Including items specific to the second century Roman legionary

As the second century AD dawned, changes began to occur in the appearance of the Roman legionary. The main differences are summarized as follows. In establishing these guidelines, we are highly indebted to Handbook for Legionaries, by Matt Amt of Legio XX Valeria Victrix (MD, USA). Although it applies more to first century legionaries, the information on how to make the majority of uniform and equipment is not only identical to second century uniforms, it is instrumental in properly building a high-quality impression. It can be found online in its entirety HERE. Again, thanks, Matt:


A new recruit usually entered the Roman army with just the tunic on his back. The Roman military tunic was a loose-fitting sack with an open bottom and holes for the arms and head. Depending on the theatre of operations, there was generally no change from the look of the tunic from the first to second century AD. It was square more than rectangular, and the excess cloth is needed to produce the pattern of crescent-shaped folds so evident in Roman military sculpture. Some tunics of our period had short sleeves. When unbelted, the tunic should cover from elbow to elbow, and down to the mid-shin level. However, a soldier invariably used his belt to hitch the tunic up to mid-thigh. At left, Jared Fleury, portraying a Lictor (an official bodyguard bearing the Fasces, a symbol of authority), wears a red woolen tunic, properly hitched up, along with a cloak and a pair of knee-breeches, or braccae (see below). Wool was the most common fabric; in warmer climates, linen or linen-wool blends were worn.

Sometimes, a sash-like band of material was wound around the waist and worn under the belt and cingulum when the armor is not worn. If worn, this band should be approximately five inches wide and at least three feet long, and should definitely be visible under the belt.

The debate in the world of Roman reconstructionists as to tunic color is considerable. Historians studying the scanty available evidence have tended to favor either red or the off-white of undyed wool as the standard color* (a few think there was no “uniform” color at all). The most extensive study thus far is by Graham Sumner in his book Roman Military Clothing Part I (Osprey, 2002). His array of evidence suggests that the average Roman legionary possessed at least two tunics– a red one for wear under his armor, and an undyed white or off-white tunic for all other occasions. Centurions and senior officers may have worn white tunics with either a narrow (equestrian) or wide (senatorial) stripe along the hem, depending on their societal status. Legio VI has adopted this approach as our standard. The color of the Legio VI Victrix tunic for a standard miles (line legionary) is dark red of a properly subdued shade. It should be noted that bright, vibrant colors were considerably more expensive to produce in ancient times. Your tunic must be approved by the authenticity officer prior to wear, to avoid any obvious discrepancies that might compromise the look of the unit. The use of clavii, vertical stripes woven into the tunic, usually in pairs, was apparently not restricted to senators as once thought. They are not to be worn on the red military tunic, but may be worn on off-duty tunics.

The material must be either linen, wool, or a suitably rustic-looking blend of the two; no cottons or synthetics are allowed, as these materials either did not exist or were not in use by the Roman army.

How To Make A Tunic:

1) Cut two rectangles of cloth. The size will vary according to the size of the legionary.

a) For a larger person with a chest of 46“, the measurements will be: 39” across by 45” long.

b) For a smaller person with a chest of 40”, the measurements will be: 37” across by 42” long. Adjust these measurements to your own size. (Note: reenactors invariably make their first tunics closer to a sundress than to the actual garment… most are shocked when they make a real one and find out how baggy it is! Worn properly, however, you’ll soon get over this.)

2) Sew the shoulder seams first, from the arm hole inward towards the neck. Leave the center ten-twelve inches undone; this will be the neck hole.

a) When sewing, hold the two pieces of cloth against one another, then sew a half-inch below the edge. Do this for all of your seams. When finished, pull the tunic inside out, so that all of these edges are on the inside. This is how it is worn.

b) If your material has a selvedge, use this as the top side of the tunic. This way the neck will have a naturally finished edge, and a neater appearance. This is how the Romans sewed their tunics, with the selvedge at the neck.

