This site is dedicated to a very particular hobby... reconstructing Roman Legionary equipment for the Second Augustan Legion's advance into the ancient British Westcountry.

It involves a great deal of travel, study, handwork and occaisonal fun!!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Water bottles

The ultimate fighting machine runs on water, and dehydration sky rockets when soldiers are forced to fight or labour in body armour.  That the Roman soldier carried water, or that water would need to be carried for him, is beyond question.

Unfortunately evidence for the personal carriage of water is not obvious in our era. Contemporary military sculpture does not give any clear hints.

Some re-enactors choose to use metal containers as these are robust and have been found on Roman sites in Northern Europe. However, we have been unable to provenance such items before the third century AD, and may have been used for oil, not water.

Ceramic water bottles are possible, and although less likely to withstand rough handling can be padded with basketwork or matting, which is evidenced by surviving finds on civilian sites. In our minds however, the key disadvantage to ceramic water bottles is the heavy weight when full. Gourds are possible, and although gourd seeds have been found at the Saalburg Roman fort in Germany, evidence is pretty thin.
Given its light weight, leather seems to be a good alternative. Several fragments of leather water skins have been found at Roman period sites in Egypt, some of which have early military associations. Interestingly, many of these leather fragments are made from simple intact goatskins, and similar types are still in use in the developing world today. This raises the question as to whether the hide shaped bag on Trajan’s column was intended by the sculptor to represent a water skin. This is at variance with Fuentes’ interpretation that water was carried within a container in the net bag. The reconstruction of just such a water skin, based on fragments from Egypt and Israel, is likely to be a future project for us.

Reconstruction: A gladius from Mainz

Here is a reconstruction of a gladius found in Mainz, and is likely to date to the mid to late first century AD. It was formerly in the collection of Axel Guttman, and hints at the type of finds all too often hidden from public knowledge.

The organic components of the original example have decayed, but have been reconstructed based on better preserved finds from Pompeii.

Archaeologists have dubbed this pattern the 'Pompeii' type gladius, based on a series of examples excavated from the city.  It had become popular by the Flavian era.

Similar gladii have been found in the UK, but not so complete. A similar locket plate was found in Loughor, Wales, and likely relates to the Second Legion battle group.

A Shield Cover

Here is an old reconstruction I put together about five years ago, I will be making a new batch once we have changed our shield pattern to match the Caerleon find.

Whilst fragments of the original boards may have perished, there are by contrast a reasonable number of leather shield covers (tegimenta) that have been recovered from archaeological covers. These covers were designed to prevent the shield being soaked when outdoors, and thereby reducing its effectiveness and increasing its weight. Most forms of modern plywood are unsuited to exterior use, the effect of damp on similar material in an age of non polymer glues may well have been much greater.

These covers were manufactured from vegetable tanned goatskin, and survive fairly well in waterlogged anaerobic conditions, such as ditches and pits below the water table. The majority of published examples are from Germany, Great Britain, Holland and Switzerland, and typically date to the first and second centuries AD. In certain instances, the cover fragments have survived well enough to give an indication of the dimensions of the underlying board. Unfortunately, many covers lack unit inscriptions and we are forced to guess which unit might have had ownership of such equipment.

This reconstruction is a hybrid of different evidence, using the Dura Europos shield dimensions as a form, with the motifs and stitching techniques copied from finds in Roomburg (NL) and Windisch (CHE)

Auxiliary Shield Design

Our Dutch 'celt'; Folkert, has been slaving over a hot computer to develop potential designs for the group's auxilia. Here is one of his proto type designs, and very spectacular it looks too!

With the society legionary shield design copied from the Arch of Orange, it seems appropriate to take our auxiliary motif from the same monument. The carving represents a shield from a frieze depicting arms captured by the Roman army. The shields look similar to auxilia patterns on Trajan's column, but with a greater range of form.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Reconstruction: A dagger from Windisch

Here is a beautiful reconstruction of a first century AD dagger based on fragments from the legionary base at Vindonissa, modern day Windisch in Switzerland.

It is a pattern which despite being highly ornate was relatively commonplace amongst the ranks of the legions, judging from the high frequency of original finds. Similar 'B-type' sheath plates have been excavated at Chester and Usk.

It was commisioned for the group from Erik Koenig.

A wall at Albaniana

The latest Archeon reconstruction project is looking superb!!

It is based on archaeological excavations at Alphen aan den Rijn, Holland.

Leg II Aug celebrated its 1oth consecutive year appearing at the park in 2009.

Historical Accuracy Pt 2

A friend took this picture of a fellow 'reenactor' in Rome....

