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Monday, March 05, 2007


In winter the Northern Roman Legions stopped campaigning and hunkered down in barracks. (Unless, of course, you were lead by a nutter of a general like Julius Caesar who upset the Gauls by unsportingly carrying on his conquest during the winter months!). However the legionaries were not allowed to relax in camp (idle hands mean devil's work) - this was a time for renovation of kit and building.

The Ermine Street Guard Roman re-enactment group carries on this tradition (hunkering down - not beating up Frenchmen!). We use the winter months to bring our kit up to date - mending and manufacturing (95% of all armour and equipment is made by Guard members themselves).My first personal job was to make a new dagger and scabbard, based on an original example found in Holland. Here is the finished article:
The scabbard (vagina - pronounced "wageena" – hard "g" in Latin) was constructed by pressing out the front plate over a former. Then the design was engraved on it using modern electrical tools (you can only take re-enactment so far!) The Romans then used vitreous enamels to fill the resulting engravings. We cheat and use Araldite glue mixed with the appropriate colour paints. When it cures it is indistinguishable from enamel. The back plate is then soldered on. The hangers are crafted from brass and then rivetted through.

The dagger (pugio – hard "g") blade is crafted from steel bar. The brass handgrips are then rivetted to each side. Under the rivets the Romans fixed cup shaped washers that are the very devil to make. They usually left these plain (see scabbard hangers) but they are crying out to be filled with enamels and sometimes were, hence those on my dagger are filled.

My next job was to make repairs to my armour (lorica segmentata). This wears in two ways.

Firstly, the Shoulder plates (on left in photo ) are connected to the girdle plates (on right)

by brass hooks. There is a lot of weight carried here and they tend to snap after a time

(broken ones are often found on Roman military sites, so we know they had the same problem).

This was a matter of crafting new hooks from brass, grinding off the old rivets and rivetting the new hooks into place. Since this is a fairly frequent job I made up half dozen spares whilst I was at it.

The other job is to replace the leather straps which hold the armour plates together as these wear or rot with sweat. My armour needed the large square piece of leather replaced (photo shows the new piece in situ). Again – a rivetting job.

So there we are – all hunky dory for the new season, when – if the sun shines – I should look something like this



herhimnbryn said...

bonus oriens , muneris of sol solis!

chiefbiscuit said...

I am amazed and bedazzled - what great workmanship! Very clever.

Vita said...

Spectacular crafting. Just like making your own replacement parts for out of production motorcycles? Is that you in the kit? I can't quite see the nose from this angle. Thanks for the pronunciations. Do you all go around shouting in Latin when you're reenacting?

Avus said...

H: Ave, sol invictus! (see "Mithras" in a search engine)
CB: Thank you very much.
V: Yes, bits for bikes has stood me in good stead. Yes that is me in kit. We only use latin for the words of command shouted at us by our lovely Centurion during drill movements.

herhimnbryn said...

sanctio ut mithras secuutus!

Lucy said...

That dagger is a beautiful thing, Avus. Did you speak Latin at home as a family ( nothing would surprise me...)

Avus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
herhimnbryn said...

ok. I'll stop now!
Lucy, I must confess that I use an online latin translator!

Avus said...

H: this really has to stop! My dictionary is getting worn out!
Kipling (as usual) spoke to the subject in his poem "Mithras"

"Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the wall!
'Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads; our sandals burn our feet,
Now in the ungirt hour; now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras also a solider, keep us true to our vows!
Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn
Mithras also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!
Mithras, God of Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on thy children in darkness. Oh take our sacrifice!
Many roads Thou has fashioned: all of them lead to the Light,
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright."

L: Glad you like the dagger. Now then - we are not so sad as to have spoken latin to each other at home - but little jokes and puzzles are quite fun aren't they?

Nea said...

OH MY GOSH, my son Nick would be so envious. Of course he would want the whole "kit" from top to bottom. He has a thing for swords, dirks, shields. He has a collection from the time he could crawl to today. And so they go from plastic to light wood, to hard wood, to metal. My friends shake their heads and the array of "blades" he has hanging on the wall in his room. But this, oh my, he would have to have, so glad it isn't for sale...haha

Avus said...

N: you had better send Nick over here, then he can "join the legions" and have a kit all of his own to parade in! Our membership age ranges from 17 to 70 (it used to be up to 83, but our oldest and respected "Senator" died recently)

Anonymous said...

Oh great....

meus socer gero a vestio


Granny J said...

Even more remarkable than your craftsmanship, sir, is your ability to travel into the future. My browser, at least, says that you wrote this post sometime in May! The 3rd, to be exact. Hmm.

Avus said...

Granny j: well observed - I was hoping someone would spot the deliberate mistake! Actually I messed up with the "american" dating system this blog uses - 5/3/07 means 5th March to us Brits and that is what I entered, forgetting that this means May 3rd to you Yanks!

Avus said...

Al: I make that something like "my father in law gives birth to clothing" - which makes sense, I suppose?

Akelamalu said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog.

There's a lot of work goes into all that armour - love the finished look!

Al said...

According to Google Translate, "meus socer gero a vestio" is supposed to be "my father in law wears a dress"...

Yu don't expect fluen t Latin from me do you?

I can barely cope with English....


Avus said...

Al: And you won't get fluent latin from me either! We all cheat and use on-line translators, which can bring up some funny results. It always amuses me to get a translation and then do a "reverse" one. I wanted "God bless you always" in Welsh yesterday - when reversing what it told be back from Welsh to English I got "God I bless dogs"!
And yes it is true that I go away with a crowd of blokes and we all wear red dresses for the duration -There! - I have come out!