Full Version: Roman \'wear and tear\' on the battle line?
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Like a lot of people you get inured -indoctrinated-by Hollywood movies. (I saw Ben Hur in a theater when it first came out-that dates me :lol: ).
What I'm trying to get in my minds eye-since I haven't seen any Osprey or color-plate on what would a Roman Legion look like during campaign before a battle with proper wear and tear. Weeks in the wilderness-marching, working, sweating, setting this up-taking this down, sweating - occasional skirmishes, sweating,false alarms.. I would think Legionnaires and Auxilary-while still first rate soldiers would have segments of armor missing (rotting leather fasteners awaiting repair), not glittering as much as in parade (Centurions and Officers above would look better). Tunics of various shades of red/pink. Various shades of brown leather. And dusty-always dusty (dried mud to). All of this while your supplies are pretty much what you carry (hence repairs are 'just-good-enough' and pushing it for 'just in-time'). [Standardization of armor/helmets is even a whole other issue].
When formed up for battle-it might appear the Romans looked a bit 'tattered'.
I know that is asking too much to have a reenactment group dress up looking very worse for wear after weeks/months of campaigning.
I have lived in Germany and areas of the world where there is high humidity. Desert climes where you get dry rot and color fade (UV rays from sunlight).
I'm just now coming to an opinion that much of the ancient statutes and reliefs are so much propaganda in showing units in a perfect form-much like you might see with say Soviet Realism or some totalitarian regimes statuary or base relief. It may give you indications on how they look on parade. But real life-every day?
After doing all that marching and duties-it's just enough time to keep weapons from rusting.
Definitely a difference between campaigns and garrison duties.
I hope I'm explaining myself properly. I did 4 years in the US Air Force-but my Father did 24 years in the US Army (Germany, Panama, Viet Nam) so I know the difference between inspection order-parade dress-and the day to day reality.

I'm 62, live out in Hawaii -but have a long interest in Roman History. No Roman history groups out here.
Salve, amice! I know that during the late empire, when the government had trouble financing troops, that parade armor was very much better than field armor. When the legions actually went out into the field, they'd have less-than-optimum armor on. The Romans didn't have the same idea that we do of completely superseding old equipment with newer, better equipment. The best example of this is the fact that lorica segmentata was not only halted in favor of lorica hamata, but that hamata never really went out of style, to say. My source for this is a book called "The Roman Army," but I can't find it on my shelf or I'd give the author, sorry. (If anyone wants find a pic of it, the cover has Vercingerorix surrendering to Caesar.) But that's the late empire. I'm not too sure about the earlier empire, say Augustus through the empire's height in the late 2nd century AD, but I would assume that troops would have their best armor on and possibly some sort of plume during a parade. Hope that helps with your question!
Salve, me again! I did some more searching and found the book online. :grin:
I'm not aware of anyone who has preseted a cohrent case for the Romans even having parade armour. What we originally thought was "ceremonial" or "parade" armour has turned out to be what they actually wore on the battlefield.
Ioannes and Dan Howard. Thanks for getting back.
Ioannes-just snagged it for $5.83 used via Amazon. Big Grin

Dan Howard. You are correct about a case being made about not being separate uniforms for parade or combat
For the sake of discussion-let's say 'Parade Uniform' is that all the parts are there. Nothing faded. Very well repaired or new. Polished. What it would look like before campaign OR when going to a sculptures studio to pose for some study as reference for base relief panel on an arch or victory column for Trajan. :wink:
Wouldn't it be in realm of possibility some Hastarti (pre-Marian) goes in to battle with just some captured leather armor thrown on or mail suit with some shoulder pieces from a lorica segmentata in the later periods sans the damaged segments for the torso. i.e. patchwork-mismatched armor
Armorer "Here Lucius try this"
New Guy "But this is for the Calvary!"
Armorer: "Look I haven't got time to argue-I'll repair it when I can -you see that pile over there-that's going to take me 2 weeks IF the legion doesn't move. Okay-Next!"

