Category Archives: Final Projects – Cohort VII

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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Final Project- Ballista

Before the appearance of the ballista and other similar machines, the power of a weapon was limited to the frame of itself. Around 350 BC, the technology of a torsion powered machine was born (Nossov 136) Torsion machines uses ropes or animal cords tightly wound with a wooden arm in the middle to fire projectiles. By twisting the rope, these people were able to achieve greater power from their weapons and it was less likely to break their machines, just the ropes.

Although the original appearance of ballistae was around 350 BC, it wasn’t until roughly 334 BC that they started being widely used. Alexander was the first to start using these machines, which fired large arrows usually to take out soldiers, not structures (Nossov 136). As time progressed, they were adapted to throw stones. This meant the ballista was equipped with a larger frame and also metal parts began to be integrated into the construction to support the strain (Wikipedia 2012). With the capability of throwing stones, they were now able to take out structures rather than mainly soldiers. There is a wide variety of the calibers of stones used, each having its own purpose. The stones which were thrown ranged from 10 pounds up to 85 pounds; with the lighter stones being used primarily for defense and the heavier stones being used for offense (Nossov 138).

The ballista was a fairly simple weapon for the average soldier to operate; it worked similarly to a crossbow. Soldiers pulled levers at the rear of the machine to retract the pusher through a series of ratchets. All the energy was stored in the ropes, which carried a much higher potential energy than could have possibly been stored in

the wooden throwing arms. Due to this ratcheting system, it could be ready to fire in a moments notice. This weapon was highly accurate and there have been multiple accounts of skilled ballista shooters being able to take out enemy soldiers from a few hundred yards (Wikipedia 2012). Although they were highly accurate, they

Scene 40, Carroballistae. Used with permission, Copyright Peter Rockwell.

weren’t able to shoot very large projectiles and this eventually became the job of newly developed catapults (Nossov 150).

In this early version of a ballista, it can still be seen how they were used to fire arrows. These machines were relatively small, but that made it much easier to carry from place to place. As these weapons grew with new engineering techniques, they became more complex and had to be built more durably. As a result, metal was added to these machines, but this also made transportation more difficult. This required that they needed to be disassembled and reassembled at the site of war.

Works Cited

E. Schramm: Die antiken Geschütze der Saalburg. (Berlin 1918), S. 41 Abb. 14, 42 Abb. 15

Gurstelle, W. (2001). Backyard ballistics. (pp. 91-101). Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Gurstelle, W. (2004). The art of the catapult. (pp. 60-69). Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Nossov, K. (2005). Ancient and medieval siege weapons. (p. 136, 138, 150). Guilford: The Lyons Press.

Rockwell, P. (Photographer). (1999). Carroballistae. [Print Photo]. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2012, April 08). Ballista. Retrieved from


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Final Project: Scutum and Pilum

To make the legionary shield, it took a lot of planning and designing in my head what I wanted it to be like before I even looked for the materials. I first looked up legionary shields on Google, and I also looked at the design that was on Trajan’s column. The legionary shield, or the scutum, was used to as a defense mechanism against the Persians and enemies of the Roman Empire. It started at the beginning of 100 BC till about 300 AD. The scutum was made from pieces of wood that were glued together piece by piece. There was a frame that was usually made out of bronze and protected by a metal band. Then the surface was covered in leather with different color schemes according to each cohort’s own color. If not in battle, the shields were strapped on the back of the legionary.

I first found a piece of wood that was warped a little that was just plywood. I cut it a little bit just to straighten out the edges but it looked to be about the right size for a man. I sanded down the board around the edges and sharp corners, but could not fit it to curve to a body because it took a very long time. It would not have been hard to curve a shield to a legionary because they went around the frame and they glued the pieces of wood together, giving it a curved shape. I drew the design that legionaries had on a piece of parchment paper and painted the shield red. Then painted the design over the shield in yellow. The final part was that I had to outline everything in black and make the frame on the outside.

The pilum is the roman javelin that the used to attack enemies while marching or the first attacks. The pilum was used to disarm and wound the enemy before they actually got to attack them. The top three feet of the pilum has a spear metal top to attack enemies and detaches from the other four feet of wood. I used a dowel that I had with a fence post that fight and put them together. However, since I could not attach metal to wood, I could not have the pilum completely attached. Legionaries were able to melt down metal and make a spear and fit a piece of wood to the metal.

This project was so much fun, and I loved it.

Works Citied:

Rockwell, P.  Bridge. Retrieved April 5, 2012 from

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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?


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Final Project tags

I’ve set up categories for each cohort to discuss their final projects.

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