Full Version: Roman Auxiliary uniforms in Judea
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Hello gang-

I am a toy soldier collector and am considering buying from one line depicting the life of Jesus. However I am a bit at odds as all the Auxiliary Roman soliders are depicted wearing Blue tunics, plummage, etc. Is this historically accurate? Just curious as these figures are a bit costly. I am thinking it isnt really and that the company wanted to market some "Blue" Romans to make some money.

Here are some pictures of the troopers in question:

Thank you for any input you can provide.
I would be more bothered about the trousers they have decided to depict than the colours. The Romans had access to a variety of dyestuffs, which certainly included ones which could produce a variety of shades in the red spectrum (which is what I suspect you were expecting) but they also had access to a variety of other colours as well. Pale blue and green are known from depictions, as is pink (unless you decide to count that as a shade of red) and white. There is plenty of evidence for the wearing of undyed tunics as well. For this reason, as well as re-enactors wearing red tunics, who will also see people wearing green, white, undyed or blue (which would include me) tunics.
I believe some more exotic dyestuffs were also available in the east. Therefore I think the colours they have depicted are the least of your worries.

As I said, I would be bothered about the trousers in a depiction of soldiers of the AD20s and 30s. They do not appear in the sculptural record until ninety or so years later, by which time many things had changed. It seems though that some people in modern Western society cannot conceive of why a person might not have a burning desire to wear trousers. There are one or two other things as well, such as the fact that the cavalryman is shown wearing an infantry helmet which would ensure him a broken neck if he fell from his horse.
One thing most people tend to be unaware of is that the Roman soldiers in Judea were not legionaries but auxiliaries (although you were obviously aware of that already) who were members of the five infantry cohorts and one cavalry ala which had been recruited in Samaria by Herod the Great and had been taken into Roman service when Archelaus was removed from power in AD6. These soldiers would be likely to have had a rather Eastern look, which would be likely to have featured predominantly scale and mail armour and possibly quite a few conical helmets. There was also an Italian cohort, which may have been supernumerary to the six Samarian cohorts or which may alternatively have replaced one of them at some stage in the first quarter of the century. This cohort may have appeared more westernised, although if it was being resupplied with locally manufactured equipment it may also have begun to take on a fairly Eastern look.
Unfortunately I doubt that any wargames figure manufacturer is offering much of a range of such Eastern auxiliary types I'm afraid.

These look much more like legionary soldiers than auxiliaries (apart from the cavalryman that is) - and from a date probably after AD30 (or so). There is a sort of 'nod' in the direction of the auxiliary infantry, with the 'dagged' bottom to the ring-mail armour (although this is not definitive for these troops - just a common assumption, perhaps). The helmets are of the Imperial Gallic series, which might be a bit early for the Crucifixion date.

I don't like the blackened helmet for the centurion. The Roman smiths could produce a variety of colours on their ironwork, depending on how it was treated during the forging process - but not like this. This glossy black is more like what some museums do to preserve the iron from rusting - painting it with a solution of phosphoric acid.

The Romans could indeed produce very many dye colours - probably as many as we can - but at a cost. The common soldiery could probably not afford the more expensive dyes. It's for this reason that a lot of the opinion is directed towards the wearing of white tunics - for which there is abundant evidence. However, over time this may have changed and red shades became more available to choose.

The blue colour is associated with the Roman naval forces and may also have been worn by the two Adiutrix legions and also possibly legio X Fretensis (who also may have had naval origins). The only blue dye that the Romans had easy access to would have been woad (i.e. indigo). This would have given a shade rather like the modern colour of denim cloth (which is dyed using the same substance).

With red dyes they would have been better served. The most obvious one would have been madder - which would have given a dull red tone, not bright red! There were others, e.g. Ladies Bedstraw! The bright reds/scarlet shades were much more expensive and were the sort of dye that would have been used on the ceremonial cloak (the palatudamentum - hope I've spelled that right.) This might have been done with 'kermes' - a dye extracted from the egg sacks of an insect, and somewhat similar to cochineal (which would have been impossible for the Romans as the source for this - the Coccos Cactus insect - comes from Mexico!) There was no green dye as such - this would have required over-dyeing of blue with yellow (e.g. using weld). Whites, greys and browns were more likely achieved using natural colours.

