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The Modern Hero



U.S. Army Lt. Col. Edgar and Maj. Arntson salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the 2011 Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C. Oct. 9, 2011 (Staff Sgt. Wade). 

What being a true heroic soldier has not changed much today from the times of the Anglo-Saxons and Normans. Many of the values that we cherish today in the United States Army have roots back to what was valued by many of our ancestors. According to the US Army website, a soldier holds these seven values: “Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage” (“Living”).

Many of these values I would say reflect the Anglo-Norman definition of what makes a heroic knight. Values like loyalty, respect, honor, duty, and integrity tie back into the chivalric code along side emulating basic Christian values. Coincidentally, these five values could make up a pentangle like Gawain’s for a more modern period (Sir Gawain 217). The Anglo-Normans put a heavy emphasis upon integrity and honor because their actions no longer determined their social status, but their beliefs did.

Other values like duty and personal courage mirror what “The Wanderer” teaches us about what makes a heroic soldier to the Anglo-Saxons. I am reminded of the line “Not reluctant to fight” when comparing these two sources that date nearly one-thousand years apart (“The Wanderer 120). Heroes like Beowulf would not have been as successful if they did not posses the courage to tackle any beast or challenge that came their way. This is still an important attribute that we hold today. We would scoff at a soldier who retreats from a fight due to only their cowardice.

Many of these values remain the same because they were perhaps developed through evolution to further the species (Smirnov et al. 928). Characteristics like selfless service help to protect our kin and strangers alike by risking one’s own life for the greater good of everyone else’s (Smirnov et al. 927). I believe that this is the main characteristic of a good heroic soldier that will never change throughout time. I believe this because for an action to truly stand out above any other on a battlefield, it must come from a place of pure selflessness. It is difficult to put aside one’s own safety, it maybe even the hardest thing to do. This is why it is the most spectacular, and it is what makes heroes stand out above the rest from before the Anglo-Saxons until now.

Works Cited

Staff Sgt. Wade, Teddy. “U.S. Army Lt. Col. Edgar and Maj. Arntson salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the 2011 Army Ten Miler in Washington, D.C. Oct. 9, 2011.” Army Ten-Miler Salute, 9 Oct. 2011.

“Living the Army Values.” Go Army,, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Smirnov, Oleg, et al. “Ancestral War and the Evolutionary Origins of ‘Heroism.’” The Journal of Politics, vol. 69, no. 4, 2007, pp. 927–940. JSTOR, JSTOR,

“The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 119-121.

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Heroism and Chivalry

Along with physical and spiritual strength, another key element to what made a heroic soldier to the Anglo-Normans was chivalry. Chivalry has three main components that many people tend to look over. These rules are first a knight must be loyal to God, second to his lord, and third to women. In today’s view of chivalry, the last code of conduct towards women is typically the most popular connotation. Although it was third on the list of values, it still plays an extremely large role in heroic literature of the time. One of the best examples of this comes from Marie de France’s lai, “Lanval.”

In this lai, or poem, Lanval, one of King Arthur’s knights, takes up a relationship with a fairy queen who says that he must keep their relationship a secret as long as he wishes her to come to him. Lanval, being loyal to his lover, keeps his word until Queen


Image of Lanval and his lover (“Lanval”). 

Guinevere tries to seduce him (de France 179). After refusing the queen, Lanval breaks his oath and reveals his secret lover and insults the queen in doing so. Lanval is not only loyal to his lover because that is his duty as a knight, but he is loyal to her because she offers him wealth, much like a lord would do. In this way, the fairy queen becomes the way in which Lanval progresses the social ladder (Finke and Shichtman 489). Because of this, Lanval is now following all three codes of chivalry to become a heroic knight because the fairy queen is now acting as his lord (or god) and lover.


