Roman Clothing

SOTW 054


***We strongly recommend you make your own!***


The tunica is an easy way to identify a soldier simply because of its length.  According to Seutonius it was a punishment from Caesar Augustus on soldiers for them to stand in front of the HQ building without a belt so that the tunic would hang low.  In so doing this it deprived the soldier of two key things that would identify him as a soldier (weapons belt and short tunic).


The tunica can be made of 100% linen or 100% wool.  Linen coming from fibers of the flax plant have been used throughout the Mediterranean world.  Alexandria, in Eygpt being the biggest exporter of linen, linen tunics were more common in the Eastern half of the Empire.  In 1881 when the tomb of Pharaoh Rameses II was found, his mummified remains from 1213BC were in perfectly preserved linen wrappings.  Wool, coming from sheep, has been around since the domestication of animals.  In Pliny the Elder's accounts of Natural History says that the finest wool came from Tarentum in southern Italy.


When making your tunica most recruits would think to trace out one of their t-shirts on to the fabric and cut it out.  This is in fact incorrect!  The tunica should be more like a large bag, a tent, or even a dress.  Little to no evidence has been found of tunics from this period so information is sketchy at best.  Most information comes from fresco, mosaics, and surviving documents of the time.  Now, in form the tunica could be as simple as a bag or two pieces sewn together we honestly don't know.  Sewing two pieces together makes a better product just because you can leave an opening on the shoulders for your head and neck. 


Here is probably the most controversial piece about military tunics: the Color! That is right, we have for the most part no idea what color the Roman army used for the tunica.  Now there are frescoes in Pompeii that show a Roman soldier with a white tunica on but it also shows a Roman soldier in a red tunica also. The best information is in Graham Sumner's book Roman Military Dress, but he makes no solid conclusions. Here is one piece of evidence that points to the color red but only during battle: during Julius Caesar's Gallic War, both when the Nervii attacked his camp and before the battle of Pharsalus, Caesar hoisted a battle flag: Shakespeare's "bloody sign of battle." Plutarch's account of the battle of Pharsalus says that it was the tunic itself that was displayed as the battle sign.


Legio VI FFC and its supporters use a white or off-white linen under-tunic, and a linen or wool over-tunic (depending on the season). This will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We recommend you have at least an under-tunic and an over-tunic, but don't be afraid of having extras for particularly cold nights or days. We recommend your over-tunic be RED in color, but it is not mandatory. You should also have extras for Lafe.


When making your tunica the first thing you should do before you sew or even cut out your panels is prewash your fabric!!  Now for the measurements, first off most neck holes are just a simple slit left about 12 inches long.  Some neck holes were bigger, we know this because of Trajan's Column in Rome.  It shows in several scenes where legionaries are depicted having one arm, usually the right arm, pulled out through the neck hole.  The length on either side of the neck hole should be rough 15 inches, or about to the elbow joint.  Now the full length of the length of the tunica should come to just before mid shin, this of course will be pulled up over a belt and raise the length of the tunica to the knee/just above the knee.


You can make the tunica without sleeves but it can also be made with short or even long sleeves.  If you decide to make your tunica without sleeves just leave a simple ten inch hole on either side of the tunica.  If you decide to make your tunica with short sleeves you can make them about six inches long, also something to bear in mind if you do what sleeves is to bring in the sides of your tunic.  Part of the reason for the bagginess of the tunica is the overhang can act as a sleeve.  Now long sleeve tunic were commonly worn my Roman cavalry but can be worn by legionaries during cold weather campaigns.  Surviving long sleeve tunics from later periods seem to be wider at the shoulder and narrowing around the wrist.


Here is what “Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome” by M.C. Bishop & J.C.N. Coulston has to say about the tunica.


"The Roman military tunic was very distinctive, for it instantly marked its wearer as a soldier simply by the way it was worn; shorter than the everyday tunics of ordinary citizens.  Its lower edge hung just above the knee, but it could also be worn off-the-shoulder, as a number of early 2nd century AD reliefs attest.  Unfortunately, these garments are unlikely to survive in a recognizable form in the archaeological record, although some tunics (almost certainly not military and probably not Roman) were found in the Cave of Letters at Nahal Hever.


In form, it may have been a simple 'bag' comprising two rectangles joined, with a central neck opening and holes for the arms.  Length could evidently be regulated by gathering the material over the waist belt.  The length was clearly important, for one of Augustus' punishments for wayward soldiers recorded in Suetonius was that they should be made to stand outside the headquarters building of a legionary base without a belt, simultaneously depriving them of their two key indicators of status (weapons belt and short tunic.)


Early imperial tunics had a very distinctive form (shown to best advantage on the tombstone of Annaius Daverzus) which may mena they were more complex than just a straightforward bag.  They also seem to have been worn with a cummerbund (possibly called the fascia ventralis) beneath the waist belt(s)."