3) Now go to each side. Measure down twelve inches, and begin sewing down towards the bottom. Do this to each side,leaving the last inch unsewn.

4) Now fold the bottom edge over (towards you, not inward). Fold up about one inch, then sew across the bottom edge, creating a hem that will not unravel.

5) Pull tunic inside out, iron once initially if necessary. You may finish the open edges or not; I leave mine unfinished because I like the effect.

* In our earliest incarnation, Legio VI employed neither red nor white, but a primrose yellow tunic. This is why earlier images of our unit show legionaries clad in what appear to be slightly dingy white or pale yellow tunics. We had based this decision on a tidbit of information that suggested Julius Caesar’s Legio VI may have ordered several amphorae of yellow dye while based in Alexandria, Egypt. It wasn’t too great a leap of logic to imagine that the dye may have been used for tunics. With the publication of Sumner’s book in late 2002, Legio VI’s membership voted to switch to the red / white tunic combination. If nothing else, this demonstrates our willingness to change our standards to suit new evidence or scholarly consensus!


Although Trajan’s Column continues to show soldiers wearing the famous sandal-like marching boots known as caligae in the early second century AD, archaeological evidence seems to indicate the Roman Army began adopting an enclosed-pattern marching boot around AD 100, and perhaps even earlier in Britain, where the cold, marshy conditions were brutal on soldiers’ feet. Of the hundreds of shoes (many fragmentary) uncovered a Vindolanda, England, not one is of the caliga pattern. It is probable that Roman logistical system worked with local cobblers and tailors in the resupply of units posted far from Rome. After caligae disappeared, a variety of closed-toe designs were used, most being a fairly well-enclosed design called a calceus. Consequently, this is the boot our legion wears. At right are a pair of calceae made by Legio VI member Jeff Bieler (these even sport a Roman numeral “IV”, which, when stomped into a barbarian’s forehead, leaves a nice “VI”!)

The first century-era caligae, despite their fame and comfort, are no longer being made by Legio VI Victrix, and their use will be completely phased out within a year in accordance with historical accuracy. If you already have a pair of caligae when you enter Legio VI, you can wear them at our events until you make or purchase a pair of calceae. We encourage you to make your own enclosed shoes. Several of our members have already accomplished this and will be happy to guide you through the process!

SOCKS (Udones)

While there is evidence supporting the use of socks by the Romans, it is of a very particular type of sock. And one, frankly, that modern reenactors almost never get right! The Roman sock typically was stitched together from a pattern, not knitted as modern socks are. Often it had no toe or heel section, and only a half inch of material at most was visible above the boot top. Socks would, of course, be cumbersome to troops on the march, who wore footwear that facilitated easy draining of water and fast drying properties. The sock would negate these valuable abilities. Consequently, they are generally not worn by our legion.

BELT (Balteus)

The Roman military belt (balteus), with its studded hanging apron (cingulum), was the proud mark of a soldier in or out of uniform, and many legionaries spent lavishly on embellishing their belts. The purpose of the apron is something of a mystery: While often described as a “groin guard,” it certainly provides no real protection for this area and studded straps swinging between one’s legs could even be considered something of an added danger. Probably the jingling sound produced by the dangling pendants became another mark of a soldier, a la the jingling spurs of a gunslinger in the Old West. At left, Doug Kihn of Legio VI models a nicely silvered balteus with a proper second century-length cingulum.

Another function of the belt is to hold the soldier’s tertiary weapon (after pilum and gladius), the dagger (pugio). This was usually suspended from a pair of “frogs,” or large, hinged studs, on the soldier’s left side.