'We just don't know' is a perfectly good answer and what I am just offering here is speculation.
Scots Guards boarding ship to sail to the Falklands in 1982

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Scots Guards on Mount Tumbledown after several weeks of living in the field and after the battle for the mountain.

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The 'wear and tear' is pretty obvious. :wink:
Quote:I haven't seen any Osprey or color-plate on what would a Roman Legion look like during campaign before a battle with proper wear and tear.

Graham Sumner's done some illustrations of legionaries 'on campaign'. I think there's a couple in his Roman Military Clothing 1, by Osprey.

Modern people tend to regard 'real soldiers' as looking mean and dirty - stills from the new version of Ben Hur show 'Roman' soldiers apparently covered in mud, like they've been crawling through trenches (they're wearing leather bandolier equipment too!)

Ancients may not have seen things the same way. Wearing your brightest and blingiest gear on the battlefield might have been more the Roman style. Caesar had his legions cover vast distances on a couple of occasions, but most ancient battles only lasted a matter of hours, and the troops would have had plenty of time beforehand and afterwards to clean and prepare their equipment.

Tunics are a different matter though - I expect they were worn until they fell to bits (and then were turned into ubiquitous multi-purpose rags!). Several tunics might have been worn on top of one another though, with the newest in the outside.

Quote:goes in to battle with just some captured leather armor thrown on or... patchwork-mismatched armor...

There's a bit in Tacitus (I think) where the troops rush into battle so quickly that legionaries pick up auxiliary gear and vice versa. But this would have been a rare occurence. Generally a soldier would have wanted to wear the best and most effective armour available to him, and would have made sure it was clean, rust-free and (most importantly) fitted him properly before going into battle.

The same is true of modern soldiers, I'm sure. Those Scots Guards in the Falklands might look unshaven and dirty (and some of them might be wearing captured Argentinian boots!) but you can bet their rifles were clean and freshly oiled...
An interesting before and after set of pics.

I don't know much about the specific details of either pic, but I note the "after" pic has few helmets and no body armor showing so it's hard to say how long after they took the mountain the pic was taken as Argentine snipers were a constant threat during the entire campaign. They look a bit scruffy and there seems to be a happy young lady in the center, but for the most part they still look like professional soldiers.

And that's my point.

Good professional soldiers want to look like good professional soldiers, especially to their peers. We know the Romans maintained discipline through centurions and often very harsh punishments, but we also know the average Roman legionary has tremendous pride in himself, his comrades and his legion so self-discipline and peer pressure was probably then, as now, the primary motivating factor keeping his kit in good condition on campaign. Overly scruffy soldiers with un-repaired kit and is a sure sign of problems and a warning of things to come.

In my many years of service in the infantry, field artillery and as a displaced civilian specialist I've never seen a good infantry unit look bad coming out of the field, even after many weeks of combat in dusty conditions I've noted Marines and Paratroopers spit shine their boots the night before they were scheduled to come out of the field simply out of intense pride in their units. With their Eagles and other regalia I'm sure the Roman has that same hyper-intensive pride.
I'd be wary of comparing wear and tear between ancient combat forces to modern. In the present time, we run combat operations continuous, for weeks at a time, with almost no time set aside for sleeping, let alone personal hygiene. Romans had nights off, rarely doing anything when the sun had set, so they could clean up their own bodies and repair whatever was damaged during the day before they went to sleep. The basic upkeep on leather and metal isn't too bad, as long as one doesn't ignore it long, it only takes a few minutes for minor alterations.

Modern infantry often live in fighting positions carved into the ground, with nothing sheltering us from the dirt. Add to that, we spend a good amount of time on our bellies in the mud or whatever, crawling around. Being absolutely filthy is seen as the standard. After a week or so of training or actual combat, we literally smell worse than a dead goat's ass. The only daily personal hygiene that is typically done is to change socks, brush teeth, and shave daily. A whore's bath with baby wipes is a luxry. Actually being able to wash your body completely and clean your clothing is a impossible, it just isn't done. After a few weeks, your uniform is so filthy, so salt stained, its almost as hard as carboard and you can barely make out the original pattern of the camo because of all the grime.