However, Lanval does betray his oath to his love/lord. This makes readers question in Lanval is the true hero at all in this story. It is, in fact, the fairy queen who rides into the court before Lanval is executed and saves the day (de France 184). With this fact, it could be assumed that the fairy queen is the true hero of the story with today’s view of what makes a hero, but she does not show any feats of physical or spiritual strength nor any chivalry in her mannerisms, not to mention the fact that she is not even a knight at court. Therefore, she would not have been the hero that Lanval would have been to the Anglo-Normans. Lanval proves his heroic knighthood by remaining chaste, a Christian value, to his lover and by showing loyalty to the chivalric code.


Works Cited

de France, Marie. “Lanval.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 171-185.

Finke, Laurie A., and Martin B. Shichtman. “Magical Mistress Tour: Patronage, Intellectual Property, and the Dissemination of Wealth in the ‘Lais’ of Marie De France.” Signs, vol. 25, no. 2, 2000, pp. 479–503. JSTOR, JSTOR,

“Lanval.” Marias Common Place Book., Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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The Anglo-Norman Hero

Many of the Arthurian tales are based upon the knight of the round table loyally serving their king and overcoming their moral tests. Both of these things are analogous to devout Christian behavior which was vital to the Anglo-Norman society. Having the characteristics of the strong and action-oriented Anglo-Saxon, along with being a devout and loyal Christian and subject made for the most heroic soldier. All of these characteristics can be found within the poem Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, henceforth referred to as Gawain.


An image of Gawain facing the Green Knight (Nicholas). 

Gawain’s devoutness to his king can be seen in lines 342-365 when Gawain offers to fight the knight in place of Arthur because Gawain has a lower social standing and would not be as missed if he dies (Gawain 211). Gawain knows that the only way that he can rise in social standing is to be a hero of his time and faithfully serve his king (i.e. his God) through risking his life for the betterment of his people. This act pragmatically makes Gawain a hero to the Arthurian and therefore Anglo-Norman court (Walker 123).

After taking up the quest to find the Green Knight, Gawain puts on his armor and this is when the poet offers us the definition of a great soldier which was previously stated in my last blog post. The pentangle on Gawain’s shield has many Christian connotations and meanings. In fact, the meaning behind the pentangle was so important for setting up Gawain as a hero that the poet, “interrupt[s] his narrative with a forty-three-line [] description, carefully, almost pedantically, expounding the symbolism of the pentangle” (Tracy 32). The Christian morals are further expounded on by Gawain’s moral test of remaining chaste with Bertilak’s wife (Gawain 229).

            However, the Gawain poet also incorporates elements of Anglo-Saxon heroism to help the social transition into the new culture of the Anglo-Normans. The poet does this by comparing the pentangle to the more well-known Celtic knots (Tracy 33). By inviting this pagan symbol, and by having Gawain complete great feats of strength, the poet effectively combines both the Saxon and Norman definitions of heroism to create a universal hero to interweave both cultures.

Works Cited

Nicholas, Lisa. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Medieval Epic Poetry, www., 20 Sept. 2012, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Tracy, Larissa. “A Knight of God or the Goddess?: Rethinking Religious Syncretism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” Arthuriana, vol. 17, no. 3, 2007, pp. 31–55. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Walker, Greg. “The Green Knight’s Challenge: Heroism and Courtliness in Fitt I of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 32, no. 2, 1997, pp. 111–128. JSTOR, JSTOR,



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The Anglo-Norman Definition of Heroism

The Anglo-Saxon definition of heroism: someone who lets their actions speak and who shows courage in order to one day become king, all changes when the Normans invade England. The Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, that comes from the Anglo-Norman time period, now tells us that a good knight/hero is someone who

Was deemed flawless in his five senses; and secondly his five fingers were never at fault; and thirdly his faith was founded in the five wounds Christ received on the cross, as the creed recalls. And fourthly, if that soldier struggled in skirmish one thought pulled him through above all other things: the fortitude he found in the five joys which Mary had conceived in her son, our Savior. For precisely that reason the princely rider had the shape of her image inside his shield, so by catching her eye his courage would not crack. The fifth set of five which I heard the knight followed included friendship and fraternity with fellow men, purity and politeness that impressed at all times, and pity, which surpassed all pointedness (640-654).med_gallery_22_15334

