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.