Roman Military Clothing
This is some research I did way back in 2007 - when my interest in the Roman army first began. The information is still accurate as far as I can tell so I figured I'd post it for the pleasure of my fellow Romanophiles:)
Tunics of the Republican-early Imperial Periods
The Roman military tunic between the 4th Century BC and the 2nd Century AD was typically short sleeved and extended to or slightly past the thighs. For most of the duration of this period it was worn by itself; the bare legs were protected by greaves until the early 1st Century AD. The colors of the tunics are a source of heated debate amongst scholars; until the mid 20th Century it was assumed that all Roman soldiers always wore red. Then it was believed that only the centurions and higher officers could wear colors like red and purple and common legionaries wore off-white tunics. This simple belief has been challenged on a number of grounds by the historian Graham Sumner, who has pulled up lots of evidence for centurions wearing white, soldiers red, etc. He sums up his theories by stating that the Roman soldier, regardless of his rank, owned multiple tunics of varying colors. He would wear a finely-made pure white tunic on ceremonial occasions or at feasts and parties. He would have a cruder off-white tunic for daily use in the camp. He would then have a red tunic to be worn under his armor in combat. Nonetheless, even this view is without flaw. A number of researchers defend the view that soldiers often wore white in battle. There are some that go as far as saying that the tunic colors were random; the Roman Army’s equipment was not uniform or even very organized with arms and armor, so why should it be with clothing? What is known about military tunics is this: pure white was considered fancy, off white was considered a basic garment for soldier and civilian alike, red was the color of the gods, especially Mars, blue was the color of the sea and was therefore the color of marines’ tunics until at least the 4th Century AD, and black, purple, pink, yellow, and green were all considered unsuitable for military usage-the first because it symbolized death, and the rest because they were considered feminine colors.
Tunics of the Third Century
A gradual but significant change in Roman military clothing took place on the European frontiers all across the 2nd Century, finally reaching its peak at the beginning of the Severan Period (AD193-235). One of these changes was wearing barbarian-style tunics with long sleeves. Another military fashion that had its roots in Severan Rome was brightly colored embroidery, especially on the white tunics. These sometimes took the form of clavi, highly elaborate patterns usually appearing on the breast, heart, cuffs, or at the thighs. Other times, blue, red, green, or purple bands appeared at the neck or parts of the arms or skirt of the tunic. Like some other military fashions, these had their beginnings as civilian fashions but became a part of unit identity in the army. Clavi elaboration became more and more important in the mid and late 3rd Century. Tunic colors were usually brown, gray, tan, or a shade of off-white; clavi appeared best against these colors.
Trousers of the First and Second Centuries
Wearing trousers was always considered barbaric in the Empire; even as late as the reign of Emperor Honorius in the early 5th Century AD attempts were made to ban civilians in Rome from wearing them. Nonetheless, they were gradually adopted by the military after living and fighting amongst Celtic, Germanic, Central European, Dacian, and Sarmatian tribes for generations. Eastern style trousers usually extended just past the knees and were very tight. Germanic trousers came in several varieties; one kind covered the feet and extended most of the way up the waist. Celtic trousers were fairly baggy but were made of thin and soft materials; they extended from the lower waist to the ankles and were usually decorated with thin vertical stripes, or with ‘tartan’ patterns; most Germanic peoples copied their trousers from the Celts, or vice versa. The Celtic-style trousers worn by the West-Germans just east of the Rhine were the style that first appeared in the Roman army. The Romans’ versions of these were usually a solid color, usually brown though black, off-white, tan, and red were to be seen. Evidence suggests that even the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, owned a pair of trousers, but never wore them in front of the people. The contemporary legionaries of the Rhine-Danube frontier shamelessly wore them, often for comfort from the bitter weather of Germania. Leggings and moccasins were also worn to protect the lower legs from the cold; these were not considered as hard-core ‘barbaric’ as full-length trousers. Starting in the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries it appears as though many, maybe even most legionaries wore trousers. By the end of the 2nd Century they were universal, a part of military identity no longer seen as barbaric outside of Rome herself.