The sudarium is commonly referred to as a focale, but recent research has shed light on its true name.  Early historians such as Catullus and Valerius Maximus refer to a piece of cloth to protect the neck as a sudarium.  Then later in the Dura Europus excavations, the site yielded graffito that mentioned a sudarium.  On Trajan's Column in Rome all soldiers are wearing a scarf either tucked under the armor or tied in a knot in the front.  When the segmented armor is worn all the scarfs are tucked which could lead to the possibility that the scarf is necessary to hold the armor in place or that the armor chaffed the neck.  When mail armor was worn the scarf is kept un-tucked.


The actual shape of this garment is uncertain but two shapes are popular amongst re-enactors.  One is a square folded in half to form a triangle, the other a long thin piece of cloth.


The color of this garment is in much heated debate as the color of the tunic.  Even ancient historians such as Antonucci and Furntes were uncertain.  Antonucci believed that the scarf more than the tunic was used more to identify individual units.  Furntes believed that naval units wore a blue scarf.


Members Living in and around Charleston wear a BLUE sudarium.

Members living in the Upstate area of SC wear a YELLOW sudarium.


The sagum seems to be the preferred cloak of the army.  Not just because when it is not being worn by its wearer it can be used as a bedroll or blanket.  On Trajan's Column in Rome most of the soldiers wearing cloaks are depicted wearing a sagum, from a soldier to even the Emperor himself.  It was so associated with the army that the phrase 'putting on the military sagum' was synonymous with going to war.  The Emperor Marcus Aurelius even tried to unsuccessfully ban the phrase.


We do not know if the cloak was worn on the battlefield.  Julius Caesar definitely wore his on the battlefield from his accounts on the Gallic War.  It's bright color made him instantly recognizable on the battlefield.  During Julius Caesar's retreat from the battle for the Pharos at Alexandria the defenders captured Caesar's cloak and held it as a highly prized trophy.  On Trajan's Column in Rome none of the soldiers engaged in combat are wearing cloaks except for the slingers which kept extra shots in the folds of the cloak. 


In some depictions of cloaks all over the Empire their appears that some were decorated.  Some cloaks had fringe on at least one edge, others so that they had clavi just like the tunics.  Even an L shaped design as been found on each four corners of the sagum.


The sagum was made of various weights of wool depending on when the cloak was being worn and the use of the cloak.


The paenula is a hooded cape that can be semi-circular in design.  Some scholars believe that it is circular in shape with the hood attached to a central opening, but proof can only be given by sculptural evidence.  Hero Granger-Taylor has confirmed the semi-circular shape with a cloak from Ballana Egypt.  The finest example of a military paenula is the tombstone found in Camomile Street in London.  From sculptural evidence the paenula comes to just below the knee.


The military version of the paenula appears to have an opening in the front and could be fastened by metal, wooden, or bone toggles/fasteners and even leather thongs.  Some examples appear to be sewn up in the front.  In some cases small disks are seen around the neck which could be interperteded as fibula.


According to Pliny the hood of the paenula was long and pointed, which when not in use hung down the wearer's back shaped like a bindweed leaf.  Hoods can also be seen on Trajan's Column in Rome as well as in frescos of a bakery scene from Pompeii.  Most examples of hoods are hard to make out unless the wearer's back is to us or the hood is being worn.


Their is a letter from Vindolanda from one commander stateing that his paenula was white, but for soldiers natural white (white with a brown, red, or yellow tint) or shades of brown are common.


The Phrygian Cap somewhat resembles the classic "santa claus" hat, but without the fuzzy ball on the tip. These hats were presumably adopted from the Greeks of Phrygia in Asia minor (although were probably of Scythian or Persian origin), and became widespread in the Roman Army from about the 2nd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Phrygian caps were made of wool, but in the Hellenistic period prior to the Roman conquest there existed helmets in their shape as well. The hats could serve as liners for a helmet, but were usually worn when off-duty.

The Petasos is a basic straw hat that had been in use since Archaic Greece. These were adopted by the army as sunhats and were in use well into the medieval era. They were generally worn when off-duty or when not wearing armor.


Now there have been no examples found of gloves or mittens but some literary sources have mentioned a protective covering for the hands.  Varro writes that when performing manual duties digitalia could be worn.  Pliny the younger records maniace, could be used during the winter time to protect the hands from the cold.  Also, a curse tablet was found at Bath, England recording the theft of a pair of mittens (manicilia) and damns whoever stole them to loose both their mind and eyes. 


So we do have written evidence that they existed, we have just yet to find examples of them.  With that in mind simple mittens can be constructed and accepted by Legio VI F.  A tracing of your hand with the thumb extended out and sewn together with an identical piece should keep you nice and warm.  They could be made of thick wool or even sheep skin.


The word braccae has commonly been refered to as a short pair of pants that comes to just below the knee, but the English translation of that word from Latin is trousers.  Trousers didn't make an appearance in the Classical world until the introduction of "steppe people" from the far east to the Greeks.  For the Romans it was when they came in contact with the Gauls and Germanics.  On Trajan's Column in Rome, all auxiliary troops, senior officers, and even the Emperor himself are seen wearing short braccae, but all of the legionaries are only wearing tunics.  Now, this could have been a nationality thing, where the auxiliary troops came from far off regions and were used to wearing pants and the Roman troops were used to wearing tunics.


