Full Version: Senatorial Battle Dress (3rd century)
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I have got some questions about the battle dress of Senators in the time between Severus Alexander and Gallienus. I find this last generation of Senators in (regular) military command highly fascinating, especially considering the staunch conservatism, which this group often displayed, must have met somehow with the great changes of the crisis.

So I wonder if this is reflected in their dress. I do not mean the armour, since I imagine helmets and breastplates would follow imperial example, i.e. primarily muscle cuirasses and (pseudo-)Attic helmets. Even the most conservative Senator could not object the tradition of this equipment.

But looking at the cloths, I am not so sure anymore. The Emperors usually were not of Senatorial birth anymore, rather progressive and leaning towards army fashion: the leggings, trousers and boots akin to those of the troops reported for Severus Alexander may not have been comfortable with Senators.
Also what about the tunics? Traditional tunicae laticlaviae would not really stand out compared to the military tunics which get ever more lavishly decorated.
So would a Senator in battle have preferred traditional or modern army clothing, or even mixed it? Or was there no such think like a ‘class preference’ and it was entirely up to individual choice – a rather odd thought in face of the great sense of cohesion the Senators always had.

A last question: the 3rd century sword baldrics are extremely distinctive; however I cannot remember having seen them on imperial busts and statues. Of course artistic conventions have to be considered, for if we only had the imperial artworks, we would not know about Severus Alexander’s trousers. Nonetheless I wonder if the broad baldrics were used by Emperors or Senators.

Hope you can help me,
I hate bumping my own topic, but if I don't get help here I am afraid no one can help...
Hello Kai

There is a strong sense of military identity in the third century. Soldiers from a humble infantryman serving in a numerus to the emperor himself appear to wear similar style clothes, tight fitting sleeved tunics in Germanic fashion decorated with motifs showing a strong eastern influence, trousers and sagum cloak and have short hairstyles and beards.

The Persian reliefs showing captured Roman emperors also show these fashions and the swords and baldrics you mention.

For more information read Simon James "Excavations at Dura Europos 1928-1937 Final Report VII;the Arms and Armour and other Military Equipment'. British Museum.

And his article on military identity "The Community of the Soldiers" in TRAC 98, Oxford, pages 14-25.

As far as I know Senatorial officers appeared less and less in the third century being replaced by more career minded professional soldiers but I could be wrong.

Hope this helps a bit.

Thank you, Graham, this is indeed helpful, especially the hint to the Persian reliefs – unaffected by Roman art conventions (or at least not that much affected) they probably show a different picture of the Roman emperors which conforms with written sources, unlike Roman art. I will have a closer look at them.

Gallienus banned Senators from regular military command, and although the Emperors were more than eager to place Knights in that role, there were still Senators before Gallienus commanding troops because this was still part of the cursus honorum and could not be avoided.

The tricky question is: Both groups, Senate and military, had a great sense of community and identity. Now these two spheres met… A Senator switching to (‘barbarian’) military clothing when in command would almost be a shift in identity – god, the Vienna boys and girls would just LOVE this if it can be proven somehow (although they have moved away from the Goths, the pupils and successors of Herwig Wolfram in Vienna are still focused on identity of peoples in late antiquity)
However the Senators have also proven to be staunch conservatives unlike the Emperors who were often if not usually of Equestrian birth in the 3rd century, so I am not sure if they had not sticked to the traditional clothing even in military service.

I know I am asking for a tiny group of people in a very special situation, which lasted only a short time, so the sources might be lacking. But that is why I would not mind educated guesses, I’d actually encourage everyone to them Smile

I will have a look into the references you gave me, Graham.
Thanks again and regards,