Dressing a Late Roman legionary (soft kit)
The man represents a well-dressed average field army soldier of the early- mid 4th century. His clothing in some ways mirrors later Frankish dress, being based on a foundation of linen shirt and “shorts”.
By the 5th century it was considered indecent to expose oneself. Sulpicius Serverus describes how a man was criticised for warming himself at a fire with his knees apart so his groin was exposed. Simple loincloths could be worn, subligariorum, or short bracae or femoralia of wool or as here plain linen.
A linen shirt, linea or camisiais, is worn as the base layer for the upper body. This is generally understood to be a tight fitting garment, and perhaps could be sleeveless. This decorated version could be meant for wearing without an outer tunic.
The introduction of enclosed marching boots may have resulted in the widespread use of socks, and these may be shown on a 3rd century tombstone from Apamea with the tops rolled down over the boots. These udones could be made of woollen cloth, or by “knitting”. They could be worn with leg wraps or bindings.
Huntsmen and labourers could wear leg wraps, fascia, and soldiers may have done the same. They are seen on the Arch of Constantine, perhaps made of wool or stiff felt and fastened with string or even leather. Those from Sogaards Mose in barbaricum had integral fastening.
Galen, physician to Marcus Aurelius describes fascia crurales, worn by hunters. These are probably long strips of material worn like puttees. These have the advantage of being able to partially cover the foot. Here woollen strips are secured by narrow bands of linen weave.
The Romans had adopted trousers from Cicero’s “bracatae nations”, or “the trouser-clad peoples”. In addition to bracae tight fitting trousers with integral feet could be worn, with fairly complicated tailoring, often with their ends tucked into boots. Looser trousers could be worn and the Grue mosaic from Carthage shows wide, even flared, trousers from the time of Honorius. But they were still perceived as barbaric and Imperial decrees of AD 397 and 399 tried to ban their use in Rome.
A thin woven textile belt for personal items such as money is worn safely under the outer tunic.
The enclosed hobnailed boots with integral laces are based on a finds from Dura Europos, and are typical of the 3rd century although integral laces survived until the early 4th century based on a find from Vindolanda. They are hard wearing and practical.
The red tunic mirrors that of the soldier from the Via Maria catacomb from 4th century Sicily. The tunic is wide fitting with tight sleeves. The orbiculi or roundel decoration is based on an example from the Textile Museum, Washington D.C. originally from Egypt. The decoration on these so-called Coptic tunics make them perhaps the hardest challenge for the re-enactor.
The simple bold interlace design suggests an early 4th century date. Here the orbiculi are matched to simple clavi based on a design from a tunica dalmatica in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is likely the original design was woven in Akhmim, an important weaving centre in Upper Egypt. Flying thread brocading produced patterns perhaps influenced by Palmyrene originals and similar decorated bands have been excavated from Palmyra, predating AD 273 when the city was destroyed. Such designs appear in Egypt around the same time or soon afterwards.
The broad military belt uses propeller stiffeners , buckle and strap end. A typical post AD 360’s assemblage in Britain. The leather is undyed except for the black applied panels acting as stiffeners to strengthen the ends of the belt. Such panels of leather or perhaps metal can be seen on the Venice Tetrarchs. The sagum cloak is fastened at the right shoulder with a crossbow brooch of gilded silver. The large size of the cloak means in this case the cloak is doubled over the shoulders.
The round “pillbox” hat is the pileus pannonicus, or Pannonian hat, sometimes called a Tetrarchic cap from their use on the Statue of the Tetrarchs. The edict of Diocletian describes how sheepskin with the wool left on was used to make these hats,
and the caps of the Tetrarchs suggest that brooches or jewels could be attached to suchheadwear.