Roman outfits

Updated Wednesday 1st July 1998

Was Rome really all about togas? Open Minds set out to discover the truth.

Two characters in Roman costume Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

Roman military outfits

It is often said that ‘clothes maketh the man’, and it is true that the clothes of previous eras often tell us a lot about the people who wore them.


The Roman Empire was built on military might, so how the soldiers were clothed was crucial to the success of the whole regime. Military expert John Eagle joins us to tell us more about the outfit of a Roman legionary and why they posed such a formidable threat to their enemies.

Roman body armour made from overlapping strips of steel and was very heavy so new recruits were not even allowed to join unless they were extremely fit. Potential legionaries also had to be right handed and to have been recommended by another person before they could enter the profession. They were also very highly trained – it has been said that their training was so severe it was like a bloodless battle, and that their battles were simply bloody training sessions.

Roman soldiers marched from place to place carrying all their armour and possessions. A legionary’s shield was slung on his back and his belongings, or ‘impedimentia’, were carried in a bundle tied to a stick carried over the shoulder. Roman soldiers carried a variety of weapons, from daggers and swords on their belts, to longer spears used to disable the enemy in long distance attacks.

Armour was expensive and wastage was kept to a minimum. Helmets, for instance, were collected from battle fields and given out to new recruits. The helmets themselves were designed to protect a soldier’s head from many angles – cheek plates protected the side of the face, a ridge around the front of the helmet took the brunt of blows to the head. Metal plates round the back of the helmet also protected the neck and some later helmets were also strengthened with a cross of metal across the top.

It was through the strength of this formidable army that Rome was able to maintain its domination of Europe for several centuries.

Take it further

The Roman Empire, C Wells (Fontana History of the Ancient World)

The Roman World 44BC-AD180, M Goodman (Routledge History of the Ancient World)

Roman Civilization: Selected Readings Volume II The Empire, N Lewis, M Reinhold (Columbia University Press)

Find out more about studying history with the Open University.


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