Friday, 12 April 2013

K is for Kit

 K is for Kit

My A-Z theme is Celtic/ Roman Britain AD 71-84 -  which just happens to match the era of my historical novels. 

 (All the images used have been acquired from Wikimedia Commons.)

The armour and uniform of the Imperial Roman Army was worn according to rank and type of regiment/legion and varied quite considerably. To include all types would be a very long blog post, so I’m only mentioning a few aspects.

If you were a swanky legionary you might have been kitted out something like this - 

The type of helmet shown at right (steel or silver plated with copper or brass trim) wasn't the most common helmet and keeping such a helmet in tip top condition must have been a pin in the **** (substitute whichever word you like here).


Galea Helmet. The galea was the most common helmet, and was generally made of bronze with an iron embellishment. The neck was shielded by a projecting trim. Large cheek pieces were hinged to the top to protect the ears and sides of the head.

Depending on your rank/ status/ regiment your helmet might also be of the following types:

Coolus - Gallic worn by the Tungri regiments

The Coolus type of helmet was descended from helmets worn by Celtic tribes (Yet another acquisition by the Roman Army).

If you were in a cavalry regiment you might have worn the one below which was close fitting to the skull, but also included cheek flaps.

Roman Cavalry Helmet

The centurion was quite distinguishable by the transverse feathers on top. 
Centurion helmet

Balteus or Cingulum Militare  was the regulation belt, decorated with bronze strips and tin-plating, all the way around.

Tunica A basic tunic was worn over linen undergarments.

Bracae Legionaries in cold climates were allowed to wear wool or leather skin tight trousers that reached just below the knee.

Focale Scarves were worn around the neck to keep the metal of their armour from scraping their necks.

Sporran The sporran was a short apron. This was made from a number of leather thongs overlaid with metal rivets; bronze giving it a weighting facility. Decorative? Maybe. Protection for the genitals? Probably (my opinion).

Caligae These were hob-nailed sandals, tied on with leather thongs which came to half way up the shin. In cold climates these were stuffed with wool or fur. 

Pugio Of a similar width to the gladius, the short dagger was sometimes plain and sometimes decorative, and was attached to the belt on the left hand side.
Scutum was the large, curved Roman shield. Made from thin sheets of wood they were glued together, and were edge- bound with wrought iron or bronze. On the inside the centre was gouged out, a handgrip inserted was protected by metal bands. The outside surface was leather covered with gilded or silvered decoration - probably in bronze. Different colours denoted different cohorts and rendered them more recognisable during battles. The name of the soldier and his centurion were on the shield. On campaign/marching the shield was hung by a strap over the left shoulder.
Though I’m interested in their uniform I’m probably more interested in what the average infantry soldier might have carried as part of his kit.
On campaign it’s thought that the soldier carried a shovel, a saw, and a pickaxe- preparing for all eventualities. In addition their kit included a piece of rope or leather, a wicker basket and a water skin. Depending on the hostile territory they might have carried rations for many days. Buccellatum and Frumentum were their hard tack and corn rations.
Apart from the pickaxe which was carried on the belt, the items mentioned were carried on a forked pole called a pilum muralia. (Marius’ mules)
Papilio  The leather tent slept under by the contubernium of 8-10 men may have been carried (in sections?) by them, or more likely was carried (and I’m sure welcomed by the troops)  by the pack mule.
The image below, from wikipedia, details even more items.
wikimedia Roman Legion Imperial Roman army Military pack 

Description of pack: 
Sarcina Military pack carried by legionaries. The pack included a number of items suspended from a furca or carrying pole. Items carried in the pack include:
  • Loculus: a leather satchel.
  • Water skin: Roman camps would typically be built near water sources, but each soldier would have to carry his water for the day's march in a waterskin.
  • Food: Each legionary would carry some of his food. Although a Roman army on the move would typically have a baggage train of mules or similar to carry supplies such as food, after the Marian reforms legionaries were required to carry about 15 days worth of basic food supplies with them. Most basic foot soldiers had to carry the food in a sarcina or pack.
  • Cooking equipment: Including a patera (mess tin), cooking pot and skewer. A patera was a broad, shallow dish used for drinking, primarily in a ritual context such as a libation.
  • Entrenching tools: Carried by legionaries to construct fortifications and dig latrines etc. Each legionary would typically carry either a shovel or dolabra (mattock) for digging, a turf cutting tool or a wicker basket for hauling earth.
  • Sudis: Stakes for construction of camps.
Marching 15 -20 miles a day (sometimes more, sometimes less) was no mean feat carrying this degree of weight over varying uneven terrain in northern Britannia.Those Roman soldiers who made it up to my part of the world (North-East Scotland) were a fit bunch of men.

In my sequel to THE BELTANE CHOICE the Roman soldiers mentioned are carrying /wearing all of the above.

But what of the Celts? Coming soon....


  1. How they marched so far with all that kit is amazing!

  2. Fascinating era. A nice place to visit in books, but I'm glad I didn't have to live then/there. lol!

    1. Hi Lilly. I'd like to try it for a wee while but I'm sure after only a short taster I'd be itching for this century!

  3. Interesting post!

    That's a lot of different pieces of gear.

    1. It is, isn't it. Not a weight I would have liked to have caried.

  4. I'd hate to have to wear all that, but even worse would be if you had to carry it. Cher'ley

    1. Hello Cher'ley. i'm quite amazed that they marched so far with all that across countryside with no roads.


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