The most common belt plates of the late first century show a simple pattern of concentric circles, or a domed boss surrounded by one or more raised circles. Belt plates are invariably made of brass or bronze; however, many if not most of these seemed to have been tinned to give them a silvery appearance. The legionary’s belt began to take on a different look after AD 130. Open-work belt plates began appearing, and by AD 160, the width gradually diminished back down to just over an inch (from its first century high of about two inches). At right is Dave Michaels’ beautiful balteus, which uses openwork plates of silvered brass based on an actual belt plate found in Britain (click on the image for a bigger photo). Note the disc-shaped dagger frogs and the crescent-shaped cingulum pendants. The openwork plates were water-cut on a special jig out of sheet brass; each plate was then filed, buffed and tinned using solder paste. (These belt plates will soon be available for purchase on our Camp Store page.) The buckle and frogs are from HR Replikate in Germany. The cingulum studs and pendants are from Albion Armorers, modified by silvering and punchwork. Matt Amt’s suggestions for making a balteus can be found HERE. Remember, the cingulums shown on these examples are the first century variety! For second century aprons, see below.

The legionary’s studded apron originally extended nearly to the hem of his tunic. However, it became much shorter after 100 AD. In some cases, it seems barely longer than three times the width of the belt! This is most evident on Trajan’s Column. It does appear in several instances that the cingulum may have been “wrapped” around the belt itself, producing an extremely short appearance; perhaps this was a battlefield expedient. Consequently, a rule of thumb in Legio VI Victrix is that the cingulum cannot extend more than 12 inches in length, with 8-10 inches considered optimal.

BREECHES (Braccae or Feminalia)

In the first century AD, Roman auxiliary soldiers took to wearing tight-fitting knee-length breeches called either braccae or feminalia (the terms seem interchangeable, although some modern scholars think feminalia refers to knee-length breeches, while braccae refers to full-length trousers). Their use started with the auxiliary cavalry (understandably, since riding a horse for hours on end can be hell on bare thighs!) and spread to the infantry, until, by the time Trajan’s Column was erected, they were ubiquitous among all types of auxiliaries, or non-citizen soldiers. Legionaries eventually adopted the fashion as well, despite the longtime Roman bias against any kind of trousers as being fit only for hairy barbarians or effeminate Orientals. Praetorians on a monument erected for Antoninus Pius ca. AD 148 are shown wearing both the lorica segmentata and breeches, as are legionaries on a monument of Marcus Aurelius.

What were they made of? We’re not sure, although leather seems likely for breeches worn by cavalrymen. The snugness of fit seen on auxiliary infantry on Trajan’s Column and other monuments suggests either leather or a stretchy woolen weave. As for color, we have a pretty good clue: The Historia Augusta, a collection of Imperial biographies composed in the fourth century AD, records that the Emperor Severus Alexander wore “white breeches instead of the normal red ones.” From this we can deduce that red was the normal color, although whether this applied for all soldiers or just officers and/or emperors is an open question. At right, Dave Michaels of Legio VI displays a properly fitting pair of bracae.

We are working on coming up with a decent, easy-to make pattern for braccae that produces the right snug fit. In any case, Legio VI Victrix regards braccae as strictly auxiliary and cold-weather wear. As we have the good fortune to live in a warm climate, events that may require regular legionaries to them will probably be few. Check with the authenticity officer to determine whether or not to wear them.

UNDERWEAR (Subligarium)

Period underwear is preferable. The Roman loincloth or subligarium seems to have consisted of a rectangular strip of soft cloth with a narrower strip of cloth attached crosswise at one end, forming a “belt.” The “belt” was tied around the waist, and the rectangle was passed between the legs from behind and pulled up under and over the top of the belt in front. However, we understand if reenactors would rather go with something a bit less, um, diaper-like. If modern underwear is worn, we recommend it be the type known as “briefs” as opposed to “boxers.” Invariably a gust of wind will bellow out the tunic momentarily, and boxers will be clearly visible, whereas briefs will not. Trust us on this one.

