Full Version: How to sleep in a contubernium
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The public many times ask us when we are on display how the legionaries were supposed to sleep in a contubernium.

We don't know much about it. Maybe they were 8, maybe less (the other members of the contubernium guarding the camp or keeping the fire alive...).

But exactly, when they were in a march, how did the sleep? We don't think that they slept directly on the floor, wrapped in just a paenula. The humidity and cold would kill anybody. You can be a though guy, against cold, it's really hard to fight against.

We thought about a straw carpet for each legionary. All together, the straw carpets would be big enough to cover all the floor of the contubernium. What do you think?

It's of course impossible to find archaeological proof of this hypothesis, straw beeing perishable. Generally speaking, basket weaving is underestimated in reenactment. It was easy to do, affordable and light, nothing to do with leather. For sleeping, straw items, combined with a good paenula soaked in lanolin could be the solution...
It's an interesting question as to whether there was any further flooring in a Roman tent. As you say, we don't really have the artistic evidence to say either way. I'd personally go against straw - it would be easy enough to use if your unit had just cut grain from a field, but it would be a swine to transport and reuse. Basketry is a possibility (I'm guessing something along the lines of those roll-up beach mats?) but I don't think there's any positive evidence for that.

It's also important to bear in mind that there was a reason the Romans campaigned during the summer - and that eight men packed together in a stuffy tent can make a fair amount of heat by themselves...
It's not just the heat, but also a wet floor. Even in summer, it could be a rainy day. A straw rug, like the one you can see behind the old lady in this picture could do the trick :
That mat doesn't look particularly transportable! However as you say a solution must have been found. I'm not aware of any proof for its existence among tent leather finds, but a ground sheet would solve a lot of these problems. Anything that would separate the sleeping soldier from the damp floor would do though - perhaps vegetation at a push?

Considering the level of comfort you can get from a rubber mat and a thick sleeping bag today, rough sleeping in the Roman period may seem harsh, but so long as you're not actually suffering from hypothermia then you can probably adjust to any level of discomfort at night. Worst comes to the worse, you always have your wine ration to fall back on...
Personally, I sleep on a deerskin and wrap myself up in my cloak and that does the job. I use my kit bag as a pillow. I also have a spare blanket which keeps my feet warm when sleeping in October or May!

EDIT: deerskin is the way to go.
Quote:EDIT: deerskin is the way to go.
Didn't think of that, thanks! Deer is a pretty common find on Roman British sites. I would wonder though if enough would be killed to provide every soldier with a soft bed for a season...
Ave, Y'all,
I don't know how many of You have camped out outside of Scouting, or what have You, but my experience has been similar ro Mithras' in that a deerskin that has been tanned and waterproof makes a great ground cloth and during cold weather, if one lays the deerhide over a small amount of underbrush gathered and laid down on the ground, will keep one dry and reasonably comfortable. Having done Winter camping in an area with lots of fur trees, I can say from experience, that dead limbs and pine needles make a great ground cover as well. BTW Dry pine cones are fabulous fire starters as well! Jaqui and I use them whenever and whereever [email protected] least until She had to have hip replacement....Oh well,
We'll be back camping soon. In the mean time, might I suggest that one looks @ their local library for books on Primitive camping for futher possible ideas. Besides, I find it very unlikely that some one is going to come up to You @ one of Your displays and tell You differently.
Cheers and Salvete,
Larry (Vitruvius) Mager
Mithras post=342917 Wrote:EDIT: deerskin is the way to go.
Didn't think of that, thanks! Deer is a pretty common find on Roman British sites. I would wonder though if enough would be killed to provide every soldier with a soft bed for a season...

Cowskin is just as likely, and probably easier to secure in the Roman military. But these days, deerskin seems cheaper ...
Quote: BTW Dry pine cones are fabulous fire starters as well! Jaqui and I use them whenever and whereever possible
Larry (Vitruvius) Mager

Never tried pine cones, I may just try those as fire lighters this weekend. I have a nice collection to dip into. Smile
Hi Mithras,
Be careful, though, as they can burn VERY quickly! We always have a nice tinder pyramid over them. Let me know, please how they worked for you.
BTW I think a cow hide, properly waterproofed would work as well, although I have to wonder if it would be as comfortable as a Deerskin. Since I won't be able to try it this year, any takers besides Mithras?
Let's imagine: I would sleep in this deerskin everyday of the year, putting it on the floor, stepping on it, moving at night on it... could it resist to such intensive use? Even if it's cheap, if I have to change the deerskin every month, that would be a huge budget!

Cow it's, in my opinion, too expensive.

Or maybe a combination of straw (yes, I insist) and deerskin? Straw would protect the leather, and avoid it to be directly in contact with a wet (or even muddy) floor.

It's usual to use pine cones in Portugal to start a fire, I confirm, it's really effective. But near the german limes (Strasbourg / Besançon), pine cones are not so usual...
Hey there, Jori, My Friend,
You make some VERY good points and I hadn't thought about Straw and deerskin. I like the idea! As long as there was straw of some sort available, it makes good sense. What would You use if you weren't around a good area to get straw, like around the Walds of Germania? I admit, being an avid camper, this entire thread has me fascinated. What I think might be very difficult to do is find something to go under the deerskins when a legio was in or around a swampy area. Again. I' look forward to Your answers. Thanks again, Mi Fraters, It's getting interesting again.
Your Frater,
Larry (Vitruvius) Mager
Larry again,
Jaqui just brought up an idea that We'd like to run by You. What if part of each morning's camp routine, the mille would have to roll up his deer skin "ground cloth" and store it with the rest of his tentmates? Might that keep it in usable shape? Especially if it was kept in a waterproof sack similar to the way Matt Amt suggested in his Legio XX website vis-avis Cassis and Armor? I admit, We ARE anxiously await ing Your thoughts on this. Like I said before. " This is fascinating"!!!!!!!!
Larry (Vitruvius) Mager
How to sleep in a contubernium...........shut your eyes and pray your fellow bedmates don't snore.
Ah the snoring... yes, it's a serious issue! Any ideas against that?! What kind of earplugs can we imagine? :woot:

Maybe some wax like Odysseus?
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