Trousers of the Third and Fourth Centuries
Trousers and similar garments of this period were mostly a continuation of the above; by this point they were an accepted garment in the military and most soldiers owned several pairs. Starting in the early 3rd Century and reaching its peak in the mid-late 4th Century, tights also began to be worn. At times it is hard to determine whether soldiers depicted in 4th Century artwork are wearing skin-tight trousers or are wearing nothing but tunics. These appear to have been more of a fashion with civil workers and legionary guardsmen; they would not have been practical clothing for heavy infantrymen in the field.
Cloaks of the Imperial Army
Roman historians tell that the heavy woolen cloak, the sagum, was adopted from the Spaniards by Scipio Africanus in the late 3rd Century BC. Archaeology and inscriptions suggest that both soldiers and civilians wore them all the time out of the house; unlike trousers, the military cloak never went through a period where it was considered ‘barbaric’, though it was adopted from relatives of the Celts and Germans. Short capes were sometimes worn as a fashion statement, but the practical legionary cloak extended to the back of the lower legs and was thick, scratchy, and dyed red. The sagum had many purposes for the legionary, and was considered an indispensible part of his kit. He could use it as a pillow or a blanket when sleeping, and it naturally suited its primary purpose of defending him from the elements. When caught off guard by enemy soldiers a legionary who did not have the time to get his shield ready could wrap his cloak around his left arm and use it for that purpose; it also offered some protection in battle though it was usually taken off before a set-piece encounter. The sagum was still in use by the middle of the 3rd Century AD; Roman soldiers wore cloaks at least as late as the 6th Century though they wre no longer known by the name "sagum" by that point.
In the episode "Attila" of the show Ancients Behaving Badly, they did a comparison between the armors/clothes of early imperial legionnares and late imperial legionnares.
Those damn Celts and their baggy trousers that show off their underwear, no respect for their elders, hanging out on street corners in gangs... :D
Great post man.
Great information as always! We are so often misled by Hollywood that this kind of perspective is helpful. Many years ago, Jeff Chandler played Aetius in a film about Attila. He looked like Julius Caesar and the "Romans" looked like they were ready to cross the Rubicon. :laugh: (The Huns all looked alike too, i.e., like the Golden Horde :D )
White may in fact have been worn where troops served in hot climates. I do remember seeing (somewhere) a depiction of battle during the Second Punic War where the Roman infantry were mostly in white - and prior to lorica hamata being common. I suppose that has to be an assumption, since undyed cloth was a more economical, and therefore usual, probability.
What I find interesting is the changes in military clothing (and also military fashion) due to A) the climates the legions experienced, and B) the inclusion of more and more Barbarian troops in the army. The wearing of trousers of course made sense where the troops experienced cold winter weather. That was pretty much anywhere north of Narbonensis and Aquitania, and of course along the Limes Germanicus. As Marcus Aurelius spent most of the last years of his life around the Danube, and as later Emperors spent much time at Trier, why would they not also have worn trousers? (Of course, they would not have worn them when the Senate presented its tribute of gold, but that was a ceremonial occasion.)
Military footwear evolved also according to climate and the army's ethnic composition. The caliga is suitable for warm climates, but not so much for the cold wet weather of northern Europe. Celtic, "Iron Age" footwear and the Calcei that resembled the "Germanic" northern peoples' shoes/boots made more sense and gradually replaced the caligae, at least on campaign.
Caligae from the later third century have been excavated from archaeological sites in northern Europe, but those may not have seen much use on campaign. I have wondered if the caliga was still in use in hot or mild climates in the later Empire. Diocletian's decrees included such trivia as permitting laborers and "mule drivers" to wear a caliga-type shoe, but without hobnails as that would have been a military affectation.
Interesting stuff. Thanks.
Great post, I'll have more to add a bit later, after I've done some research.
Great piece Salah-ad-din. I recall reading that the 'burrus Brittanicus', the long, hooded heavy cloak of oiled or waxed wool which was the favoured outdoor wear of Briton/celtic warriors enjoyed high fashion status amongst the Roman upper classes in the 2nd century AD and also among the military officer classes.
i love military clothes..they are good looking
Romans wore socks with sandals, new British dig suggests - Telegraph
...a few heads to chop of ;)
|All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:49 PM.|
Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.