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!!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

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.