All of these virtues are represented in the pentangle said to be on Gawain’s shield. This new-found sense of spiritualism in the definition of heroism of the Anglo-Normans can be traced to the feudal systems which the Normans brought with them. In the Feudal system, there is no mobility like there was in a meritocracy. Therefore, actions weren’t quite as important anymore. Instead of fighters and warriors, the upper class was composed of nobility and members of the church (Greenblatt 5). More emphasis was placed on spirituality and true soldiers had to show that not only were they physically strong, but that their faith was strong as well. This plays into the idea of divine right. If men were to be obedient to their King (who was chosen by God) then they must be obedient to God as well. This change in the governing system affected the ways in which people could gain fame and power. This newfound increase in religion can be seen primarily through all of the Arthurian tales, and especially in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (Tracy 31).


Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 3-26.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Tracy, Larissa. “A Knight of God or the Goddess?: Rethinking Religious Syncretism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” Arthuriana, vol. 17, no. 3, 2007, pp. 31–55. JSTOR, JSTOR,

“Early English Literature.”, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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The Anglo-Saxon Hero

It is hard to explain why someone would risk their life for the hope (not the surety) that something good will come from it. Soldiers from the beginning of time have done this very thing. One way to explain this heroism is that it evolved as human nature from some form of kin altruism. This is evident in the familial terms that have been used in warfare throughout time, “band of brothers” or “fatherland” (Smirnov et al.). This theory is also evident in the epic poem Beowulf.

The reason that this kin altruism is so evident in Beowulf is because kin was the center of society in the Anglo-Saxon time period. Familial relationships made the base for civilizations and are how the word kingdom got its origins, the familial kingdoms listed in Beowulf are shown here (Wiglaf). Beowulf_geography_namesHowever, I would disagree that kin altruism is the main driving force for Beowulf’s heroism. Beowulf is the great warrior that he is because he was seeking to become the next king of his people. Which eventually he did achieve, “This he laid on Beowulf’s lap and then rewarded him with land as well, seven thousand hides; and a hall and a throne” (Beowulf 89). In the Anglo-Saxon society, the king was not based on blood-line, but on merit. Whoever fought the hardest and showed their worth became the next king. This is precisely why Beowulf completes his heroic feats. This reasoning behind his heroism also fits with the Anglo-Saxon definition of what a hero is that is found in the poem “The Wanderer.”

Anglo-Saxons heroes were more defined by their physical actions and mannerisms. “The Wanderer” quotes that a true hero must be “Not reluctant to fight nor too reckless, not too timid nor too glad, not too greedy, and never eager to commit until he can be sure” (lines 65-69). These are all behaviors that are meant to not offend others and thereby keep the men who adhered to them alive. We can see these same characteristics in Beowulf’s story by the way that the poet describes Beowulf just before he is awarded the kingdom, “Thus Beowulf bore himself with valor; he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honor and took no advantage” (89). By describing Beowulf in this way right before he becomes king, the poet reinforces the idea that Beowulf fit the Anglo-Saxon definition of heroism and therefore was deserving of the kingdom.

Interestingly, there are some parts of Beowulf that allude to the Anglo-Norman definition of heroism, which includes more spirituality. I will discuss more about the Anglo-Norman definition in the following blog posts. But, the Beowulf poet, who is believed to be a priest or monk who wrote down the story after hearing it performed by a schope (bard) in a meade hall, includes some elements of Christianity that are not included in the Anglo-Saxon hero definition. The Beowulf poet shows that worldly things do not last and that only spiritual strength will endure. For example, Beowulf’s sword, according to H. L. Rogers, “In other literature, a hero may do great deeds with a sword; in Beowulf the only sword with which the hero does a great deed melts away in his hand afterwards” (340). This new idea of Christianity and spirituality leads us into the Anglo-Norman idea of a good heroic soldier.


Works Cited

“The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 119-121.

Beowulf. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 42-118.

