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Full Version: Culture Clash in Weapons, Armor, Clothing, Architecture, and More
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In trying to consider how the Romans dealt with other cultural groups, not only foreigners, but those residing in the Empire, I've been thinking about the notion that different ideas are passed onto the Roman civilization itself. This mainly centers around the early, mid, and late imperial periods of the Roman Empire, from the first century to 480 AD, and in the decades immediately proceeding the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, although insights centered around either before or after these periods are very much welcome.

I was wondering about the records we have available that would indicate the phenomenon of utilizing elements from the conventions of another culture. What do ancient writers, or artwork suggest? Presumably, this may have been a common occurrence in some regions, and seen derrogatorily in others, but do we have records of this, perhaps among provincial citizens or recent migrants into the Roman Empire? How different would it be within military life versus civilian life? For the latter, it seems the most notable syncretic blends of cultures occurred in weaponry, armor, clothing, and other equipment, as well as spoken language among certain units.

How far into the imperial era did the Celts of Central Europe, Gallia, and Britannia retain their distinctive clothing, for example, were Romanized Celts not within the fringes of the borders still wearing traditional plaid or stripes for their clothing well into imperial times? What about Germanic auxiliaries, more assimilated migrants (having lived within the Empire for more than one generation), and the foederati? Also, what were Jewish people known to wear within the Roman Empire, and afterwards, did it differ remarkably since the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus? Was it particularly common to see people in border territories, or soldiers of foreign backgrounds wearing Roman or native-design tunics with Roman or foreign shoes, boots, belts, headwear, etc? Under what circumstances did such culture clash of garments occur, based on what we know? How permissive were the Romans to most local traditions, and, to simply it in familiar terms, what was the policy of bearing arms in the provinces? In the late 4th or early 5th century, there was a law that Romans were able to bear arms for self-defense, unless I'm mistaken, similar to the American context.

I assume that cross-cultural exchange was an occurrence, depending on context, but how actively did the Roman military discourage or otherwise allow it within their ranks, before the item perhaps became standard among the Romans themselves (trousers, weapons, armor, etc)? From what I've gathered from this forum, the general consensus seems to be that it is dangerous to attribute modern military uniform sensibilities to the ancient era, at least generally, as soldiers either used local suppliers when they needed new gear, or in later times, the state industry of the fabricae were the suppliers in most or all cases. What of city and town life? Were there often heavy social pressures in the border regions and settlements to conform to Roman or native dress? It would also be interesting to learn insight into Roman architecture's establishment into the provinces, and how prominent the native styles of buildings possibly remained, such as Celtic roundhouses and other regional houses.

One of the most notable examples of the cultural exchange phenomenon is the adoption of Celtic and Germanic inspired trousers or breeches, practical especially for those cultures' native regions. Another example, also occurring in the 3rd century, would be the Persian influence upon armor, especially the helmets. Some of these questions may be much more easily answered than others, which remain for speculation. What do you think?
Hi Jason - I'm not sure how I missed this one when you posted it!


(08-13-2017, 07:28 AM)Liburnius Wrote: [ -> ]Was it particularly common to see people in border territories, or soldiers of foreign backgrounds wearing Roman or native-design tunics with Roman or foreign shoes, boots, belts, headwear, etc?

There's been a lot of debate about this, and there's no clear answer! While we have some evidence for Roman commanders (Caecina in AD69, Caesar, Emperor Caracalla) adopting items of 'native' costume - coloured cloaks, trousers, capes - it's unknown to what extent Roman soldiers might have done the same. There are records, I think, of military clothing being sent over long distances, so the troops may always have been supplied from central depots.

Then again, auxiliary units would perhaps have preserved items of their local dress more readily, and some of the units depicted on Trajan's Column appear in distinctive costume. There is also, as you say, the near-universal adoption of long-sleeved tunics and trousers in the early 3rd century, which appears to reflect a Germanic or Persian influence, perhaps.

But it does seem that Roman people - civilians, and perhaps soldiers too - were keen on 'barbarian' fashions. The only evidence we have from this comes from the very late empire though. The Theodosian Code (14.10) preserves various rulings that forbid the citizens of the 'venerable city' (Rome, presumably) from wearing various items of costume - 'boots and trousers' (tzangae, bracchae) in a ruling of AD399, 'very long hair' and 'garments of skins' in a law of December 416.

Unfortunately it's not clear whether this was an ongoing prohibition, or just some particular anti-barbarian-fashion drive by Honorius. It does suggest that Roman citizens were wandering about in trousers and boots, wearing leather or fur and growing their hair long prior to this.

There's also a note in Procopius (Secret History, 7) that members of rival circus factions in 6th century Constantinople took to wearing 'barbarian' fashions too:

"They never touched the moustache and beard, but let them grow like the Persians: but they shaved the hair off the front part of their heads as far as the temples, and let it hang down long and in disorder behind, like the Massagetae. For this reason, they used to call this the Hunnic fashion of wearing the hair."

While we probably shouldn't extrapolate too much from this, we might imagine that Romans of previous eras also might have adopted aspects of foreign costume in the same way.


(08-13-2017, 07:28 AM)Liburnius Wrote: [ -> ]what was the policy of bearing arms in the provinces?

In the earlier era it seems that Roman citizens were permitted to carry arms for self defence, but not if they intended to commit a crime (an odd legal distinction!) - this was true even in the city of Rome. As time went on, carrying weapons seems to have become less accepted - there are references in Roman literature to various people carrying swords about, but in one case (Apuleius, I think, or Petronius?) the sword-carrier is mistaken for a deserter by a party of soldiers.

By the later empire carrying weapons seems to have been forbidden to civilians, although the law is unclear. One ruling, of AD364 (15.15) forbids anyone to carry weapons - "Absolutely no one is granted the ability to wield arms of any description whatsoever without our knowledge and consent" - while another of AD391 (9.14.2) grants citizens the right to resist violence by arms.

These rather vague rulings were apparently relaxed in a law of AD440 (N.Val 9), which allowed the citizens of Italy to carry arms to resist invaders.