Myself and a colleague (actually, he was the one who did the work, I just 'suggested' things that he could have a go at) have tried all these various shades using just 'kitchen dyeing' resources and all are very easy to achieve.

Mike Thomas
Hi there,

Maybe a bit less "dressy" might be the overall impression.

You might want to take a look at a couple of the figures in the first of the Osprey MAA "mini-series" on Roman military dress, one of which appears on the cover (the left hand figure). From recollection, this chap is shown at the moment of bringing out his baton to do a bit of riot control:

There is also an article by Mr Sumner in the first issue of Ancient Warfare on Pilate's Bodyguards (reprinted and perhaps expanded from an article in Military Illustrated from many years ago, if I remember correctly):

I guess the overall theme is that it was (and still is) quite hot in Judaea for a lot of the time and for "policing" activities, body armour was probably more of an impediment than a help.

Also, given the fact that the Roman army was probably employing local suppliers for cloth and other basics, the "undress-order" Roman soldier in Judaea quite possibly had a lot in common with the general population in terms of soft fabrics.

All the same, the figures would still look nice on the shelf!

It's only a 'little' thing, but if it were to be historically accurate for that chap walking, then I'm fairly sure that all the ancient military cultures were completely intolerant of left-handers!

Shield would always be on the left and spear/sword in the right.

We mustn't let PC-issues interfere with fact. :roll:
Quote:It's only a 'little' thing, but if it were to be historically accurate for that chap walking, then I'm fairly sure that all the ancient military cultures were completely intolerant of left-handers!

Shield would always be on the left and spear/sword in the right.

We mustn't let PC-issues interfere with fact. :roll:

:-P :-P Sir, are you perhaps a toy soldier collector as well?? There are a lot of guys who do collect that would legitimately bring up these types of things. Go figure.

Thank you for all your input. You gentlemen certainly know your stuff!!! I am much appreciative.
I put all the clothing references I could find into my last book 'Roman Military Dress'.

This included a few items that were specific to Judaea. Egypt was the main produder and supplier of clothing for the military in the region and there is a document which records the supply of clothing to Judaea.

From what little evidence we have local clothing appears to have adopted the prevailing Greco-Roman fashions. There is no evidence to suggest Roman troops wore anything that looked like the stripy tunics and headcloths so popular in Biblical epics or Nativity plays which most people today seem to think was the local fashion of the times.

While the Romans could produce a wide range of dyes this does not mean the army itself used them. Textile fragments from the military site of Dydimoi in Egypt for example in the first century AD were limited to undyed textiles or some which had been dyed with madder.

I would be very wary myself of using the very dark blue or green for military depictions. There simply does not appear to be any evidence to support this. The common dyes the Romans used would produce paler shades and as Mike Thomas said above the blue from woad would be nearer a blue grey shade and this colour does appear associated with the navy but perhaps not exclusively as there is a depiction of a marine on a tombstone which had some red colour surviving on it.

The brighter shades such as the scarlet red used for officers cloaks like the paludamentum would of course be made from the more expensive dyes. A modern parallel would be the scarlet officers tailored coats as opposed to the other ranks dull brick red ill fitting tunics that were used in the British army of the nineteeth century.

I hope this helps a bit.

Quote:.......... Sir, are you perhaps a toy soldier collector as well?? There are a lot of guys who do collect that would legitimately bring up these types of things. Go figure.


Big Grin hehe - technically, no - although I have got a lot of figures in the house (from my earliest Aifix to the times I wanted a war-gaming army(s)), although perhaps I really should sell them now.....