Rogers, H. L. “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 6, no. 24, 1955, pp. 339–355. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Smirnov, Oleg, et al. “Ancestral War and the Evolutionary Origins of ‘Heroism.’” The Journal of Politics, vol. 69, no. 4, 2007, pp. 927–940. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Wiglaf. Beowulf Geography. Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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Defining Heroism

What truly defines a good hero and soldier has changed throughout time. Yet, we can track these changes and determine how a culture valued heroism through the literature that remains today. For my final project, I will be examining Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman literature to find evidence of what they found to be the most important characteristics of a soldier that made him a true hero.

According to Oleg Smirnov, Holly Arrow, Douglas Kennett, and John Orbell, heroism can be defined as, “risking one’s life fighting for the group” (927). This definition is very broad and can be used to describe every soldier who goes into battle. If every soldier is a hero, then why do some soldiers rise above the others in tales and legends passed down from generation to generation? What is the definition of that kind of hero? According to the Anglo-Saxons, it is someone who will let their actions speak louder than their words.

We can see this definition of heroism by examining the poem, “The Wanderer.” 385px-Wanderer-Exeter-Book-first-page-Bernard-MuirThe definition given here can be directly attributed to what makes a good soldier because the poem was originally used as a rallying device to get soldiers ready to go into battle. This poem has been preserved in the Exeter Book, the largest surviving container of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which dates back to 975. A picture of the poem from this book is given to the right (Muir). Although the book dates back to 975, the poem of “The Wanderer” may be much older (Greenblatt 119). According to this poem, a true hero has these characteristics,

A wise man must be patient,

not too hot of heart     nor hasty of speech,

not reluctant to fight   nor too reckless,

not too timid nor too glad,      not too greedy,

and never eager to commit    until he can be sure (“The Wanderer” 120).

Because of this definition, we can examine what the Anglo-Saxons valued in their rulers and in their soldiers. Using this definition, I will examine the most iconic piece of literature from this time period, Beowulf, to determine if Beowulf is truly the most heroic soldier from his time period.


Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 118-119.

Muir, Bernard. “Facsimile of the first page of the Wanderer in Old English from the codex of the Exeter Book.” The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poems, 2006.

Smirnov, Oleg, et al. “Ancestral War and the Evolutionary Origins of ‘Heroism.’” The Journal of Politics, vol. 69, no. 4, 2007, pp. 927–940. JSTOR, JSTOR,

“The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 119-121.


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Specific Treatments in Military Medicine

The main bread and butter of military field medicine was woolen bandages.  Every medicus ordinarie would have been equipped with a stash of them.  There is a section of Trajan’s Column that depicts the actions of a medicus ordinarie.  After a battle, there are wounded soldiers being aided by other soldiers (indicated by the same uniform style).  One has a wound on his thigh that is being treated and bandaged, and another has a shoulder wound. (Richmond, 13-15)


The Reliefs of Trajan’s Column by Conrad Cichorius. Plate number XXXI: Major Battle against the Dacians (Scene XL)

A common procedure was to apply honey to the woolen bandage before using it on a wound.  Modern science has proven that raw honey is well suited to wound healing, as it inhibits bacterial growth and provides an immune boost, aiding the body’s own healing mechanisms. (Molan, 141) Wool itself is a superior choice for bandages because it wicks moisture away from the skin, also promoting a healthier healing environment for wounds sustained in battle.

Eye problems were a common complaint noted in ancient records.  It would seem likely that the complaint causing most of the trouble stemmed from conjunctivitis, or pink eye.  Highly contagious and debilitating to a soldier’s fighting abilities, it was an illness taken seriously by military medici.  (Allason-Jones, 137)  Eye salves of various types would have been used to treat the condition.

Another issue faced by the army was the spread of feces-borne diseases like dysentery as well as parasites.  Even with sanitation, the close quarters and high density population would have been a favorable breeding ground for such issues. (Allason-Jones, 138-139)

Caches of medical tools have been found, dating back to the Roman Empire.  Most of the tools are forceps or other surgical tools for the removal of weapon remnants or foreign objects.  There are also catheters and bladder sounds, rectal speculums, cautery tools, and cupping vessels.