The way I imagine it, I think that by the end of the campaign season you would see Romans in pretty decent physical conditions. A bit skinnier than when they started out, they would have walked any extra weight they had right off. But unless they spent their campaign on the wrong end of a logistical supply system, they would have probably been adequately fed, considering their caloric needs.

Their tunics and cloaks might be patched up lightly, a few hard to remove stains might be present, but the Romans typically had more than one tunic and that style outfit was pretty universal so news ones could be found while campaigning through plunder. Some clothing typical of the local communities, like long sleeved tunics, or even pants, might be worn by some, out of necessity.

The campaigners would probably be relatively clean from bathing the night before (camps most often set up near rivers or waterways), but a bit dusty from walking a trail or road following many thousands of other people and animals in front of them. Whether they were clean shaven or not, I think that really depends on the army commanders and whatever standard they might set for that. Shaving was probably done once a week, so stubble was the norm. Its just too much work to shave every day for everyone. Personally, I think beards would be fine for common soldiers, though cultural restraints would see men in positions of authority being beardless, at least during most of the Republic and Principate, before beards became stylish again. Hair was probably lice infested, even with bathing, since without trained groomers using lice combs they would have been lousy. But the ancient world was bug infested, it was a constant battle to keep them out and often the dirty conditions of campaign life meant that it was a losing fight. Another reason to shave off beards. Probably one of the great reasons for a few weeks off near a civilized area would be access to actual baths and bathing attendants, so the men could be properly cleaned.

Any significant issues with body armor would be fixed properly, they had plenty of access to skilled armorers within their camp, so its likely that they wouldn't need to be hastily repaired. Serious damage could mean replacement, which wouldn't be too hard as casualties from sickness alone would mean a large supply of extra arms and armor to issue out for the men who needed completely new equipment. Not counting armor taken as plunder from enemy or what was available from local smiths. Weapons and shields would be in serviceable condition, though all the shields would probably be in need of some maintenance/rebuilding following a long campaign year, especially if the men had seen heavy combat. Missile weapons would have done significant damage, the glues would be wearing out, the planks coming loose, the leather or felt covering would be torn, the metal edging would be damaged, nails would be coming loose. They would be fixed as best as possible to hold them together before major repairs during winter quarters, where the scutum press and loose materials would be available to make sufficient shields to replace those too damaged for repair. Possibly, these were already being made at the supply depots the Romans were using, so when they showed up to them for winter quarters, new equipment was already waiting for them.

Boots, those I think would be a mess, a single pair is unlikely to survive a campaign season without needing significant repairs, so they would probably be cobbled together with leather thongs. Maybe held together by rags in spots, or maybe not even worn during the marches, saved for battles, while the soldier marches bare footed or with rags wrapped around feet. This was an interesting thread on the subject of how well caligae or other marching boots would have lasted.

Dyes and paint would probably have started to fade at this point, especially cheap ones used for shields and tunics. Only the most expensive dyes would have retained their brightness, only the wealthier men could pay, would pay. Whatever uniformity of color schemes existed early in the season probably would be gone by the end, lots of red turning brown or pink, etc.
That photo was taken the day after the battle (which was a night attack). At that time British Infantry only wore body armour for certain tasks in Northern Ireland and not for conventional warfare. The battalion made the decision to not wear helmets for the attack. The attacks on Mount William, Mount Tumbledown and Mount Longdon left all of the high ground around Stanley in British hands so there was no sniper threat by the time the photo was taken. That is definitely not a female in the middle!

