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army equipment

PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 10:12 pm
by ariadne sergia fausta

a couple of days ago I had a bizarre discussion about St-Martin (I know :) ). You know, the one who cut his cloak in two to give it to a beggar. My friend told me that possibly, it wasn't a sign of charity given the fact that his cloak didn't belong to him, but to the roman army. Now I wonder if this is true. I think it happend in the beginning of the 4th century, and I wonder if at that time, the equipment of the Roman soldier belonged to him or was given to him by the roman army



PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 6:02 am
by Horatius Piscinus
Salve Fausta

Uhm, Mari? I recall a call to assemble where the soldiers were instructed to arrive with equiptment that they had to provide on their own. Cooking utensiles, food stuffs, cloaks, things like that, rather than weapons, but I don't recall in what period. I'd have no idea about the 4th century, but even if a cloak was provided to him by the Roman army, it would be his cloak and not something a soldier would want to part with so readily. The cloak would not have been only a garment, but a soldier's shelter, his bed, also cloaks offered extra protection against slashing swords, and could be used to hold personal possessions. A cloak would have been a soldier's only real home. I think your friend is probably way off base. The cloak was mentioned in the story precisely because of what it would have meant to a soldier and because it would be the last thing he would have parted with.


Government Issue?

PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 7:42 am
by Aldus Marius
Salvete Romani!

Aww, mi Horati, I was just being polite and giving someone else a crack at it; for some reason, when I chime in on these things, the discussion stops... >({(:-|

Bene: It is true of the Republican Roman army that the soldier's only 'issue' equipment was whatever he had on him when he turned up at the muster. This began to change when the army did--in the late Republic, when (the) Marius and his successors began taking in large numbers of landless (and sometimes homeless) recruits, and the Senate refused to pay for their equipment. Said equipment had to come out of the pockets of the soldiers' commanders...which explains a lot about the troops' shift in loyalties, from Roma to their generals, as the Republic neared its end.

After Augustus reorganised the Legions, recruits did get issued the basics: armor, weapons, shield, marching kit... But even during the Imperial era, as late as anybody has evidence for, there were no central manufacturing or distribution facilities. The nearest things were regional fabricae and equipment depots; Corbridge and Newstead, in Britannia Province, are two that have been discovered and excavated. That there were (at least) two in Britain alone tells me that the 'regions' were probably pretty small. You could almost say that a soldier's arms and armor were made locally, or at least not far from wherever he happened to be stationed--and then only on an as-needed basis.

Such localisation explains the (sometimes considerable) variations in armor and equipment from one Province to the next. This is reflected in the archaeological terminology: Helmets are 'Imperial Gallic' or 'Imperial Italic', 'Coolus' or 'Montefortino' pro exemplo; the segmented cuirass might be a Corbridge or a Newstead model, and they've even found some early bits from Teutoberger Wald. And of course a Legionary moved around; he might have gotten his gear from Britannia, then been transferred to, say, Pannonia, and he certainly wouldn't swap out his British kit if it was still serviceable.

Indeed, items of equipment were reused as long as they had any life left in them. A Flavian Legionary might sport an early-Augustan helmet. This would seem to show that the soldier's gear was in fact owned by the government, if it stayed in the army after he retired, and was then handed to somebody else.

But then there's another thing: Many soldiers, once they had a little rank and some money, would upgrade their gear. They'd tire of their plain old cingulum and head into town to order one with decorative belt-plates and noisier danglers. 'Enhanced' armor, helmets, swords, daggers, scabbards, and just about anything else customizeable have been found, too often to have been restricted to high-ranking officers. Apparently a quite-ordinary Legionary could do the same thing...and the upgrades were definitely his! Mater Roma, for Her part, seemed to take the very sensible view that as long as the stuff did the job, it didn't much matter what it looked like. The recycled gear mentioned above might well have been whatever the men turned back in after commissioning something nicer.

All these things--retention of items over time and space, regional or local variation, and customization or replacement by the individual soldier--meant that there was no real 'milspec' for Roman military equipment. Within a single Legion there could be any number of 'variations on a theme': everyone had the items he was supposed to, but he had them 'his way'. The modern notion of complete uniformity, centralised distribution, and standard ways to make things was a long way off.

So to answer the original question: St Martin's cloak was probably his; it might have even been a very fine one: he is known to have been an officer, rather than a regular miles gregarius, which makes private ownership even more likely. As Marcus Horatius has pointed out, it would have been of great personal significance to him--which is what makes his division of it, the sharing of what shelter he had, an incident worth mentioning in the hagiography.

Yours under the Eagles,

PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2006 3:59 pm

I just want to add something:

From some papyrii we know that in general the equipment, food a.s.o. was organized by the state. Especially in the late empire where all production facilities for armour and weapons are state-owned.

The soldier is provided with replacements if needed but the state keeps part of the salaries for providing this. So if a soldier needed some new clothes he could get them from the army's storrage but indeed had to pay for it. Probably less than when he would get it himself but still. So the equipment was owned by the soldier and could be sold back to the army after service as far as I understand it.