Though not as common in the Roman army, sometimes a wounded soldier was in need of amputation.  Opium, henbane and white mandrake were the strongest medicines available for anesthetic purposes, and would have been employed on such occasions along with copious amounts of alcohol.  Tools used for the procedure were scalpels, bone saws, and tile cautery tools.  I was able to find a picture of a bronze prosthetic leg, but could find no supporting information to describe how widespread their use was during this period of time.

M0012307 Roman artificial leg of bronze.

Roman artificial Bronze leg

In conclusion, the Roman army’s medical corps was impressive for its day.  It was orderly, just like the military itself, and effective.  In fact, modern militaries have similar systems in place to facilitate the care of soldiers during battle.  Warfare today may look very different, but there are some things that the Romans were ahead of their time about.  Military medicine happened to be one of them.





“Medicine in Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018.

Allason-Jones, Lindsay. “Health Care in the Roman North.” Britannia 30 (1999): 133-46. doi:10.2307/526676.

Molan, Peter and Tanya Rhodes. “Honey: A Biologic Wound Dressing.” Wounds: A Compendium of Clinical Research and Practice 27, no. 6 (2015): 141.

Richmond, I. A. “Trajan’s Army on Trajan’s Column.” Papers of the British School at Rome 13 (1935): 1-40.

Wesselingh, Robb. “From Milites Medici to Army Medics – A Two Thousand Year Tradition of Military Medicine.” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health 16, no. 4 (2018):1-5.

Conrad Cichorius: “Die Reliefs der Traianssäule”, Erster Tafelband: “Die Reliefs des Ersten Dakischen Krieges”, Tafeln 1-57, Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin 1896

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = Greek and Roman surgical instruments |description = Greek and Roman surgical instruments from the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum <p>Wellcome Ima…

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = Greco-Roman cupping vessels and Roman bronze rectal speculum |description = Greco-Roman cupping vessels and Roman bronze rectal speculum from the We…

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = 6 Roman surgical instruments |description = 6 Roman surgical instruments: A)Rreplica of Roman bronze scalpel, from Silchester. B) No information. C)…


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Military Medicine in Action

Prior to the Augustan age, there was no formal military medical apparatus.  (Byrne, 267) It was most likely that soldiers helped each other, providing basic first aid and field surgery.  Upper ranking officers might have brought along their own personal physicians, but they were not widely utilized by the rank and file.  There are references to the treatment of the sick and wounded, particularly that they were sent to the back of the company while they recovered, but there is no mention of care they might have received while falling back in the ranks.

If a soldier was wounded or sick enough to not be able to keep up with the army, they were often quartered in civilian homes to be cared for during their convalescence. (Byrne, 268) The ideal situation for a soldier in this condition would have been to enter the house of an upper class citizen, who had more comforts and likely employed a physician in-house.  Outside of Roman settlements, garrisons of wounded and sick soldiers would have been left behind with adequate supplies to see them through. (Wesseleigh, 2)

Eventually, medics were trained and assigned duties within the army.  There were three orders of medics – medicus ordinaries, medicus legionis and medicus cohortis. (Byrne, 269) The first order was a regular soldier who had extra medical training.  He would have fought alongside his comrades, and offered aid when needed.  The second was over the legion, and would likely have had some rank or additional standing outside of regular soldier.  The last rank was over the whole cohort, and likely remained in the rear of the company to care for the worst of the sick and wounded.  The medicus cohortis would likely have been in charge of the field hospital, or valetudinarium.


Physician treating a patient. Red-figure Attic aryballos.

Valetudinaria, also referred to as “flying military camps,” were first just a designated tent or group of tents and later became permanent buildings.  The buildings were built with great care, with sanitation being a first concern. (Wesseleigh, 4) On average, each hospital was built to accommodate up to 5% of the legion it served.  One can therefore assume that the aim of the hospital was not for long term convalescence, but for acute care following injury and treatment.  Archaeological evidence of the valetudinarium near Baden suggests a well equipped pharmacy and surgical theater, along with wards for the recovering soldiers. (Byrne, 271)


Roman latrine

To conclude, the military medical program was an orderly undertaking.  With clear denotations of duties, it helped the care of the sick and wounded to happen with little confusion or fuss. The last post will look at specific treatments used in military medicine, and examine some of the military health records that have been found.