My point in putting those photos up was that although their equipment is serviceable (as Nathan pointed out I will bet those weapons have all been cleaned and oiled) clothing is dirty and worn looking, non-issued items of clothing and equipment can be seen (including items looted from the Argentinians) and they are generally not 'parade ground smart', even though as a Guard's Regiment they would have a reputation for looking smart.

The way it looks at the start and the way it looks after weeks in the field can be very different. I have photos of myself coming out of the jungle where although all my equipment is serviceable my uniform is so dirty you can barely make out the camouflage pattern on it.
Thanks for the info on the photo. Interesting that they decided not to use helmets, I wonder why? Same with body armor, if you have it why not use it? Yes it's a little heavy, but if you had trained with it prior to going to war the body adjusts to the weight and physically fit soldiers should not have many problems climbing a hill with body armor and helmets as Afghanistan shows us.

"Being absolutely filthy is seen as the standard." Except for WW1, a century ago, what army spent years living in trenches? Even then units rotated into and out of the front lines trenches fairly often when not actually fighting.

I don't agree that modern military operations don't allow time for rest and personal hygiene. Unless one is actually shooting or moving rest is always a top priority to any small unit leader and always questioned by the senior leadership. No matter how fit or disciplined bodies need rest to perform well. Sleep deprivation training can prepare you to notice the signs of a lack of sleep, but it does not train your body to actually need less sleep, nothing can, same with hydrating your body. You can not train your body to need much less water than it needs.

It's the same with hygiene, you make time for personal hygiene in the field or small cuts gets infected and you loose not just one man, but the two that have to carry him and his gear until someone comes and takes him away.

It's not easy to get the privates to relax enough to sleep in enemy country or keep their bodies as clean as their weapons, but that's why being a soldier is HARD and few are able to do it..."we few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Then as now, it's all about being aware of how a lack of rest and poor hygiene can impact the effectiveness of the ordinary solder in the field. Multiply that by hundreds and thousands and you have armies that simply rot away while not doing too much fighting. In fact, it's about training the squad leaders and platoon leaders to realize that "sucking it up" is not always the best solution when there are better alternate courses of action available.

History is full of examples of military forces forgetting these simple principles and suffering accordingly.

I'm sure the Romans knew all this well as they were very good at analyzing what happened when they lost a battle, or war, and implementing steps to avoid a similar outcome.
No one argues that having a clean body isn't great for mission accomplishment. The reality is that the operational tempo in combat operations (not support positions, REMFs, Fobbits, Pogues) doesn't allow much time for frivolities like hygiene or sleep. What available downtime is available is spent performing maintenance on mission essential equipment and/or prepping for the next mission (planning, rehearsals, movement). This means that the body falls apart.

Crotches rot away, skin ulcers appear from infected pimples, prickly heat from body armor and clogged pores filled with salt, severe athletics foot, all are common place during actual full spectrum combat operations, even rough training cycles. Along with sleep deprivation; its not uncommon to go 48 hours without sleep, with the occasional 2-3 hour nap thrown in every 24 hours, for weeks at a time. Everyone in positions of authority know what sleep deprivation does to the body, but there is simply not enough hours of the day to bed everyone down for sufficient time. So they don't care. "Suck it up and drive on, quit being a bitch" is the typical response. Even 4 hours a night is a luxury, the reality is that 2 hour naps here and there are what happens, rotating the men on a sleep schedule, while running guard duties, doing this until a unit is dead on its feet, thousand yard stare for everyone. At that point commanders usually spot it, realize the men are spent and will pull them off mission and allow everyone to rack out and clean themselves up, a day at best, and then its back into the grind until the operation is over.