I think it's probably that I am just one for always seeing the detail behind the fa├žade. :wink:
I too become a little concerned when I see particularly strong colours being used in reconstructions. It was for this reason that I deliberately selected a grey-blue shade for my own tunic. However, I do worry slightly that the strong blue used by the painters of the figures might be modelled on photos of my own group, particularly some of the digitally modified photos I sometimes come across on the web, where photographers have thought themselves very clever in 'enhancing' the colours of our tunics to what they consider a more pleasing shade.
A few years ago someone generously donated half a bolt of blue woollen material to the group and understandably this provided material for tunics for around four years to members at a cost well below what they might normally expect to pay. The wool was quite a strong blue however and was far stronger than I was ever comfortable with. We also had the added problem that new members would see these tunics and assume that there was a uniform colour, which led to people carefully selecting that shade when shopping for material after the bolt had been exhausted. It has taken me years to convince the rest of the group that A) there was probably no such thing as a uniform colour, let alone a uniform shade, B) that natural dyes do not normally produce long lasting strong colours, unless expensive imported dyestuffs are used which would probably be beyond the pockets of soldiers and C) yarn was often if not normally dyed prior to being woven so there would be no guarantee that the colour within even a single garment would be uniform.

Having said that, and acknowledging here the respect I have for Graham and the very good work he has done on clothing and colour, I do have to admit to reservations about the identification of blue as a specifically naval colour. I am not entirely sure precisely what shade of blue/green/turquoise Vegetius meant when he talked of the sails and rigging of the ships of the Classis Britannica as well as the tunics of its sailors being of Venetian blue. Whatever shade he meant, there are two points which I think need to be made.
Firstly, we do not know whether the adoption of venetian blue by the British fleet was a long standing thing or simply something which was done in his time but which may not have had a long history.
Secondly, and probably more significantly, the fact that he says this with specific reference to the British Fleet means that there is an implication that this did not necessarily apply to the other fleets. This suggests that perhaps only a small proportion of sailors wore Venetian blue - those of the British fleet, while those of the Rhine fleet and the far larger Ravenna and Misenum fleets, by implication did not. We might return here to the stele Graham mentioned which shows a marine wearing a red tunic.

I haven't been able to check the original language references in Appian and Dio Cassius to Sextus Pompey's blue cloak yet but I am conscious that occasionally colour references creep into translations which do not appear in the original language, such as Caesar's distinctive red cloak at Alesia. A check of Caesar's own Latin reveals that Caesar speaks of wearing a distinctive cloak but does not actually mention a colour. The red colour was a translator's good idea. I can't get the online Loeb or the PDFs to work on my antiquated computer but as soon as I can get close to good old fashioned physical copies I will try to satisfy my curiosity on the matter, unless anyone can give us the originals here.

Hello Paul

This is dangerously becoming off topic. Perhaps a moderator might like to start a new thread on naval uniforms!

I think Vegetius (translation Milner) say's that the Britons refer to the small scouting skiffs attached to large warships as picati. Taken to mean painted blue.

Vegetius then later mentions patrol vessels with sails and rigging dyed venetian blue. later on he say's the sailors and marines put on venetian blue clothing. Somehow this gets interpreted as meaning only sailors of the British fleet do this. There is in fact no mention of a British fleet at all! ( a slip I have made in the past too! :oops: )

There should also be no doubt as the colour either, Venetian blue sacred to Neptune is also the same colour as that used by the blue circus fashion. So look at the mosaics which show the charioteers in their blue tunics. It is not a dark royal blue but a slightly faded denim blue.

Other references to naval clothing colour:
Plautus Mil. Glor.,IV,4,43, ferrigineum iron grey? The faded denim look?
Cassius Dio. XLVIII,48 stole kuanosis cerulean blue, which again one could say is a faded denim blue or sky blue.
Appian Hist., V, 100. venutus see above.

I agree it would be very difficult to get uniform colours or shades and even if you go with the un-dyed wool clothing look that would not all be the same shade either.

You are quite right to mention that Caesar himself does not say what colour his cloak was. It would be fascinating to know what he thought was distinctive as it would appear most officers cloaks were either red or purple, although there are also mentions of white ones too which I take to mean bleached. For some reason Crassus is supposed to have worn a black cloak on the eve of Carrhae but I guess that was written after the event with a huge dollop of hindsight! I also guess that the translator of Caesar got the red cloak from Pliny who mentions the officers cloaks dyed red. I think Appian later mentions Caesars cloak being taken as a prize in Alexandria and there it is purple but don't quote me on that at this time of night!