.7)

Unfortunately, frightening as it was, the force could be somewhat unwieldy. The Greeks took advantage of that by attempting to head of the horde at Thermopylae, “A narrow mountain pass” where “the Persians would be unable to take advantage of their massive preponderance in numbers,” and would have to fight the roughly “4,900” Greeks in “close-quarter combat.” (Frye)

However, the psychological effect of the giant army wasn’t ineffective, even in such leveling conditions. Most of the Greek force fully expected to be killed by the Persians, and King Leonidas in particular “was convinced that his final duty was death.”

When the Persians found a way around the ‘gates’ of the mountain pass, much of the Greek force retreated and dispersed to their homes. Whether this retreat was by order of Leonidas, or due to the fear of many of the Greek soldiers, even Herodotus cannot say with certainty. In the end, only the Spartans and Thespians remained to fight – and be defeated by – the Persians.

After the battle, Xerxes used his victory over Leonidas as another psychological attack on the Greeks, ordering the Spartan king’s “head cut off and fixed on a stake” to be displayed to those who would oppose him.


After the failure of the first bridge, Xerxes ordered the sea itself chastised for defying him


Works cited:

“Battle of Thermopylae”. Wikipedia, 30 Jan 2012 . Web. 28 Jan 2012. <>

Chrastina, Paul. “King Xerxes Invades Greece.” Old News. n.d. n. page. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. <>

Frye, David. “SPARTAN STAND AT THERMOPYLAE.” Military History. 22.10 (2006): 38-44.

Herodotus. Histories. 7.

Pike, John. “ .” Great White Fleet (16 Dec 1907 – 22 Feb 1909) . Global Security Org., 05-07-2011 . Web. 26 Jan 2012. <;.

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