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The many guises of the emperor Augustus
The many guises of the emperor Augustus

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3.5 Roman military dress

At the opposite end of the scale to the toga, which signalled civilian life, was military dress.

Activity 4

Timing: Allow around 5 minutes for this activity

How might you know someone is a member of the military today?

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A uniform would be a clear sign of a military person today, of course. There might also be certain hairstyles or kit that might signal to you that someone is a soldier of some kind, even if they were not in uniform.

In the Roman army there was no uniform as such: military personnel tended to buy their own clothes, and as far as we know there was very little in the way of regulation here. As a result, there are too many variations of clothing used by Roman soldiers to go into them all here. But there were certain elements of clothing that tended to be worn by soldiers, and they themselves often wanted to signal to others that they belonged to the military. This section will outline these main components.

Activity 5

Timing: Allow around 15 minutes for this activity

Take a careful look at the following set of images.

  1. The first shows the basic clothing of the Roman soldier in the time of Augustus. Jot down a few bullet points describing what it consists of.
  2. The second image shows the dress of a Roman commander. Again, jot down some bullet points describing what it consists of, making note of the main differences between the two.

(NB: Take special care to describe the two figures’ cloaks and how they are worn.)

This image shows a line drawing of a man standing and lunging to the right. He holds a small oval shield in front of him with his left hand. He is wearing a short-sleeved tunic (labelled ‘1’) that falls to just above his knees. He has a belt around his waist to which is attached a dagger on his right side. He also wears a short rectangular cloak (‘2’) that is draped around his upper body such that it is fastened with a brooch (‘3’) on his right shoulder, leaving his right arm free.
Figure 15 Drawing of a Roman soldier wearing a tunic (1) and sagum (2) fastened with a brooch (3).
This image shows a marble statue of a man standing with his right arm raised and holding a scroll. He has short-cropped hair. He wears an elaborate, short-sleeved, pleated tunic to just above the knees and over it a cuirass with images on it. Over his left shoulder and arm is draped a large, rectangular, voluminous cloak.
Figure 16 Marble statue of a Roman general wearing a pleated tunic (1), decorated breastplate (cuirass) (2) and large draped cloak (paludamentum: (3) from Gabies, Italy, 69–96 CE (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
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  1. The general clothing of Roman soldiers in the time of Augustus as illustrated in Figure 15 consisted of a short-sleeved, knee-length tunic that was belted at the waist. The image also shows that the belt could be used to hang weaponry from. Over the tunic, soldiers wore a rectangular cloak called a sagum that was fastened at the right shoulder with a brooch.
  2. A Roman commander had a more elaborate pleated tunic over his basic tunic, and could wear a breastplate. The breastplate armour worn by army generals could, depending on their rank and achievements, be elaborately decorated with imagery. Higher-ranking officers also wore, instead of the sagum, a larger cloak, the so-called paludamentum, that was draped around the body and over the left arm, instead of being pinned to the right shoulder.