Examples of bracae have been found in Netherlands at Valkenburg dating to the 1st through 3rd century AD, and at Thorsberg in Germany dating to the 6th century.  For most of the finds, braccae are made of wool, but the pair found in the Netherlands are unique because they are made of leather.  It is believed that they belonged to a calvaryman because of the added protection that leather can provide that cloth cannot in a wooded area, and the leather will not wear out as fast as cloth will from riding a horse. 


The Thorsberg trousers are made of diamond twill wool and are unique because not only do they have belt loops built in, but also have sewn on feet like modern day baby pajama suits.  The trousers also seem to have been tailored to fit the individual and fit closely to the body.  There are six belt loops that are placed high on the trousers which suggest that they were tied high on the body or could be rolled down to resemble a sash.

Fascia Crurales and Lorum Fasciari

Fascia Crurales: Possible examples of these bindings have been found in Vindolanda dating to the 1st century AD.  Galen, the physician to Marcus Aurelius, describes hunters wearing them.  Cicero even criticized Clodius for wearing fascia on his feet, and even the 3rd century Emperor Alexander Severus is reported wearing them all the time.


Now these bindings would be very similar to the World War I military puttees.  They would long strips of material, probably wool or felt.  The color of these pieces of cloth can not be identified but it makes since it would be a dark color so as not to show dirt and mud so easily.

Lorum Fasciari: Leg wrappings can be seen on soldiers marching on the Arch of Constantine, as well as on a tombstone from Barcelona now in the British Museum.  Archeological evidence has been found of leg wrappings. A leg wrapping was found in Sogaards Mose in Denmark with the remains of the individual still inside.  Having the leg still inside shows that the wrappings only covered the leg and not the leg and foot.  Two first century pay receipts from Masada and Alexandria show deductions for lorum fasciari from Masada and fascias from Alexandria.  Both were listed next to the soldiers boots which suggests they were leg wrappings of sorts.


The wrappings were rectangular in shape that could wrap around the leg several times. The evidence that it could have wrapped around several times is that lorum fasciari are often confused with ocreae which is latin for greaves.  So in some cases it could have been used for either protection from the greave or used as a simple protection for the leg.  On some reliefs it shows that it was tied below the knee and above the ankle.  Now the Sogaards Mose wrappings have the strings attached to the piece of cloth but it could be a separate piece.


Here is what “Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome” by M.C. Bishop & J.C.N. Coulston has to say about braccae, long sleeve tunics, and cloaks:


"Under the early Principate, cavalrymen are depicted on sculpture as wearing leggings that reach to just below the knee.  This fashion seems to have caught on and some of the Adamklissi metopes show infantrymen wearing similar garments.  Some cavalrymen, such as Flavius Bassus, also wear a long-sleeved tunic with the cuff turned back and with a split in the hem, apparently identical to that of the Vacheres warrior. 


There seems to be little doubt about the form of the sagum.  It appears to have been a rectangular piece of material, usually depicted as having one or more fringed edges.  These might be applied fringes, but it seems more likely that the edge of the material had been deliberately picked out to avoid hemming or unsightly fraying of a cut edge.  If specially woven, two of the edges could have been selvedge.  The fastening of the sagum must have been one of the major uses of brooches in the Roman army. 


The paenula may have been oval or circular in shape, to judge from the representations, with a central hole for the head.  As worn, it was knee-length, and split up the front, begin fastened on the breast with buttons and toggles (but not brooches, apparently, a fact revealed by the detailed sculpture on a funerary stela from London.  When the sides of the paenula were folded over two or three times onto the shoulders, to give easy access to side-arms, the front opening below its fastenings yawned wide, creating the characteristic 'W' profile.  This was often exploited by sculptors of both metropolitan monumental and private funerary works, specifically to exhibit the sword, belt and/ or apron, and thus to emphasize the wearer's military status."

Recommended Suppliers

Soul of the Warrior - Owned by the Centurio of Legio VI, this site will cover many of your clothing-based needs.


La Wren's Nest - Sells pretty much everything on this list, has a good pair of Braccae.


Historic Enterprises - Sells a pair of Thorsberg Trousers and also offers leg wrappings of various kinds.


Verena's Knitting Corner- Sells a pair of Naalbinding Roman socks.

Medievaldesign - Makes a wool or linen principate tunic, with or without Clavii. Good source for almost anything dealing with cold weather clothing, including leg wraps, trousers, and hats. Offers Principate and Dominate era equipment.


Fabrica Cacti - Can make a diamond twill wool tunic in any authentic color. Based in Poland, fair price, recommended.

Fabric Store - Covers all of your 100% linen needs.

B. Black and Sons Fabrics - Offers a variety of 100% wool in different weights.


Linengraphy - Sells herringbone weave linen in a limited color selection. Based in Lithuania.

History Hats - Makes a great straw Petasos-like hat.