SCARF (Focale)

The scarf came into use when the lorica segmentata was introduced in the last years of the first century BC. It helped protect the soldier’s neck and upper shoulder area from being chafed by the armor plates and, as we have learned from reenactment, by the baldric strap supporting the sword (which can easily bite into your neck if you’re not wearing a scarf!). The neck scarf can be rectangular or triangular in shape, and in any [fairly dull] color. Legionaries wear it tucked into the armor; auxiliaries wear theirs knotted and outside their (ring mail) armor.

CLOAK (Sagum or Paenula)

All legionaries carried a cloak that served as a source of warmth, protection from the elements, and as a bedroll. Two patterns were known to have been used, the sagum and the paenula, the latter differing from the former only by the addition of a hood. There is some evidence that the hoodless sagum was somewhat more common in the second century, but either pattern is certainly fine for use with Legio VI Victrix. (Note Drusus’ sagum in the image under the balteus section above). The color for regular miletes (enlisted men) should be an earthy shade of brown, from yellow-brown to rust. Officers are authorized to wear red or white cloaks. Directions for making this item can be found at: http://www.larp.com/legioxx/cloak.html


The second century was a time of change with regards to facial hair in the Roman Army. The well-known visage of the clean-shaven legionary gave way to bearded faces. This was a direct result of Emperor Hadrian himself “breaking the mold”, as it were, and becoming the first emperor to wear a full beard (some earlier emperors had worn a light beard visible in their coin portraits, usually in times of mourning). This was due to Hadrian’s strong admiration for the ancient Greeks, and his desire to strengthen the Greco-Roman cultural tie (although one ancient biographer asserts he wore the beard to cover up pockmarks on his skin).

Consequently, either clean-shaven legionaries or bearded ones are authorized, as well as anywhere in between (the unshaven look), provided it looks natural. Goatees are seen as a relatively modern style, and are not recommended. Mustaches alone were not Roman, although they were by the Celts. Since our legion is occupying a Celtic country, it is conceivable a legionary might “go native” and adopt the local style of wearing mustaches alone, so we do not rule them out entirely; however, we prefer the options outlined above.

Hair length should generally be kept above the shoulder or shorter. There is no evidence of legionaries with long, flowing locks (however dashing it may look to the modern eye). If a member chooses to wear his/her hair longer, then it must be kept out of sight as much as possible. A pony-tail, smartly-tied and tucked down into the tunic/armor works best in photos, as demonstrated by Ron Glass at right. Unnatural colors are forbidden.

Eyeglasses are naturally a problem, as they “blow the look” rather completely, yet are required for seeing properly. Members are strongly encouraged to wear contact lenses, at least for the duration of the event, or participate in a vision restoration program (RK, PRK, vision training). Regardless, eyeglasses are not to be worn at any time for photographs.

Jewelry should be kept to what was evident in the Roman world. Finger rings, wrist rings, and necklaces, in bone, brass, copper, or bronze, in any of the many styles evident at that time, are authorized. The Celtic world provided many intricate patterns of jewelry that were copied by the Romans, and some Celtic and/or Germanic motifs were creeping into soldierly accoutrement by the mid-second century AD, particularly in items such as cloak brooches and belt plates. Earrings (for men) or other types of piercings (nose, cheek or eyebrow studs, etc.) are not allowed to be worn at events unless evidence for them can be established and proven to the Optio’s satisfaction. As tattoos were worn by many Celts, we do not rule out their use with Legio VI; however, any visible tattoos should have an appropriately period look, or else should be covered up in some way.

Sources: Scenes noted from Trajan’s Column are as presented in Yann LeBohec’s The Imperial Roman Army (L’Armee Romaine, sous le Haut-Empire, c.1989 Picard Editeur). Other resources include Graham Sumner’s Roman Military Clothing 100 BC – AD 200 (2002, Osprey Publishing), Windrow and McBride’s Imperial Rome At War (1996, Concord Publications), Graham Sumner’s Roman Army – Wars of the Empire (1997, Brassey’s UK Ltd.), and Peter Connolly’s Legionary (1988, Oxford Publ.).