If you didn't experience this I don't know what military or job you served in, but it wasn't combat arms in the US military. The infantry community, whether Army or Marine Corps, nearly prides itself on being filthy disgusting pigs, with clean and well oiled weapons. The ideals you state are just that, ideals. No one even attempts to follow them.
I think the operational tempo of missions has changed mightily over two thousand years. Modern technology has "allowed" soldiers to engage with other forces for much longer periods of time - day, weeks, instead of hours, days. Until Alexander the Great, and later, the late Roman Republic, there was a season for war and then everyone went home to sow or reap. Sailors mostly beached every night. Just sayin'

Edited to add: The Peloponnesian Wars (before Alexander) did use year-round fighting as a war of attrition. It is commented upon by contemporaries because it was unusual.
I think the operational tempo of missions has changed mightily over two thousand years. Modern technology has "allowed" soldiers to engage with other forces for much longer periods of time - day, weeks, instead of hours, days. Until Alexander the Great, and later, the late Roman Republic, there was a season for war and then everyone went home to sow or reap. Sailors mostly beached every night. Just sayin'

Edited to add: The Peloponnesian Wars (before Alexander) did use year-round fighting as a war of attrition. It is commented upon by contemporaries because it was unusual.

Very true. In modern militaries like the US, we have the equipment, training, and most importantly, the mindset, to conduct operations 24/7. No horses that can get tired, no food that needs to be cooked, no camps to dig in. We have the logistics to supply continuous operations, non stop, for weeks at a time. Coupled with that is that our enemy have to also stay awake and run continuously, or else we will envelop, encircle, and/or outright destroy them, because we don't stop moving, go go go, While they stop to eat, clean themselves, sleep, or try to conduct resupply, we are trying to kill them. Its not fun to do, it actually sucks being in a near drunken haze from sleep deprivation smelling so bad people gag when you walk by them. But its how we keep overall casualties down and achieve victory, so it is what it is.

The closest comparison to modern maneuver warfare with ancient warfare I think would be the campaigns of Caesar in Gaul, Spain and Greece. He would route march his men day after day after day, sometimes at night as well, all to steal a march on the enemy, outmaneuver them, to force them in poor position he could exploit. One thing specific about his campaigns was his army was often on the wrong end of the logistics train, they were usually barely supplied because he often outran his own supply system. So at the very least, Caesar's soldiers would have been footsore like no other, possibly sleep deprived, and on the verge of starvation, just to gain victory. If you add issues with water supply for a whole army through lack of major water sources and needing to dig wells, its likely they didn't have time to bath properly either. But that type of warfare was rare in the ancient world, for various reasons.
I mean no offense or criticism to modern veterans or service people and their time in the forces, etc, but I think it's rather misguided and problematic to assume, compare or superimpose modern military operations and what is considered "serviceable" vs "brand new off the shelf", and what contributes to "campaign" wear & tear, etc.

All of the written records from Vindolanda and Egypt and other sources seem to indicate for much of the Principate in the mid-1st century, the Romans took an awful lot of pains to make sure supplies were kept constant and fairly consistent. Without all of the modern convinces and technology, the fact the Romans were able to BE as consistent as they were is rather astonishing.

There is a receipt from Egypt (which among other things, appeared to be a major producer of fabrics in the region), from somewhere around the 2nd century AD, that mentions 50 "Syrian Coats" (referencing and paraphrased from R. Bagnal, R. Alston, the Oxford Handbook of Roman-Egypt and "Dressing the Roman Soldier") - Unfortunately that's really all the "Detail" they had in the note, but, if it is referring to either an initial supply or a re-supply, this was a specific demand for a specific item, and a specific number. There are also references and "letters home" that indicate not only a lot of regular supplies and materials coming to Roman forts (not just for the troops but also for trade and commerce, certainly possible), but a lot of supplemental non-standard items as well. Nothing survives in the known records or in artifacts that indicates the Romans were nearly as detail-organized as we are and have been for in only the last 3 centuries. Nothing says "On the 4th year of Caesar Augustus Whoever's Reign we received 50 of the "new style" helmet which is deemed to replace the ones we've been using since Caesar Augustus Before Whoever". We just don't have any indications like that. Is that to say the Romans weren't constantly replacing gear? No, not necessarily, but it also doesn't say they were using these things until they practically fell off them.