Byrne, Eugene Hugh. “Medicine in the Roman Army.” The Classical Journal 5, no. 6 (1910): 267-72.

Wesselingh, Robb. “From Milites Medici to Army Medics – A Two Thousand Year Tradition of Military Medicine.” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health 16, no. 4 (2018):1-5.

== {{int:filedesc}} == {{Information Louvre |artist= {{en|Clinic Painter (name-piece)}} {{fr|Peintre de la Clinique (vase éponyme)}} |description= {{en|Physician treating a patient. Red-figure Attic aryballos, ca. 480–470 BC.}} {{fr|Médecin soigna

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The Basis for Military Medicine

The Greek tradition of medicine heavily influenced Roman medicine.  Members of the upper classes employed Greek or Hellenistic trained physicians to provide their households with care as needed.  Lower classes clung to the Roman traditions of paterfamilias or allowing the head of the household control over medical diagnoses and curatives.  Although they employed Greek physicians, it seems that overall, Romans preferred to appeal to the Gods first before seeking their care and treatment.  There was a healthy distrust of physicians, in general, especially among the lower classes.  (Scarborough, 297)

In order to appreciate the military’s medical organization, it is important to understand the regular Roman citizen would be treated by either the paterfamilias or sometimes a slave-physician.  Only the upper classes would have had access to a proper Greek physician. (Scarborough, 298) The types of treatments prescribed in a farming family would include cabbage in some form or other.  Cato the Elder, a staunch opponent of physicians, was the most well known promoter of the cabbage cure, which in his estimation could cure just about any ailment from constipation to deafness by preparing the cabbage in a specific way.  (Household Medicine)

The wealthier class would have had access to drugs sold by local chemists (pharmacists), such as opium, and a variety of herbs grown locally or imported from nearby regions.  Dioscorides’ work De Materia Medica was the most referred to volume on the subject of herbs and their medical uses.  No chemist would have been without that reference book. (Dioscorides, wiki)


Dioscorides, by Cami Isle

L0051528 Titlepage to 'Materia Medica'

L0051528 Titlepage to ‘Materia Medica’

Galen was the premier authority on anatomy and physiology up until the mid-1500’s.  Because Greek law outlawed the dissecting of human bodies, Galen used animals such as pigs and primates to understand the basics of anatomy.  Some of his theories were disproved later, but for the Romans, it was considered accurate enough.  Galen, himself, was the personal physician to Marcus Aurelius. (Galen, wiki)


Galen, by Cami Isle

Galen borrowed many ideas from Hippocrates, chiefly the theory of the four humors in the body – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.  Hippocrates posited that illness occurred when these humors were out of balance.  Galen furthered the humors theory by adding personality types to the dominant humors – sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.  Treatments for unbalanced humors included purging, sweating, and bloodletting.  (Galen, wiki)


Romans were well known for their public works projects.  Sanitation and clean water were the most prevalent features of most Roman cities.  The bath houses were well used by citizens, and facilitated the overall cleanliness of the people.  Fleas and lice were likely not as prevalent because of the bath houses, however depending on how often the bath house was cleaned, it may have contributed to the spreading of some viral and bacterial infections.

In summary, Romans were quite advanced in their society when it comes to health promoting practices.  They had access to clean water, had adequate sanitation overall, and medicine was available in the case of illness.  These general factors led to the promotion of a military medical apparatus that was superior to most others of the time.  The next blog will examine the specific medical organization within the military and how it changed over time.


“Pedanius Dioscorides.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018.

“Galen.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018.

“Household Medicine In Ancient Rome.” The British Medical Journal 1, no. 2140 (1902): 39-40.

Scarborough, John. “Romans and Physicians.” The Classical Journal 65, no. 7 (1970): 296-306.

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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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