Years Honours List
a note to say how proud I am to have received from the Queen
the appointment of a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the
News Years Honours List, for services to Roman History.
feel the award reflects the standing and recognition the Guard
has achieved over the last 38 years and the work of the members,
both new and old, past and present. As with Centurions in the
Roman Army, I feel I am accepting this honour on behalf of the
IN ROMAN RE-ENACTMENT
Some years ago I had the audacity to write that some armour and
equipment I had seen at a Roman re- enactment was badly researched.
The reaction this caused made me reluctant to put further thoughts
of this kind on paper. However the recent proliferation of small,
poorly equipped Roman groups throughout Britain, Europe and elsewhere
has made me feel, after 30 years in re-enactment, that it is time
to speak out again.
would say first of all that The Guard does not think that it has
got everything right. We have equipment in use which was made
many years ago, which we now know to be incorrect and which we
intend to replace. What I am referring to is armour and equipment
being made now and in the last few years, which is wrongly and
Roman re-enactors' helmets are hybrids with a mixture of details
taken from several types of helmet. The finished result is helmets
with "eyebrows" matched to the wrong occiputs and cheek
pieces and the shape of many helmets does not match that of the
original from which they have been copied. One method favoured
by re-enactors of producing helmet bowls is to have them spun.
However very few Roman helmets were spun and the few that were
are made of brass or bronze. No Roman helmet of iron/steel has
ever been found which was made this way. The problem with spinning
is that the end result is, of course, round and as the human head
is oval this makes for a poorly fitting helmet.If anything is
wrong with Guard helmets it is that they are too good. Roman helmets
were quite poorly finished and in most cases were asymmetrical.
Our helmets are certainly not made from stainless steel, as has
been suggested. The last few years has seen a number of poorly
reconstructed helmets become available by internet and mail order.
It is sad to see English Heritage and museum shops selling these
to the public when I feel that they have an obligation to stock
items they know to be correct.
armour is one area which re-enactors, on the whole, get right.
However all of us, for practical reasons, make lorica segmentata
in thicker metal than the Romans. It should never, of course,
be made in stainless steel. When making mail most of us compromise
and use butted rings. Riveted ring mail construction is a mind
destroying process. Dagging on mail is now thought to be seen
only on sculpture and not on Roman soldiers.
recent finds at Carlisle (see below) produced a piece of scale
armour made in the same way as that at Newstead, with the scales
being linked with wire before being attached to a linen jerkin
by leather thongs. Brass scales show signs of being tinned. Muscle
cuirasses, it seems, were reserved for officers of very high rank
and not used by centurions whostuck to mail and scale. There is
no evidence to suggest centurions ever wore lorica segmentata
and never a mixture of muscle cuirass with segmentata shoulders.
Daggers and Belts
the areas where most inaccuracies occur in Roman re-enactment
are with swords, daggers and belts, many of which bear little
resemblance to anything found or seen in sculpture. A prime example
is the reconstructions of the scabbard pieces from Long Windsor
that were in the Ashmolean Museum. Reconstructors have faithfully
copied an interpretation from an Osprey book which, on examination
of the original pieces, is clearly incorrect. Side guttering on
Pompeii scabbards should not cover the total length of the sides
but stop at the lower set of rings. It is sad to see various museums
selling some awful swords and daggers cast in white metal, some
of which are being worn by re-enactors. What were once thought
to be baldric fastenings have long ago been shown to be fittings
from cavalry harness - and yet they still persist in Roman re-enactment.
All Roman belt plates show signs of having been tinned or silvered.
seems that everyone, including The Guard, will have to change
their idea of the pilum. Recent work by Peter Connolly has led
him to think that the Oberaden type pilum went out of use early
in the first century AD, to be replaced by a much thicker weapon,
designed for penetration, not to bend on impact.
Standards of Roman Re-enactment
has been written in the last six years about the colour and shape
of tunics. Graham Sumner has, overthe last eighteen months, spent
many hours collectingall the evidence he can find. This is soon
to be published in two Osprey books. His conclusion isthat the
Roman army used both red and white tunics.White seems to appear
in peaceful roles and red in battle conditions. Blue tunics seem
to be associated with marines and the sea. Tunics would be made
of wool which was the material that could be produced in sufficient
quantities in the Roman world, both for the militaryand civilians.
Linen was, of course, produced but the process is much more laborious
and time consuming.
it comes to archers, most re-enactors seem either not to have
read or taken notice of John Coulston's article in BAR S275 (1985)
where he argues that what is thought to be a typical Roman archer
in flowing robes and pointed helmet, is unlikely. Archers would
have looked like any other auxiliaries except, of course, for
the fact that they carried a bow. It should also be remembered
that Vegetius states that all Roman soldiers were trained in the
use of the bow.
Hassell has recently called Peter Connolly's reconstruction of
the Roman cavalry saddle "Perhaps the greatest piece of archaeological
reconstruction ever done." We have used these saddles since
1993 and our riders have confirmed how effective they are. In
spite of this some still persist with the argument that a soft
pad was used with "floppy" horns. The wealth of cavalry
equipment in museums was brought together by Mike Bishop in B.A.R.
S394(1988) but this seems to be ignored by those making Roman
harness. However we must not overlook the invaluable work undertaken
by Marcus Junklemann on cavalry parade armour.
area where I am particularly disappointed concerns contubemium
tents. No one but The Guard seems to be prepared to attempt to
hand stitch a leather tent. Although I would agree a machine-stitched
tent is much preferable to the canvas tents which many groups
have purchased. It would not be so bad if these canvas tents had
notices on them telling the public they should be made of leather.
that canvas awnings have been found at Vindolanda are totally
Roman leather expert, Carol van Driel-Murray also says that the
leather used should be nothing other than goatskin. The two goat
skin tents we have made took over 750 hours each to stitch. On
the second tent we have an opening at the front and back as an
experiment. Carol did not agree with this and after using the
tent for the past three seasons I would agree that a rear opening
is not correct. With the first tent the ridge and eaves poles
are jointed in the centre. At first centre poles supported these
joints but experience found these to be unnecessary. On the second
tent the poles have no joints and are in one length. Experience
has shown that this makes them impractical to transport, particularly
if they were to be lashed to the contubernium mule.
ropes at the ridge have been found to be unnecessary although
two guy ropes, rather than one, at each comer make the tent stand
better and keeps the goatskin taut. The first tent having been
used for ten seasons has shrunk over time and the ridge and eaves
poles have been shortened by about 4 inches.
sincerely hope that the future will bring much more accurate research
by re-enactors before they produce Roman equipment - military,
civilian and gladiatorial - rather than follow modem artistic
impressions or what they have seen in films like "Gladiator".
THE CARLISLE FINDS
readers will have heard of the find near the Tullie House Museum,
Carlisle in 2001, of a large amount of military equipment, including
a large piece of scale armour and several arm guards (vambraces)
from what is thought to be an armourer's workshop. Details of
the find were launched with much fanfare to the media by the Royal
first it was thought that Carlisle City Council would fund the
conservation and cataloguing of the artefacts and display them
at Tullie House. However the council appears to have had a change
of heart when they found out how much it would cost. The situation
was also made more complicated when Carlisle Archaeology Unit,
who had excavated the finds, went into liquidation. What is the
latest? Needless to say the finds need conservation as soon as
possible. The Oxford Archaeology Unit has been given the task
of cataloguing the finds and having them conserved at various
laboratories throughout the country. There is too much for one
laboratory to cope with.