An interesting character, and a useful study of the complete opposite end of the Roman reenactment spectrum. While this gentleman may be coming into the hobby from a very different angle, who's to say he has any less fun?!!

Reconstruction: Imperial Gallic Type D Helmet

My helmet is a reconstruction of an example found in Mainz, Germany. It is one of a group of similar finds known as the Imperial Gallic type, or on the continent, the Weisenau pattern. It was a widespread design throughout Roman Europe, and fragments dating from invasion period sites in Britain include examples from Hod Hill and Colchester.

This example from Mainz was one of the more finely made examples, with coral inlaid rivets, silver plating and a copper alloy inlaid brow band. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the Second World War by allied bombing. Today only one cheek piece and fragments of the bowl remain.

The reconstruction was made by Simon Empt of Frisius Fecit.

Marching on the Limes

Before deploying to Britain in AD43, the Second Augustan Legion was stationed in Germany. The following images show a recent visit by members of the society to the original German frontier zone. We had a fine morning walking in full Tiberio-Claudian marching order from the Feldbergkastell to the Saalburg. We were guests of Claudia and Stefan Jeckel of Legio XXII Primigenia.

Reconstruction Advice - The Military Belt

The military belt is the real symbol of the Roman soldier, it should be flashy and have a genuine 'bling' appearance! Wear yours with pride. Try and go for something that makes you stand out as different, don’t just copy others, this was not a standard issue item. Mixing two or more similar types of plate is fine, just try and make sure they are similar sizes. Make sure you get your plates tinned, or part tinned so as to make raised decoration stand out. Silver is another authentic, yet expensive option. Black niello decoration is fine, where copied from originals, as is cherry red enamel, where copied.

It makes sense to buy the plates separately and mount them yourself, or get another society member to do it for you, so you can save money. There is good evidence for red dyed leather. A growing school of thought is pushing for the leather to be constructed from at least two stitched pieces, as opposed to one thick piece. Aprons can be of four to eight separate strips. Some early variants of aprons were made by splitting the body of the main belt into separate strips which passed through the buckle. This style was still being used by standard bearers in our era.

Making a Box

This post shows the beginning of a new project - a box copied from original pieces found in Augst, Switzerland.

We haven't decided quite what it will be used for yet, but the design was just too much fun not too copy. The piece features a cheerful looking duck on the bronze top plate.

I'll post some more pictures when we're done.

Historical Accuracy

The study of Roman military equipment is truly immense, and has been likened to putting together a 10,000 piece puzzle, of which we only have 100 pieces! The truth is that while it is easy to compare the army of ancient Rome with modern armies, we tend to apply far too many modern concepts and assumptions to our image of Rome’s soldiers.

This is no less true in terms of uniform. Even in first world industrial age armies, both personal and issued equipment, particularly in the field, is incredibly varied. All kind of factors come into play, such as budget, regulations, environment, tasking, troop type, local market, experience and simple personal taste. We cannot even assume the Roman army even had the same concept of uniformity as us. This is well reflected in the archaeological record, as every new item of equipment studied is often at least subtly different to the last, and in many cases, radically different. Variation occurs both geographically and chronologically.

As re-enactors, living historians or enthusiasts we are limited in the accuracy of our presentations not just by our resources, in terms of time and money, but also our knowledge. As a wise Greek once said, the more you learn the less you know! This is no less true of our knowledge. Further archaeological finds seem to create more questions than they answer. Only with increasing familiarity with the original finds and source material, is it obvious how little has survived 2000 years.

So how did they light fires? What exactly did they eat? What did they sleep on? What did their cloth look like? How did they make their shields? What stopped their armour from rusting away? Who made all their armour? These are all questions which we may be asked at shows, or may even be asking ourselves!! In many cases there are no definitive answers. We can make educated guesses, but again this must rely on having at least having some familiarity with the original evidence; artistic, sculptural and archaeological… the raw facts.

The difficulty is that getting hold of this knowledge is tricky at best. The prime evidence is often hidden away in remote museums and university libraries, and is awkward to get hold of. Extensive research can be expensive, time consuming, and occasionally fruitless.

Accuracy for us, in laymen’s terms, is copying something that somewhere lies in a museum display case or archive, within millimetres, rather than centimetres.

Despite the attestations of innumerable vendors, it is a struggle to find any item which is 100% authentic. To be so, it would need to be hand forged/ smelted/ hand spun/ authentically dyed/ hand woven/ and have the same chemical composition as the original item. It is impossible to expect such a level of authenticity for what is after all, a weekend hobby, and accept that compromises must be made. It is the level of compromise that must be decided, measured against current archaeological evidence.