There is a mention (I believe Tacitus if I am not mistaken) that soldiers under Vitellius had to petition their commander for extra money to buy more nails to shod their shoes because they were wearing them out faster than what would be "normal" wear. That sort of throws a wrench in the idea of Romans being as "organized" and "supply hound" as more modern armies can be. There are dozens of examples of caligae and other footwear covering nearly 2 centuries, and most of those shoes, if I'm not mistaken, are found in rather terrible, worn-out condition. (although some, in Vindolanda IIRC, were found tucked in spaces in walls or floors and in pretty good condition) So it appears the Romans wore their shoes until they practically fell off their feet.

Another misconception is the idea that Roman Legions existed in a vacuum. As if right after Augustus "reforms" the Legions that all of a sudden they had all of this organization, this formalized rank structure, formal years of service, "standardized gear", etc etc etc, and it stayed that way for centuries. I think that's completely off the mark. It took the Romans years of evolving and getting better at things (or in desperation), to try and achieve a level of "standardization", but didn't seem to ever really be as "uniform" or regimented as modern armies are / have been for only some 200 years, and at that, those modern armies and individual units were just as mishmashed and out of sorts. Very rarely do we have "cookie-cutter perfect" soldiers…..

There are a number of finds of belt plates and parts that still have tinning still on them, as well as parts found in really good condition, indicating they appear to have been taking really good care of those parts. Belts, for much of the Empire, was a sense of personal pride and affect. They're not left to rust, and, while a lot of the parts seem to be broken, they may have been replaced often.

We also of course have the Corbridge Hoard. The sections (in various stages of breakage), were found wrapped in fabric and carefully packed in a box with a bunch of other [broken] iron items and other bits….All sorts of bits. Unfortunately we'll never know why that box was buried and packed like that. There does seem to be some indications at other sites that Roman soldiers may have been repairing their gear in fort, as the "quality" and precision of the work is pretty shoddy if we were to compare it to modern manufacturing and machining. But of course, everything was done by hand, so there is some discrepancy there.

Then, there is the notion of Romans fighting "all the time". Nothing really says that every single Legion for decades, was "constantly" fighting. Rarities and Big News tends to be recorded, mundane, every-day activity doesn't seem to survive much.
(had the Auxiliaries failed terribly at Mons Gropius, would it have been written about?)

Again, records from Egypt tends to show soldiers were…Pretty much bored out of their minds. (letters to home complaining about keeping guard on some lonely watchtower on a remote trade road and monitoring the water cistern, or, watching miners work at the Mons Claudianus mines). But, they were also pretty well integrated and involved with local communities. Egypt, though, is entirely unique among the other Legions/Regions, but, a lot of records survive from there. Vindolanda does also have a lot of records and we're still learning quite a bit more. Vindolanda also uncovered an [officer's] wife's birthday invitation letter…So, that's not exactly "fighting/engaged in war all the time".

Lastly, I'm one of a small number who are somewhat critical of the writings of Vegetius. I tend to think that he was writing a criticism of the armies in his time, how shoddy they were. He mentions things like "we should be like our glorious ancient ancestors, and a great way to be great again is to train a lot", unfortunately his references to the past from nearly 300 years earlier doesn't exactly match up to those earlier writers. There is also the problem of Propaganda, of course, to contend with. (Tacitus, Seutonius may have been a bit biased, Josephus seems to have been pretending to not know anything about the Romans, or at least, writing for people who would have no knowledge about the Romans)

Either way, we have a lot still to learn.

I do think the Romans took a lot of pains and efforts to maintain their gear to a good, serviceable level of quality. All of that equipment was a tremendous investment, and not intended to be rolling around in the dirt. But Romans also didn't have to deal with that kind of warfare. It appears for much of the ancient period, warfare was a show (of force), and not always an actual, drawn out campaign. Josephus does mention it took the two Legions camped outside Judea Two Days to pay out the troops, and they had apparently shined up their armor to a higher sheen compared to normal, just so they could parade around for each other.
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